Ep 200 – The Nauvoo Expositor & Zion
On this episode, yes, it is finally time to discuss the Nauvoo Expositor. What is the Nauvoo Expositor? Why is it so important to Mormon history? Why was it published? These are all questions we’ll answer by the end of the episode today. This is a story that’s been told a hundred times and they all end the same way. We spend a lot of time going through the Expositor from top to bottom and teasing out subtle points and lessons made in the garnish of the paper. After that, we debut the pilot episode of Zion, a Mormon History themed D&D campaign. If you want more, share the show and show your work via social media tags or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Text of Nauvoo Expositor
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The time has finally come to talk about the Nauvoo Expositor. After 5.5 years of serialized Mormon history, we’re discussing the catalyst which set Nauvoo Mormonism on a path to the deaths of the prophet and patriarch of the movement.
Before that, I want to give all of you listeners a big and hearty thank you for sticking around for 200 episodes. It’s because of you that I’m able to do History Communication for a living and I am so grateful to all of you for making this possible. You amazing listeners have given me my life and I love my life so much. I’m one of the lucky few who chases their passion for a living and I struggle for words to express how much I appreciate and love each and every one of you who make this dream a reality for me each and every day. Thank you. Today we’re going back to our early podcast roots with a really long episode on a huge topic in Mormon history. Hopefully, when you saw the timestamp on the file you didn’t run away because I really think you’ll enjoy what we have in store for you today. Let’s get started.
What is the Nauvoo Expositor? Why is it so important to Mormon history? Why was it published? These are all questions we’ll answer by the end of the episode today. This is a story that’s been told a hundred times and they all end the same way. When people talk about the Nauvoo Expositor, it’s often spoken in the same breath as Carthage jail, where Joseph and Hyrum died in a gunfight. The truth is, the Nauvoo Expositor was the culmination of 14 years of events and the time from the Expositor printing press being burned down to the shootout at Carthage Jail was an eventful 3 weeks in Nauvoo and Illinois history.
The last three episodes we discussed Charles and Robert Foster, Chauncey and Francis Higbee, and Wilson and William Law. All of these people had transitioned from devout follower and friend of the prophet to bitter enemy by May of 1844 for various understandable reasons. They were displeased with the Nauvoo church departing from its earlier theological roots and Joseph Smith’s more esoteric teachings. They were all opposed to the practice of the New and Everlasting Covenant, polygamy. They all felt Joseph was simply too powerful as Nauvoo’s Mayor, Prophet of the church, and commander-in-chief of one of the nation’s largest militias. His bid for President of the United States was merely and encapsulation of his flagrant abuses of power.
These folks considered Mormonism to be true, but Jo to be a fallen prophet. Therefore, they established their own competitor religion, the True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to both compete with Jo’s church and to provide a safe haven and outlet for those who suffered under the prophet’s tyrannical reign. Of all the competitor religions which had been started by defectors from the church, this was Jo’s greatest threat. However, an even greater threat was the collective knowledge of his criminal and immoral acts these people carried with them. They had seen the blueprints and construction of Talos, the Mormon revolution war machine, and those secrets don’t remain quiet for long.
They key to a successful religion in the 19th century was having a printing press. Without one, the market was much harder for any religion to break in to. Accordingly, Robert D. Foster acquired a printing press and set it up to print the Prospectus of the Nauvoo Expositor on May 10th, 1844, which we read at the end of the last episode.
This public notice being disseminated throughout Nauvoo must have been a terrifying prospect to the clandestine groups of the church. Now, the people who stood as the greatest threat to the prophet, those who’d seen the deepest inner-workings of the criminal empire and had worked with the prophet’s enemies before, they now had a voice. And, what did that voice say? Well… let’s get into it.
We’re going through the Nauvoo Expositor top to bottom today. We won’t be reading every single word because it was a 4-page printed paper and quite long. Instead, what we’ll be doing is discussing each point made in the Expositor, each disagreement the 7 printers had with the Nauvoo empire, each affidavit, by whom it was given and why it was relevant, and then we’ll discuss why all of this put together in one paper was so consequential to Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo church.
Let’s start with the very first thing a person saw when the purchased a copy of the Nauvoo Expositor. When you hear the name Expositor, you may think of someone who “exposes” the truth. And the newspaper’s motto supports that interpretation. Right underneath the title Nauvoo Expositor was printed the slogan, “THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.” That of course is the oath a witness takes before testifying in court, which suggests the publishers saw themselves as witnesses against Joseph Smith in the court of public opinion.
But the word Expositor carries an alternate interpretation from “someone who exposes.” It can also mean “someone who explains.” That’s the actual Webster’s Dictionary definition: “a person who explains”; a “commentator.” Our common parlance of the term can see those definitions synonymous in this regard as it was explaining something that needed to be exposed; information which was closely guarded and tightly controlled.
The Expositor’s publishers didn’t necessarily see themselves as yellow journalists or alarmists out to “expose” Joseph Smith’s salacious sex life and criminal behavior. Rather, they may have seen themselves as explaining and commenting on the situation in Nauvoo for the many people who weren’t part of the Mormon leadership inner circle and who didn’t have access to inside information.
Had they set out be sensationalist, The Expositor’s publishers might have emblazoned the front page with salacious headlines and prominent stories declaring “Jo Smith caught in sex scandal,” or “Mormon villainy,” or any of the many headlines we’ve read from Thomas Sharp at the Warsaw Signal but that’s not what fills the pages. Instead they started their paper in a much more subtle way, drawing the reader in with poetry and fiction. The poetry and fiction set a sort of emotional tone for the revelations that come later in the paper.
A first-time reader of the Nauvoo Expositor would draw a copy of the paper to their eyes and this is the first item which would greet them, a poem from the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell, titled “The Last Man.” It’s only fitting to read it here and tease out a few themes. It’s told from the bleak perspective of the last survivor of the human race, far in the future when the earth is old, the sun is fading, and the human nations have been destroyed by plague, famine, and war. It places us in a sense of calm reflection of elements within our shared humanity. The storm has passed and here we stand gazing at the desolation left behind.
All worldly shapes shall meet in gloom,
The sun himself shall die,
Before this mortal shall assume,
I saw a victim in my sleep,
That gave my spirit strength to sweep
Adown the gulf of time!,
I saw the last of hyman mould,
That shall creation's death behold,
As Adam saw her prime!
The sun's eye had a sickly glare,
The earth with age was wan;
The skeletons of nations were
Around that lonely man!
Some had expired in flight, -- the brands
Still rusted in their bony hands!
In plagues and famine some!
Earth's cities had no sound nor tread;
And ships were drifting with the dead
To shores where all was dumb!
Yet prophet like, that lone one stood,
With dauntless words and high,
That shook the sere leaves from the wood
As if a storm pass'd by, --
Saying, "We are twins in death proud Sun
Thy face is cold, thy race is run,
'Tis mercy bids thee go.
For thou ten thousand years
Hast seen the tide of human tears,
That shall no longer flow.
"What though beneath thee man put forth,
His pomp, his pride his skill;,
And arts that made fire, flood, and earth,
The vassals of his will;
Yet mourn I not thy parted away,
Thou dim, discrowned king of day;
For all those trophied arts
And triumphs that beneath thee sprang,
Healed not a passion or a pang
Entail'd on human hearts.
"Go, let oblivion's curtain fall
Upon the stage of men;
Nor with thy rising beams recall
Life's tragedy again.
Its piteous pageants bring not back,
Nor waken flesh, upon the rack
Of pain anew to writhe;
Stretch'd in disease's shapes abhorr'd.
Or mown in battle by the sword,
Like grass beneath the scythe.
"Ev'n I am weary in yon skies
To watch thy fading fire;
Test of all sunless aginies,
Behold me not expire.
My lips that speak thy dirge of death,
Their rounded grasp and gurgling breath,
To see thou shalt not boast.
The eclipse of nature speaks my pall,
The majesty of darkness shall
Receive my parting ghost!
"This spirit shall return to him!
That gave its heavenly spark;
Yet think not Sun, it shall be dim
When thou thyself art dark!
No it shall live again, and shine
In bliss unknown to beams of thine,
By Him recall'd to breath,
Who captive led captivity,
Who robbed the grave of victory,
And took the sting from Death!
Go, Sun, while mercy holds me up
On nature's awful waste,
To drink this last and bitter cup
Of grief that man shall taste;
Go, tell the night that hides thy face,
Thou saw'st the last of Adam's race,
On earth's sepulchral clod;
The dark'ning universe defy
To quench his immortality,
Or shake his trust in God!"
There may be some lessons to take from the poem, and remember, this was the first thing folks saw when they picked up the Nauvoo Expositor. This last living person stands “prophet like” amidst the skeletons of the human race and speaks a eulogy for the dying sun. He tells the sun that its impending death is a mercy, because for ten million years it has “seen the tide of human tears, that shall no longer flow.” The sun has presided over great human achievements, but none of them healed humanity’s pain.
But by the end, the poem takes a more uplifting turn, because even here at the end of the earth, this last human survivor still has hope. Yes, he’s going to die, but his spirit will return to the Creator. His mortal death is the “last and bitter cup of grief that man shall taste.” The sun will go dark, but his soul “will live again, and shine in bliss unknown to beams of thine.” At the end of the poem, he defies the darkening universe “to quench his immortality, or shake his trust in God!” The intended message seems to be that even though we’re going to criticize Joseph Smith and things may seem really dark in Nauvoo right now, we can’t lose faith in God. This reading of the included poem illustrates how much the Nauvoo Expositor was not an anti-Mormon or anti-religious publication. It is strictly and anti-Joseph Smith paper.
The next item on the front page of the Expositor is quite a fascinating inclusion. It is a little story about Adeline and her husband, Henry, who bemoan the trials of courtship with an ailing mother. On their wedding day, Henry and Adeline “proceeded gaily up the little path” where “Adeline slightly trembled.” “Henry stopped to kiss her hand; and, in an instant, a dagger from behind pierced him to the heart”! It was a jealous lover from a past life who couldn’t bear to see his dear Adeline married to another man. Adeline falls into a heap over her new husband’s body, sobbing uncontrollably while the assailant runs from the crowd and jumps on a horse. The townsfolk pursue him and he rides his horse off a cliff, leading him to a deep and watery grave. This dark comedy of sorts including a murder-suicide is presented without commentary and leads the reader to draw their own conclusions. Perhaps a poignant lesson about how out-of-control sexual passion leads to bad ends and everybody losing something along the way was the reason for its inclusion.
The third item in the paper is a poetic celebration of sickness. Sickness is often called an evil, but “oh! how often art thou a good, a healing balsam, under whose benign influence the soul rests after hard struggles. . . . and when at last we arise with exhausted strength from the sick-bed, our souls often awake as out of a long night into a new morning.” Here again there may a sense that even though we’re going to expose the atrocities or sickness of the Nauvoo Mormon church, maybe it’s actually an opportunity for renewal. The publishers of the Expositor aren’t trying to create despair; they’re trying to create healing. The simple fact that they formed a Mormon church without the most controversial teachings and practices of Joseph Smith places a sharp point on the end of that interpretation.
And finally, the fourth piece of front matter is an exhortation that when faced with difficult circumstances, it’s “better [to] laugh than cry.” Good humor is the cure for disappointment, bad fortune, and a broken heart, and “it’s a grand preventative of suicide. There’s philosophy and religion too, in laughing; it shows a clear conscience and gratitude for the good things of life, and elevates us above the bru[te] creation.” Once again, the message seems to be that we bring you bad news about the state of the Church, but you shouldn’t let it get you down. The proper religious thing to do is to keep a cheerful heart and move forward with positivity. The issue with Orson Pratt over his wife, Sarah’s, name being dragged through the mud thanks to the public battle between John C. Wreck-it Bennett and Jo was still starkly in recent memory. Pratt returned from his mission in Europe to find Sarah the subject of controversy and her name being thrown around in accusations. He left a suicide note and disappeared from Nauvoo. He said, “I am a ruined man! my future prospects are blasted!” Polygamy caused real pain and suffering. This piece titled better laugh than cry confronts the issue of depression and suicide head on. It’s clear to me that the publishers realized that this paper would cause a lot of cognitive dissonance and anxiety for thousands of people who believed this to be the true church but were unaware of what was really going on in the highest ranks of leadership. All of these front matter items are all quite dark in their tone, but they also all try to find a ray of light in the darkness. It seems that the Expositor’s publishers knew that what they were going to say about the Church and Joseph Smith was going to have a very negative emotional impact on people, and they were sort of trying to sort of emotionally brace their readers for what was coming while simultaneously providing an alternative for those saddened and awakened members to adhere to a form of the religion they believed they were following before reading the Expositor.
Near the end of the front page, we get into the appetizer of the Nauvoo Expositor with the “Preamble, Resolutions and Affidavits, of the Seceders from the Church at Nauvoo.” The editors promise that future issues of the Expositor won’t include any more proceedings of the breakaway church, but they think it’s important to include the seceders’ proceedings in this first issue so “that the public should know the true cause of their dissenting.” Future issues will include some affidavits “to substantiate the facts alleged.”
The dissenters begin by proclaiming that it is out of desire “for the salvation of the Human Family, and of our own souls, that we have this day assembled.” They understand that they’re going to bring a “furious and turbulent storm of persecution” upon themselves by seceding from the Church, but they will “rely upon the arm of Jehovah” to get them through it. With God as their protector, “it is futile and vain for man to raise his puny arm against us.” If Joseph Smith and his supporters throw the dissenters into the lion’s den, they will pet that lion like a pussycat like Daniel did in the Bible.
The dissenters make clear that they aren’t anti-Mormons. No one knows the Church and its history better than they do, “We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, . . . is verily true.” It “sinks deep into the heart of every honest man.” It invigorates, dignifies, and ennobles humanity. “It speaks a language which is heard amidst the roar of Artillery, as well as in the silence of midnight.” These dissenters aren’t biased enemies of the Church; they’re devout believers who begin their condemnation of Joseph Smith’s behavior with a powerful testimony of Mormonism’s truth.
The rival church formed in Nauvoo with William Law at the head was a Mormon-derivative church. It lays plain here that the authors of the Nauvoo Expositor believe in Mormonism as it was originally taught by Joseph Smith. Many of Jo’s earliest leaders in the movement consider Nauvoo to be the place where Joseph became a fallen prophet. Others place that time earlier or later. For example, David Whitmer, who was head of the Missouri stake of the church and excommunicated in 1838, considered 1834 to be the point when Joseph fell. He didn’t consider the idea of two different priesthoods to be legitimate. He wasn’t there for the greater theological evolutions seen in Nauvoo. He thought that Jo tampered too much with the temporal affairs of members. When he changed the name of the church from Church of Christ to Church of the Latter Day Saints right before Zion’s camp in 1834, Whitmer considered that to be the final straw and everything that happened after is evidence of Jo being fallen.
The Expositor publishers who formed this True COJCOLDS in Nauvoo to offer refuge to those who felt wronged considered a later date to be Jo’s departure from being a true prophet. They considered 4 books to be the centerpiece of the religion and anything deviating from the OT, NT, BoM, and D&C was anathema. A quick point of clarification, that’s the D&C from the 1835 printing which didn’t include a lot of Jo’s revelations which were given after. It also doesn’t include what we find in the modern day Pearl of Great Price which is the Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith History, some of the translated Bible, and the Articles of Faith. Theologically speaking, this means the church which published the Nauvoo Expositor retained no belief in Baptisms for the dead, anointed quorums, calling and election made sure, endowments, polygamy, and a few other distinctly Mormon beliefs today. This new church was essentially mainstream Protestantism with the Book of Mormon and a few of Jo’s revelations tacked on. This church was very similar to Jo’s Kirtland-era theology. The Expositor doesn’t state explicitly when they believe Jo went off the rails, but it is consistent with the Mormonism that the Law family joined in 1837 instead of the evolved version we’ve seen develop in Nauvoo.
The next chunk of the preamble takes direct aim at the prophet. The reason the dissenters have chosen to speak out against Joseph Smith now is because his behavior is not consistent with the Mormon view of what a Christian minister should be. Ministers are supposed to be devoted to “the honor and glory of God” and “the salvation of souls,” and they’re supposed to embody “faith, hope, virtue and charity; but with Joseph Smith, and many other official characters in the Church, the[se] are words without any meanings attached--words as ornaments; exotics nurtured for display.”
A good Christian, they claim, must exercise a little discernment with regard to Christian leaders. He should “examine and scan Joseph Smith's pretensions to righteousness,” and don’t just blindly obey a “man which the reasonableness of past events, and the laws of our country declare to be pernicious and diabolical.” This reference to the laws of the country is important, because one issue that came up time and time again between Joseph Smith and various groups of dissenters from the Church is that Jo did not consider himself bound by civil law or by the principles of republican government, whereas the dissenters usually understood Christian virtue and republican virtue to go hand in hand. That was an important theme of the dissenters at Kirtland in 1837, and we’ll see here that it’s an important theme for these Nauvoo dissenters as well.
We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and for that purpose, and with that end in view, with an eye single to the glory of God, we have dared to gird on the armor, and with god at our head, we most solemnly and sincerely declare that the sword of truth shall not depart from the thigh, nor the buckler from the arm, until we can enjoy those glorious privileges which nature's God and our country's laws have guarantied to us--freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and the right to worship God as seemeth us good.--We are aware, however, that we are hazarding every earthly blessing, particularly property, and probably life itself, in striking this blow at tyranny and oppression: yet notwithstanding, we most solemnly declare that no man, or set of men combined, shall, with impunity, violate obligations as sacred as many which have been violated, unless reason, justice and virtue have become ashamed and sought the haunts of the grave, though our lives be the forfeiture.
This is a very self-aware paragraph. Freedom of speech comes with some important protections from people like Joseph Smith and the way William Law crafted this paragraph is quite genius. If a person is an overwhelming tyrant with tens of thousands of people rallied behind anything he says, his own army, and total control of the government in his little fiefdom, speaking out can be a serious threat to those who speak out. However, as soon as they do speak out and include a paragraph like this, they gain the protection of the public eye. They state explicitly that we may forfeit our lives in trying to stop Jo’s tyranny, and suddenly anybody who wasn’t aware of how Nauvoo worked had their eyes on the new religion and the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor. If any of them happened to disappear or take an unexpected trip to the eastern states or England, suspicions would pervade the kingdom. People would become inquisitive as to what happened to William Law if he went missing. The Nauvoo Expositor fired a shot across Jo’s bow and the ball was in Jo’s court with the whole public watching. More importantly, this was printed in Nauvoo, but the circulation of it granted greater protections. The anti-Mormon politlcal party based in Warsaw and Carthage may not have known about a rival faction of the church cropping up, but as soon as they read the Expositor, they went on high alert. These people weren’t so much anti-Mormons as they were anti-Joseph’s and now they had evidence that there were allies to the anti-Joseph cause implanted in Nauvoo.
Having stated the general moral principles that underpin their dissent, the publishers now start to get into the meat of their allegations against the prophet.
1. There are “items of doctrine . . . taught secretly, and denied openly, (which we know positively is the case,)” and “we declare the[se doctrines] heretical and damnable in their influence.” Should we just stand by and allow virtue to be destroyed by false doctrine? No, of course not: “our country and our God require that we should rectify the tree.”
2. Joseph Smith and his inner circle are practicing “abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles,” and they’re doing it under “under the cloak of religion,” perverting sacred things. This makes Joseph ineligible to be a leader in the Church, because “How shall he, who has drank of the poisonous draft, teach virtue?”
3. Joseph Smith is a tyrant and oppressor, and he has denied people “those glorious privileges which nature’s God and our country’s laws have guarant[e]ed to us--freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and the right to worship God as seemeth us good.” In fact, the dissenters are well aware that speaking out against Joseph Smith will cost them their property and possibly their lives, but our rights are too sacred to stand by and let them be violated, even if it costs us our lives.
Many of us have sought a reformation in the church, without a public exposition of the enormities of crimes practiced by its leaders, thinking that if they would hearken to counsel, and shew fruit meet for repentance, it would be as acceptable with God, as though they were exposed to public gaze,
"For the private path, the secret acts of men, If noble, far the noblest of their lives."
but our petitions were treated with contempt; and in many cases the petitioner spurned from their presence, and particularly by Joseph, who would state that if he had sinned, and was guilty of the charges we would charge him with, he would not make acknowledgment, but would rather be damned; for it would detract from his dignity, and would consequently ruin and prove the overthrow of the Church. We would ask him on the other hand, if the overthrow of the Church was not inevitable, to which he often replies, that we would all go to Hell together, and convert it into a heaven, by casting the Devil out; and says he, Hell is by no means the place this world of fools suppose it to be, but on the contrary, it is quite an agreeable place; to which we would now reply, he can enjoy it if he is determined not to desist from his evil ways; but as for us, and ours, we will serve the Lord our God! It is absurd for men to assert that all is well, while wicked and corrupt men are seeking our destruction, by a perversion of sacred things; for all is not well, while whordoms and all manner of abominations are practiced under the cloak of religion. Lo! the wolf is in the fold, arrayed in sheep's clothing, and is spreading death and devastation among the saints: and we say to the watchmen standing upon the walls, cry aloud and spare not, for the day of the Lord is at hand -- a day cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate. It is a notorious fact, that many females in foreign climes, and in countries to us unknown, even in the most distant regions of the Eastern hemisphere, have been induced, by the sound of the gospel, to forsake friends, and embark upon a voyage across waters that lie stretched over the greater portion of the globe, as they supposed, to glorify God, that they might thereby stand acquitted in the great day of God Almighty. But what is taught them on their arrival at this place? -- They are visited by some of the Strikers, for we know not what else to call them, and are requested to hold on and be faithful, for there are great blessings awaiting the righteous; and that God has great mysteries in store for those who love the Lord, and cling to brother Joseph.
This strikes me as interesting. It provides a window into what the day-to-day life was like, particularly for immigrants who move to Nauvoo with all sorts of promises of spiritual wealth and prosperity. More importantly, however, is how it illustrates the coercive measures taken by Jo and the leadership to gain and retain members in Nauvoo. The further detail is fascinating.
May this be a lesson of how religious practices operate at the fundamental human psychology level. This next passage refers specifically to how polygamy was practiced, but the themes transcend singular religious praxis such as polygamy. I’ll pop a trigger warning here for the next 10 minutes of the podcast. This is going to get ugly but we have to give this issue its due time.
They are also notified that brother Joseph will see them soon, and reveal the mysteries of Heaven to their full understanding, which seldom fails to inspire them with new confidence in the Prophet, as well as a great anxiety to know what God has laid up in store for them, in return for the great sacrifice of father and mother, of gold and silver, which they gladly left far behind, that they might be gathered into the fold, and numbered among the chosen of God. -- They are visited again, and what is the result? They are requested to meet brother Joseph, or some of the Twelve, at some insulated point, or at some particularly described place on the bank of the Mississippi, or at some room, which wears upon its front -- Positively NO admittance. The harmless, inoffensive, and unsuspecting creatures, are so devoted to the Prophet, and the cause of Jesus Christ, that they do not dream of the deep-laid and fatal scheme which prostrates happiness, and renders death itself desirable, but they meet him, expecting to receive through him a blessing, and learn the will of the Lord concerning them, and what awaits the faithful follower of Joseph, the Apostle and Prophet of God, when in the stead thereof, they are told, after having been sworn in one of the most solemn manners, to never divulge what is revealed to them, with a penalty of death attached, that God Almighty has revealed it to him, that she should be his (Joseph's) Spiritual wife; for it was right anciently, and God will tolerate it again: but we must keep those pleasures and blessings from the world, for until there is a change in the government, we will endanger ourselves by practicing it -- but we can enjoy the blessings of Jacob, David, and others, as well as to be deprived of them, if we do not expose ourselves to the law of the land. She is thunder-struck, faints, recovers, and refuses. The Prophet damns her if she rejects. She thinks of the great sacrifice, and of the many thousand miles she has traveled over sea and land, that she might save her soul from pending ruin, and replies, God's will be done, and not mine. The Prophet and his devotees in this way are gratified.
What this describes is grooming and spiritual coercion to accomplish rape. There is no other way of summarizing what is contained in the last passage. Beyond this description at the high level, there are multiple single examples of where this exact procedure was followed by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others to commit sexual assault against defenseless prey who gave up their autonomy to the religious leaders because only damnation awaited them and their family upon their refusal. However, if they just agree to be raped, they and their entire families will enjoy blessings untold. Some will tend to not believe these accounts as they’re salacious and anti-Mormon, but the preponderance of evidence from multiple sources show this for what it really is. Joseph didn’t fight polygamy, he wasn’t a reluctant polygamist, he was a predator and sensible people could recognize it at the time and sensible people see it today unless motivated by biased reasoning.
I really want to dig into this point because polygamy and the resulting rape are such a powerful catalyst for the Expositor being published and the publishers forming a dissenting church in the first place. Too many historians refuse to call this what it is and if we don’t bear the pain these women suffered then their stories remain untold, the crimes committed against them are washed from history, and none of us learn the actual lessons at the heart of what the Expositor sought to accomplish.
The next step to avoid public exposition from the common course of things, they are sent away for a time, until all is well; after which they return, as from a long visit. Those whom no power or influence could seduce, except that which is wielded by some individual feigning to be a God, must realize the remarks of an able writer, when he says, "if woman's feelings are turned to ministers of sorrow, where shall she look for consolation?" Her lot is to be wooed and won; her heart is like some fortress that has been captured, sacked abandoned, and left desolate. With her, the desire of the heart has failed -- the great charm of existence is at an end; she neglects all the cheerful exercises of life, which gladen the spirits, quicken the pulses, and send the tide of life in healthful currents through the veins. Her rest is broken. The sweet refreshment of sleep is poisoned by melancholy dreams; dry sorrow drinks her blood, until her enfeebled frame sinks under the slightest external injury. Look for her after a little while, and you find friendship weeping over her untimely grave; and wondering that one who but so recently glowed with all the radiance of health and beauty, should so speedily be brought down to darkness and despair, you will be told of some wintry chill, of some casual indisposition that laid her low! But no one knows of the mental malady that previously sapped her strength, and made her so easy a pray to the spoiler.
Yeah, that’s PTSD. This is often the result, whether justified by divine providence or any other means, the results are consistent. This monstrous behavior has tangible results seen on the face of each survivor of Mormon sex abuse. The author of this, William Law, saw the women victimized by this system. He cared for them, they were his friends, he knew some of them before they even moved to Nauvoo. The power of the Nauvoo Expositor is made sharper simply by virtue of its giving voice to the voiceless; power to protest to the powerless of society. This is one reason why many people are pleased with Bennett’s expose in 1842, he put a credible male voice on the stories and affidavits of women whose credibility was viewed as defective or inferior in the 19th century. These expositionists worked with the tools they had.
She is like some tender tree, the pride and beauty of the grove -- graceful in its form, bright in its foliage, but with the worm praying at its heart; we find it withered when it should be most luxuriant. We see it drooping its branches to the earth, and shedding leaf by leaf until wasted and perished away, it falls in the stillness of the forest; and as we muse over the beautiful ruin, we strive in vain to recollect the blast or thunder-bolt that could have smitten it with decay. But no one knows the cause except the foul fiend who perpetrated the diabolical deed. Our hearts have mourned and bled at the wretched and miserable condition of females in this place; many orphans have been the victims of misery and wretchedness, through the influence that has been exerted over them, under the cloak of religion and afterwards, in consequence of that jealous disposition which predominates over the minds of some, have been turned upon a wide world, fatherless and motherless, destitute of friends and fortune; and robbed of that which nothing but death can restore. Men solace themselves by saying the facts slumber in the dark caverns of midnight. But Lo! it is sudden day, and the dark deeds of foul fiends shall be exposed from the house-tops. A departed spirit, once the resident of St. Louis, shall yet cry aloud for vengeance. It is difficult -- perhaps impossible -- to describe the wretchedness of females in this place, without wounding the feelings of the benevolent, or shocking the delicacy of the refined; but the truth shall come to the world. The remedy can never be applied, unless the disease is known. The sympathy, ever anxious to relieve, cannot be felt before the misery is seen. -- The charity that kindles at the tale of wo, can never act with adequate efficeiency, till it is made to see the pollution and guilt of men, now buried in the death-shades of heathenism. -- Shall we then, however painful the sight, shrink from the contemplation of their real state? We answer, we will not, if permitted to live. As we have before stated, it is the vicious principles of men we are determined to explode. It is not that we have any private feelings to gratify, or any private pique to settle, that has induced us to be thus plain; for we can respect and love the criminal, if there is any hope of reformation: but there is a point beyond which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
With so many victims, appeasement ceases to be a virtue. The reforms sought by the publishers primarily center around stopping all the rape. That’s pretty damn reasonable if you ask me.
Notably, this is the classic Mormon captivity narrative. Mormon missionaries go overseas to Europe, recruit European women, bring them thousands to Nauvoo away from any social support network, and then ambush them with the doctrine of plural marriage and entrap into sexual liaisons with Mormon leaders. This would become the archetype for dozens of so-called anti-Mormon books and movies over the next hundred years and there is some nugget of truth to them. As it was utilized here, as a rhetorical device, this pushed all the buttons that would have appealed to a nineteenth-century audience.
The mention of orphans gives us something to sink our teeth into, and yes, it’s true: Joseph and his inner circle seem to have particularly preyed upon orphan girls. According to George D. Smith’s book Nauvoo Polygamy, six of Joseph Smith’s plural wives were orphans, including three teenagers. One of Joseph’s earliest sexual affairs was with Fanny Alger, an orphan girl who lived in his house at Kirtland. Jo’s followers married orphans too. In 1843, Jo commanded Benjamin F. Johnson to marry Mary Ann Hale, a 15-year-old orphan girl who lived in his home.
But probably the orphans that the dissenters had in mind were the Lawrence sisters. In May 1843, Jo had married 16-year-old Sarah Lawrence and 19-year-old Maria Lawrence, orphaned sisters of whom Joseph Smith was legal guardian. The Lawrences immigrated to Nauvoo from Canada around the same time the Laws did and they were friends. Possibly, William Law saw himself as a father figure to these orphan sisters. However, when the Lawrences moved to Nauvoo, they lived in the Mansion under the care of the prophet. He also got himself appointed the manager of their large inheritance, and William Law strongly suspected Jo of stealing from the estate, although the available documents make that relatively hard to prove. Some Mormon apologists have suggested that Jo never actually had sex with the Lawrence sisters, but William Law clearly believed that Smith had taken their virginity; thus his comment that they had been “robbed of that which nothing but death can restore.”
All these points made in the preamble provide the introduction to the sexual allegations against Jo. After these passages, the dissenters elaborate on their political allegations against Smith, that he had violated people’s rights and violated republican principles. After that they extensively discuss heretical doctrines beyond polygamy and then draw on the history of the Roman Catholic empire to describe how dangerous and antithetical to American ideals theocracies are.
What false doctrines did the dissenters consider heretical? “Among the many items of false doctrine that are taught the Church, is the doctrine of many Gods . . . We know not what to call it other than blasphemy, for it is most unquestionably, speaking of God in an impious and irreverent manner.--It is contended that there are innumerable Gods as much above the God that presides over this universe, as he is above us; and if he varies from the law unto which he is subjected, he, with all his creatures, will be cast down as was Lucifer.” This diminishes God’s glory and reduces him to a mere creature, little more than an angel.
I’m always fascinated by religious people arguing about the nature of god when nobody has the high ground. This is resulting from Jo’s private teachings in addition to his public declarations during the King Follett Discourse. He had been teaching in private for a couple years that there was a council of gods, but that wasn’t public knowledge until the King Follett Discourse. For many people, his expounding on the nature of god during that sermon was seen as absolutely heretical. Hell, many Christians today claim that Mormonism is anti-Christ because Mormon theology claims a council of gods that were all once mortal men. My point is that theology can be whatever you want it to be and people will believe in it while others call it heresy. The more people calling it heresy, the more the believers in the heresy believe it to be true.
Speaking to the ideas of religion and state becoming one in Nauvoo, the dissenters considered Jo’s “attempt at political power and influence” by running for president “to be preposterous and absurd. We believe it is inconsistent, and not in accordance with the christian religion. We do not believe that God ever raised up a Prophet to christianize a world by political schemes and intrigue.”
Joseph Smith had persecuted dissenters much like the Spanish Inquisition had persecuted heretics in the Middle Ages. Drawing on Catholic history, “We are no longer forced to appeal to those states that are now situated under the influence of Popery for examples of injustice, cruelty and oppression -- we can appeal to the acts of the inquisitorial department organized in Nauvoo, by Joseph and his accomplices, for specimens of injustice of the most pernicious and diabolical character that ever stained the pages of the historian. . . . On thursday evening, the 18th of April, there was a council called, unknown to the Church, which tried, condemned, and cut off brothers Wm. Law, Wilson Law, and sister Law, (Wm's. wife,) brother R.D. Foster, and one brother Smith, with whom we are unacquainted; which we contend is contrary to the book of Doctrine and Covenants, for our law condemnest no man untill he is heard. We abhor and protest against any council or tribunal in this Church, which will not suffer the accused to stand in its midst and plead their own cause.”
Why had the dissenters been prevented from pleading their case before the council? “We answer, it is because the court fears the atrocity of its crimes will be exposed to public gaze. We wish the public to thoroughly understand the nature of this court, and judge of the legality of its acts as seemeth them good. On Monday, the 15th of April, brother R.D. Foster had a notice served on him to appear before the High Council on Saturday following, the 20th, and answer to charges preferred against him by Joseph Smith. On Saturday, while Mr. Foster was preparing to take his witnesses, 41 in number, to the council-room, that he might make good his charges against Joseph, president Marks notified him that the trial had been on Thursday evening, before the 15th, and that he was cut off from the Church; and that same council cut off the brother Laws', sister Law, and brother Smith, and all without their knowledge.”
This excommunication in absentia was especially problematic because Brigham Young, who presided over the hearing, did not have jurisdiction “to try Wm. Law, who was called by special Revelation, to stand as counsellor to the President of the Church, (Joseph,) which was twice ratified by General Conferences, assembled at Nauvoo.” According to the Doctrine and Covenants, only the high council should have had jurisdiction in this case. What are we to take away from Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon being absent from the hearing? That’s a tougher question but William Law’s interpretation seems parsimonious. Jo didn’t want to testify as to why William Law was unfit to be a member in good standing as that would raise many questions about his own conduct in the hearing.
In total, when we consider the meat of the preamble to the Nauvoo Expositor, these were the sins of Joseph Smith: teaching false doctrine, practicing whoredoms, and acting the part of an anti-republican tyrant. The dissenters were careful to reiterate that “it is the vicious principles of men we are determined to explode. It is not that we have any private feelings to gratify, or any private pique to settle, that has induced us to be thus plain; for we can respect and love the criminal, if there is any hope of reformation: but there is a point beyond which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.”
And it’s not like the dissenters hadn’t followed proper procedure for when a fellow Christian goes astray. “We have called upon [Joseph Smith] to repent, and as soon as he shewed fruits meet for repentance, we stood ready to seize him by the hand of fellowship, and throw around him the mantle of protection; for it is the salvation of souls we desire, and not our own aggrandizement. . . . Many of us have sought a reformation in the church, without a public exposition of the enormities of crimes practiced by its leaders, thinking that if they would hearken to counsel, and shew fruit meet for repentance, it would be as acceptable with God, as though they were exposed to public gaze.”
Unfortunately, Jo never took them up on their offer of repentance as the stakes were too high. He didn’t want to change the direction of the church and its doctrine and he was far too prideful of his creation to admit to wrongdoing in a public forum. “Our petitions were treated with contempt; and in many cases the petitioner spurned from their presence.” Joseph himself was the worst. He replied “that if he had sinned, and was guilty of the charges we would charge him with, he would not make acknowledgment, but would rather be damned; for it would detract from his dignity, and would consequently ruin and prove the overthrow of the Church.” In other words, even if a leader is a wrong, he can never admit that he’s wrong, lest he damage the dignity of the office and cause people to doubt their faith. We see replete throughout human history where this inability to admit wrongs by leaders only results in worse outcomes for the people led.
To this the dissenters rejoined that Joseph’s bad behavior made the overthrow of the Church inevitable. He replied, “that we would all go to Hell together, and convert it into a heaven, by casting the Devil out; and says he, Hell is by no means the place this world of fools suppose it to be, but on the contrary, it is quite an agreeable place.” A lot of you listeners have probably heard this teaching from Joseph Smith about how if Latter-day Saints go to hell, they’ll make a heaven out of it. But you’ve probably never heard it in this context, with Joseph Smith using it justify why he isn’t bound by sexual propriety and why he never has to admit that he’s wrong. This teaching is usually taken as a shout of defiance against Protestantism, but it looks a lot more ominous the way the dissenters frame it: as a shout of defiance against God and against the Christian concept of right and wrong. Joseph Smith is willing to go to hell and to take all the Latter-day Saints with him in order to do whatever he wants and never have to apologize for anything. “Lo!” proclaim the dissenters, “the wolf is in the fold, arrayed in sheep's clothing, and is spreading death and devastation among the saints.”
That essentially concludes the preamble of the Nauvoo Expositor. I want to make a brief point touching on the perspective from which this was written. The publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor were no John C. Bennett or Thomas C. Sharp of the Warsaw Signal. They weren’t coming at this from an antagonistic perspective. They formed their own Mormonism before publishing this Expositor because they were explicitly seeking reforms that had been quashed by Joseph and the leadership repeatedly. In that regard, it seems as if the Nauvoo Expositor pulled its punches. Like, it could have gone so much further to detail criminal activities, salacious theology, and clandestine nature of the church, but this wasn’t written to cause outsiders to bring the Illinois militia into Nauvoo to put down the crimes. It was written in such a way as to inform the public what they were really invested in and to provide an alternative if they could no longer stand to be associated with the criminal empire that was Nauvoo Mormonism. Anti-Mormon propaganda like Bennett’s expose and articles in the Warsaw Signal could easily be written off or ignored as anti-Mormon by Mormons. But the authors of the Nauvoo Expositor were people who were in good-standing and leadership positions of the church only 6 months before it was published. They laid out reasonable arguments for what was wrong in Nauvoo and, as we’ll see in the next section, provided resolutions to reasonably reform the church and install a crucial wall of separation between church and state which had never existed in the criminal empire since its foundation. For these reasons, the Nauvoo Expositor had a much greater impact on the church than any other expose or news article from the Warsaw Signal or New York Tribune. It also means that the Expositor was a greater existential threat to the prophet and Nauvoo leadership than any of these other fora.
Now we’ve discussed the general complaints of the dissenters, let’s see what they propose to actually reform the church in the next section of the Expositor.
Here are the resolutions, 15 in number, the new dissenting church held to as the reasonable alternative to Joseph Smith’s tyrannical regime.
First, there should be no excommunications or church courts without giving the accused an opportunity to defend themselves. Therefore, the excommunication of the Laws and Robert D. Foster were declared “unjust and unauthorized by the laws of the Church, and consequently null and void.”
This resolution is interesting to me. On the one hand, the dissenters wanted to be reinstated in full membership of the church, or at least to nullify their excommunication. On the other hand, they’d formed their own church in Nauvoo, for which they could dictate the rules. What did they really want? Well, excommunication carries a social stigma with it, today as much as in the Joseph Smith days. I assume they wanted things to go back to the way they were in early Nauvoo when they were all in good standing, prospering in wealth, surrounded by friends, and the controversial teachings of the church were nowhere to be seen. But, again, the problem here was Joseph Smith. He ran his church how he wanted and by virtue of being mayor of Nauvoo and commander-in-chief of the Nauvoo legion, he ran his city how he wanted. There was no going back to the halcyon days of 1840-1. The ship hadn’t sailed, it had sunk and there was no way to recover what was lost.
Second, Joseph and Hyrum Smith have forfeited their priesthood by teaching “false and damnable doctrines,” including the plurality of gods, the plurality of wives, and “the doctrine of unconditional sealing up to eternal life.” This last one refers to the Second Anointing, a ritual which supposedly made it impossible for you to lose your salvation except by shedding innocent blood. The dissenters considered this a perversion of the priesthood, and thus denounced the Smith brothers “as apostates from the pure and holy doctrines of Jesus Christ.”
Notably, in this teaching, Joseph Smith determined who did and didn’t have innocent blood. So, some people like Porter Rockwell were required to shed blood of enemies to the kingdom of god for their salvation. Every tyrant needs a shadow enforcer and a divine excuse to put their enemies out of the way. Joseph’s theology of second anointing coupled with blood atoning Danites provided this path.
Third, the dissenters rejected “every attempt to unite church and state,” and denounced Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign.
Fourth, Joseph Smith’s hostility toward Missourians and toward other non-Mormons was “at variance with the true spirit of Christianity.”
Fifth, church members should follow the law of the land, and “[we] discountenance any chicanery to screen them from the just demands of the same.” (This was a tacit condemnation of Joseph Smith’s many efforts to evade arrest and his abuse of the Constitutional right of habeas corpus in order to get free whenever he was arrested.)
Missouri was always a sore spot for the prophet. The Mormons’ treatment in Missouri motivated a lot of Jo’s decisions and formed the foundation for the Mormon persecution narrative incorporated into many of his sermons. In many ways, his bid for President of the United States in 1844 was a direct result of the Mormons being exterminated from Missouri and Missouri’s repeated attempts to bring Jo back into the state to answer for his crimes. When the Mormons appealed to the federal government and governors of Illinois and Missouri, they were essentially told that the government couldn’t do anything for them. Jo had a lot riding on the Government bailing the Mormons out and when that didn’t happen, his political machinations grew exponentially until the next reasonable step for him was to run for POTUS. The Mormon voice would be impossible to ignore or quash when the nation’s President is literally the prophet who started the religion. His campaign was also a publicity stunt within the context of a being basically a protest campaign. The nation’s collective eye turned toward the kingdom on the Mississippi which had some interesting effects we’ve seen Jo navigate for the past year of podcast episodes.
Sixth, Joseph Smith shouldn’t be running Church finances, because the Doctrine and Covenants makes that the purview of the Presiding Bishop.
Jo did have an incredible amount of control over the monetary affairs of the Mormons. Never forget, his name was on all the land contracts that created Nauvoo and all the nearby Mormon settlements. He controlled the property to begin with and much of his daily time was occupied with buying and selling property in and around Nauvoo. He was incredibly wealthy but incredibly deep in debt from all the land speculation. Beyond that, though, his word was the word of god when people showed signs of disloyalty. People like the Laws, who held a lot of property and a couple businesses in Nauvoo, were vulnerable to the whims of the prophet. If he instructed that people shouldn’t transact business with people he labeled as apostates, those people were bankrupted almost immediately because anybody seen buying or selling anything with apostates were themselves apostate sympathizers and therefore ran the risk of being branded apostate. It’s this same concept that forced the Baker-Fancher party into starvation before the Mormons massacred them at Mountain Meadows only 13 years in the future from our timeline.
Seventh, we condemn dancing, drinking, and theaters, “believing they have a tendency to lead from paths of virtue and holiness.”
Nauvoo had a relatively consistent problem with houses of vice throughout its history. Sex work was a lucrative game when the chief economy of the city was currying favor with political elites. Beyond that, Nauvoo had some teetotalers in government ranks. It started with John C. Bennett outlawing alcohol but when Jo took over as mayor he softened up the prohibitions to the point that his home, the Nauvoo Mansion, had the best bar and most beautiful women in town with Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell as bartender. Jo also controlled all alcohol licenses in the city so he could price fix liquor and if any competition cropped up in the city he could send the marshal over to shut down the bar.
Eighth, scripture is immutable, and we must abide by its doctrines to be saved.
Ninth, the gathering of the Saints to Nauvoo has been premature, overly hasty, and motivated by Church leaders’ greed. “It has been taught by Joseph Smith and others for the purpose of enabling them to sell property at most exhorbitant prices,” reducing business people to poverty, “and thus the wealth which is brought into the place is swallowed up by the one great throat, from whence there is no return, which if it had been economically disbursed amongst the whole would have rendered all comfortable.” In effect, Joseph Smith’s greed and price-gouging for land had destroyed the Nauvoo economy and established the foundation for a wide disparity between wealth classes in the city. The hill overlooking the flats was prime real estate near the temple which only the wealthiest church leaders could afford. Wealth inequality is a common trend in society motivating people like these dissenters to finally pull the trigger and go public with their grievances.
Tenth, we “consider the injunction laid upon the saints compelling them to purchase property of the Trustee in trust for the Church, is a deception practiced upon them,” and the missionaries’ efforts to raise funds for construction of the temple is “a humbug practiced upon the saints by Joseph and others, to aggrandize themselves, as we do not believe that the monies and property so collected, have been applied as the donors expected, but have been used for speculative purposes, by Joseph, to gull the saints the better on their arrival at Nauvoo, by buying the lands in the vicinity and selling again to them at tenfold advance.” In other words, the dissenters believed Joseph was skimming off of donations for the temple and the Nauvoo House in order to buy land and sell it at outrageous prices to the Saints.
Just like giving money to the Mormon church or any other church today, when people would give money to the temple building project or any other church or public project, they had very little assurance that their donations actually went to the temple instead of in the pockets of the leadership or to pay debts not directly associated with the temple project or the larger church. It’s like trying to pee in the corner of a pool, there was no accountability and people bristled at the fact that they had no way to know that the money they gave to Joseph or the brethren was actually going to church causes. I can see how lack of financial transparency in the church would infuriate people.
Eleventh, “we consider all secret societies, and combinations under penal oaths and obligations, (professing to be organized for religious purposes,) to be anti-Christian, hypocritical and corrupt.”
Twelfth, “we will not acknowledge any man as king or law-giver to the church; for Christ is our only king and law-giver.” This referred to Joseph Smith’s ordination as king over the Council of Fifty.
Daniteism was a buzzword thrown around a lot in Nauvoo. The Danites in Missouri left an indelible mark on the church’s more clandestine operations. Jo had made a few public demonstrations that no secret oaths were passed among the Nauvoo elite. When William Law filed a complaint after he suspected Jo had attempted to kill him under the cover of night, Jo had the entire police force come in and play dumb about any secret oaths. But, people in the know knew better. Reasonable people could see right past the demonstration for what it was. Jo invented increasingly exclusive groups with oaths and rituals for various reasons, not least of which was forming the secretive Council of Fifty to become the government once the United States government had been overthrown. Notable in this as well is the anti-Masonic rhetoric the nation had yet to get over since the William Morgan affair in 1826. Secret Combinations were a terrifying idea to many who felt like real societal power and change was orchestrated in these clandestine meetings instead of at the polls or in public demonstrations. In many ways, Nauvoo serves as a microcosm for the anti-authoritarian and anti-government bend throughout groups in American history. These were completely reasonable complaints by the dissenters.
Thirteenth, we believe in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants, and we disfellowship anyone who practices or teaches contrary to these books of scripture.
Resolved 14th, That we hereby notify all those holding licences to preach the gospel, who know they are guilty of teaching the doctrine of other Gods above the God of this creation; the plurality of wives; the unconditional sealing up against all crimes, save that of sheding innocent blood; the spoiling of the gentiles, and all other doctrines, (so called) which are contrary to the laws of God, or to the laws of our country, to cease preaching, and to come and make satisfaction, and have their licences renewed.
This may be the most consequential of all the resolutions as it provided a path for reconciliation for average members. Look, polygamy and plurality of gods were tough doctrines for a lot of people to get their minds around, as were the ideas of second anointings and consecrating gentile property for church use (theft or robbery). This competitor church being formed in Nauvoo calling people to renounce the more controversial teachings and providing preaching licenses of their own set up the True COJCOLDS to be a legitimate market competitor to Jo’s church. It didn’t require somebody getting rebaptized or adhering to a new set of doctrines or scriptures, it was merely a return to a less-controversial time of the church the people already believed in. To anybody who’d heard the rumors of polygamy and simply considered them anti-Mormon lies, to have William Law, Jo’s second in command only 6 months prior, publishing reports of polygamy and forming a monogamous church after his excommunication would have forced a lot of people to reconsider whether or not all those rumors might actually be true. Now, this new church would provide people a path to membership and renewal of their licenses if they merely denied these controversial teachings. This resolution could be quite appealing to many folks who didn’t agree with the current direction of Jo’s church.
And finally, fifteenth, our war is a spiritual war against the powers of darkness, so “we will not use carnal weapons save in our own defence.” This was a tacit rejection of the military aggression that Joseph Smith had taught and practiced, including the looting of Gentile cities during the 1838 Missouri War. I suppose a printing press isn’t technically a weapon but it was far more powerful than any martial implement of the day and with the printing of this Nauvoo Expositor it accomplished its task masterfully.
That’s it for the resolutions. Those are the 15 points the Nauvoo Expositor sought to accomplish. In many ways, the lack of compromise in any of the resolutions meant that they were non-starter proposals. Joseph had taken the church in a direction of lawlessness and esoteric doctrines for years. These resolutions would devolve the church into a more benign and mainstream version of itself, and Joseph Smith wasn’t someone who had the concepts of deescalation and compromise in his personality. The publishers printing the Nauvoo Expositor with these resolutions was them serving the ball and letting the game play out. It was in Jo’s court and his response would dictate the direction of the next edition of the Nauvoo Expositor to be published the next week. That would send the ball back over to Jo and the leadership. To what extent the publishers expected Jo to simply blow up the game after they served is unknown but it’s what he did.
The next portion of the Expositor is remarkable. Not only did the preamble and resolutions detail the problems the publishers had with Jo’s church and paths toward reconciliation, the next section provides affidavits that prove polygamy was happening and anybody who believes otherwise can only do so by ignoring a mountain of evidence. These three affidavits were subscribed to Justice of the Peace Robert D. Bob the Builder Foster, one of the excommunicated printers of the Expositor and brother to the guy who pulled a pistol on Jo when they were both taken to prison for refusing to help the marshal arrest Augustine Spencer.
The newspaper includes three affidavits as evidence of Joseph and Hyrum Smith privately teaching polygamy, even though they publicly denied it.
The first one is an affidavit from William Law. He says that Hyrum Smith read him the plural marriage revelation in his office, said it “was a revelation from God,” and “said that he was with Joseph when it was received.” Law took the document home and showed it to his wife. It “authorized certain men to have more wives than one at a time, in this world and in the world to come. It said this was the law, and commanded Joseph to enter into the law.--And also that he should administer to others.” This is important because the possibility of Jo approaching Jane Law with a proposal would have happened some time weeks or months before William gave this affidavit. Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith giving a copy of the revelation to William provides for the high likelihood that Jo instructed Hyrum to do so in order to set the stage for his proposal to Jane.
The second affidavit was from Jane Law, William’s wife, confirming that she had read the revelation and that “it sustained in strong terms the doctrine of more wives than one at a time, in this world, and in the next, it authorized some to have to the number of ten, and set forth that those women who would not allow their husbands to have more wives than one who should be under condemnation before God.” The Law of Sarah, as this is called in modern D&C 132, was, and still is, a tough concept for many people to deal with, particularly women. The actual wording of the Law of Sarah is crafted such that it was aimed directly at Emma, but it became an interlocking piece within the doctrine of plural marriage that remains in the text to this day.
The third affidavit was from Austin Cowles, who said that the reason he had resigned his post as first counselor in the First Presidency in 1843 was that Hyrum Smith had introduced the plural marriage revelation to a high council meeting in 1843, and that “according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines; 1st, the sealing up of persons to eternal life, against all sins, save that of sheding innocent blood or of consenting thereto; [and] 2nd, the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that ‘David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not.’”
Of course, we today are very familiar with D&C 132 and we know the claims made in these affidavits were true, but to many members of the Nauvoo Church this would have been shocking, even unbelievable. The prophet had stood up several times from the pulpit and said outright that he wasn’t teaching plural marriage and any allegations to the contrary are anti-Mormon lies. The prophet wouldn’t lie from the pulpit… would he?
These three affidavits taken together provide damning problems in the church hierarchy. The fact that they were given by trusted Mormon elites and were consistent with each other and all the rumors people had been hearing for years gave them a great deal of weight and reliability. Also, because of the resolutions and formation of the alternative solution to following Joseph, the Expositor provided multiple paths out from both an intellectual and emotional perspective. If the readers came into contact with this information and struggled to reconcile it with their beliefs, they didn’t have to oppose the church, just a few bad actors within it and they could do so peacefully by aligning with the dissenter church to satisfy their emotional needs.
The next item in the paper was an introductory essay to the Nauvoo Expositor written by its editor, Sylvester Emmons. Sylvester Emmons isn’t a very well-known figure in Mormon history, in part because he wasn’t a Mormon. He moved to Illinois in 1840 and was admitted to the bar to serve as an attorney in Hancock County in 1843. The same year he was elected to the Nauvoo City Council despite being a non-Mormon, and in 1844 of course the Laws and Robert Foster made Emmons the editor of the Nauvoo Expositor. Emmons went on to work as a newspaperman in other cities for much of the rest of his life.
In Emmons’s introductory essay he clarifies that the newspaper isn’t designed to promote any particular religious tenets or any particular political party. The newspaper was not an official organ of the dissenters’ church, nor was it an anti-Mormon paper. “On the other hand, we believe religious despotism to be incompatible with our free institutions.”
The paper would remain neutral on the conflict between the two great political parties of the nation, but it would be less neutral toward that new party that “has sprung up in our midst, the leader of which, it would seem, expects, by a flourish of Quixotic chivalry, to take, by storm, the Presidential chair, and distribute among his faithful supporters, the offices of governor in all the different States.” It also promised no neutrality in local politics “on account of a combination which we believe has for its object the utter destruction of the rights of the old citizens of the county. . . . We shall spread the banner to the breeze for a radical reform in the city of Nauvoo, as the departure from moral rectitude, and the abuse of power, have become intolerable.”
Unlike the preamble written by the Mormon dissenters, Emmons does come across as fairly anti-Mormon. He complains that there exists “an order of things with the systematic elements of organization in our midst -- a system which, if exposed in its naked deformity, would make the virtuous mind revolt with horror; a system in the exercise of which lays prostrate all the dearest ties in our social relations -- the glorious fabric upon which human happiness is based--ministers to the worst passions of our nature, and throws us back into the benighted regions of the dark ages, we have the greatest reason to believe.” In other words, he presents Mormonism as something monstrous: deformed, an object of horror, and a threat to virtue that might plunge us back into the dark ages.
The harder stance of Emmons’ introduction may seem discordant with everything in the paper we’ve discussed so far, but it was more provided in such a way as to complement the preamble and resolutions; a way of putting a sharper point on all the grievances aired out up to his introduction. If read without the context of everything preceding and following this introduction, it sounds quite scathing, but when we consider everything in the paper around Emmons’ remarks, also bearing in mind the historical context in which the Expositor was conceived in the first place, Emmons’ perspective is perfectly aligned with the general mission of the dissenting church and the reformations sought by those who organized it.
Emmons is also adamant that he doesn’t support religious persecution against the Mormons. “The question is asked, will you bring a mob upon us? In answer to that, we assure all concerned, that we will be among the first to put down anything like an illegal force being used against any man or set of men. If any one has become amenable to the law, we wish to have him tried impartially by the laws of his country. We are among the number who believe that there is virtue and integrity enough in the administrators of the law, to bring every offender to justice, and to protect the innocent.” This statement coupled with the 15th resolution by the dissenting church about weapons of warfare not being carnal and that they “will not use carnal weapons save in our own defence.” Illustrates that the overall pursuit of the dissenters was peaceful reform. They didn’t want a repeat of Missouri with state militias surrounding the Mormon settlements, forcing them to surrender, then exterminating the Mormons wholesale out of the state of Illinois. If the militia got involved, or the “mobocrats” as they were called from the pulpit, everything gets much more complicated and state officials like governors and congressmen have to get involved. For all intents and purposes, the dissenters and Emmons wanted these grievances resolved domestically and without bloodshed.
But—and here’s the rub—Emmons realizes that it might be necessary for the officers of the law to make a “show of force” in order to see the law enforced. And he was well aware that if that happened, the Mormons would consider it a mob even if it was done through proper, official channels within the law. Remember that Joseph Smith is the guy who once declared back in Missouri that “the governor is mob, the militia are mob, the whole state is mob.” Joseph Smith had set a precedent in Kirtland that the Saints could defend themselves by force against a mob, and then he had set a precedent in Missouri that everyone who opposed him, no matter how legitimate their grievance or lawful their authority, was a mob. So Emmon’s reassurance here wouldn’t have been very reassuring to faithful Mormons who bought into Joseph Smith’s black-and-white, us-versus-them, faithful-versus-adversary worldview. This persecution narrative was conceived early in church history and thrives to this day. Emmons understood this, but he advises us to look very closely at any claims of persecution by the Saints. In his words, “It is not always the first man who cries out, stop thief, that is robbed.”
Emmons also offers a pre-emptive rebuttal to anyone who might accuse him of slandering Joseph Smith. Jo was a very litigious man and many people, including publishers of the Expositor, had groaned under the oppressive nature of Jo fining them for speaking against him and then chairing the municipal court hearing to determine who was at fault. Jo had also repeatedly assailed the characters of many of his enemies in the Times and Seasons or Nauvoo Neighbor, dragging them into the public light when they weren’t technically public figures. Emmons agrees that the press shouldn’t be a medium for assailing or exposing the character of any private individual. However, Joseph Smith was fair game because he had made himself a public figure. “Whoever acts in an official character, who sets himself up as a public teacher, and reformer of morals and religion, and as an aspirant to the highest office in the gift of the people of this glorious republic, whose institutions he publicly condemns, we assert and maintain the right of canvassing all the public acts and animadverting, with terms of the severest reproach upon all the revolutionary measures that comes to our notice, from any source.” A good citizen cannot stand by as the laws of the nation are defied and fugitives guilty of high crimes against the nation flee justice and abuse the right of habeas corpus to escape. “An independent Press is bound by every sense of duty” to lay such deeds bare. “Yes, we will speak, and that too in thunder tones.”
Something worth mentioning here is the moral expectations placed on somebody like Joseph Smith who claims to be a prophet of god. His followers, even to this day, expect him to be the most morally sound person on earth. This creates a feedback loop of moral relativism. Joseph is called of God, and while he is a man who makes the mistakes of men, god works with imperfect people perfectly to accomplish his plan. Therefore it follows that anything Jo does can be excused because god wouldn’t pick an immoral man to be his prophet. The more immoral things Jo does, the more that excuse is implemented and the more people turn a blind eye to his conduct. This mentality creates the fallacious narrative of Jo being a reluctant polygamist while he was repeatedly raping teenagers. He didn’t want to have so many wives but an angel appeared to him with a sword and told him if he didn’t take all those wives he’d be killed. The same narrative appears when we excuse his blatant tyrannical and revolutionary ambitions. The theocracy he wanted to build was Zion, the New Jerusalem, and anybody opposing him are enemies to the kingdom of god. He may have done some things that flaunted the laws of the land, but that’s okay because he was following the higher law of God. No! That doesn’t fly here. Joseph Smith was an immoral man. He was a monster and he needed to be stopped. Unfortunately for American history, the person who usurped the mantle was far more monstrous than Jo ever dreamed of becoming.
Emmons concludes his essay with a specific example of abuse of the law: the case of Joseph Smith’s distant cousin Jeremiah Smith. In Emmons’s summary, “It appears he is a fugitive from justice for the offence of procuring four thousand dollars from the United States Treasury at the city of Washington, under false pretences. A bill of indictment was found in the District of Columbia against him, and a warrant issued for his arrest. The Marshal of Iowa Territory got intelligence of his being in this place, and procuring the necessary papers for his arrest, proceeded to this place in search of him, about three weeks ago.”
The marshal discovered that Jeremiah was under his cousin Jo’s protection, and he ordered Jo to turn Jeremiah over. Jo pretended not to know anything about him. The marshal threatened to call out the dragoons and search the city, but Jo said that wasn’t necessary; he would produce the prisoner if the marshal agreed to give Jeremiah a hearing on a writ of habeas corpus. The marshal agreed, and the Nauvoo municipal court heard the case and ordered that Jeremiah be released. A federal judge got wind of this and ordered the marshal to re-arrest Jeremiah. He was successfully re-arrested, but Jo repeated the procedure and again got Jeremiah released on a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the United States to pay the court costs.
Emmons wonders what kind of precedent such conduct sets, especially as Jo had repeatedly enjoyed the privileges of this same process. “If such an order of things is allowed to exist, there is every reason to believe that Nauvoo will become a sink of refuge for every offender who can carry in spoils enough to buy protection.” Traditionally habeas corpus was only supposed to be used for judging “the validity of the writ,” but the court at Nauvoo was using it “to enquire into the merits of the case, and allow the prisoner to swear himself clear of the charges. If his own oath is not considered sufficient to satisfy the adverse party, plenty of witnesses are ready to swear that he is to be believed on oath.” This, Emmons argued, was a clear abuse of justice and demonstrated the need to repeal the Nauvoo city charter.
This is the first place in the Nauvoo Expositor where it mentions repealing the Nauvoo Charter. This was a source of debate for Illinois politicians of the day. The Nauvoo Charter Bennett had pushed through the Illinois Legislature provided incredible powers to the Mormon leadership. Since it went into effect, dozens more ordinances had been passed greatly expanding the powers held by the church and government authorities. The only option remaining was to revoke the charter. What that meant for the Mormons was unknown but the possibility of this had been voiced from the pulpit by Joseph Smith multiple times as being the greatest injustice the Mormons could suffer, often hearkening back to the Missouri-Mormon war and drawing parallels to incite fear of government oversight or revocation of municipal powers. The most acute realization of the expanding powers of Nauvoo was the memorial to congress sent in late 1843, to which the majority of the Nauvoo Expositor publishers appended their names as signatories. This memorial claimed that Nauvoo was a sovereign territory, but that darn U.S. Constitution forbade territories being organized within boundaries of states so Congress never responded. However, the arrogance exhibited by even drafting the memorial in the first place, let alone sending it with hundreds of signatures attached, revealed how out of control the Nauvoo empire was becoming. The Nauvoo Charter is what set these dominoes tumbling in the first place and revoking it was the first step in pulling the rug out from under the legs of the powerful Mormon leadership and beginning to bring the empire into compliance with federal and state laws. To cut to the punchline, after the deaths of Jo and Hyrum, the Nauvoo Charter was revoked which incited multiple migrations of different groups of Mormons to different states outside of Illinois after the Battle of Nauvoo.
Emmons’ introduction wraps rather anti-climactically with an open-ended question about allowing these abuses of power to continue. This introduction, however, provides an interesting window into the trajectory of the Nauvoo Expositor had it been allowed to publish more than one issue. As editor and non-Mormon, it seems as if the publishers granted Emmons certain latitude to expand the scope of commentary about Nauvoo to whatever he deemed the du jour outrage at the time each issue was published. Alternate history where the Expositor press isn’t burned, Jo is never taken to Carthage, and the prophet’s presidential campaign ran its course through the rest of 1844 create some interesting questions as to what the Nauvoo Expositor would have covered every week and how it would have grown and evolved with the dissenting church in Nauvoo gaining popularity and a larger following. We can only speculate as to what the content of the second, third, and thirty-third edition of the Expositor would have contained.
The newspaper also includes some commentary on materials that were published in connection with Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign. First there’s a letter from Joseph Smith to Henry Clay, another candidate for president. “Smith charges Clay with shrinking from the responsibility of promising to grant whatever the Mormons might ask,” and then he summarizes his own political views. In Emmons’s summary,
One is for the General Government to purchase the slaves of the south and set them free, that we can understand. Another is to pass a general uniform land law, that certainly requires the spirit of interpretation to show its meaning as no explanation accompanies it. Another which no doubt will be very congenial to the candidate's nervous system, is to open all the prison doors in the country, and set the captive free.
Emmons sort of laughs off these policy suggestions, coming as they do from a minor candidate with “two indictments against him, one for fornication and adultery, another for perjury.”
Another item from Joseph’s campaign that Emmons finds amusing is an excerpt from the Views of the General Joseph Smith, which was ghostwritten for the prophet by W. W. Phelps. Phelps had a tendency to write gibberish full of obscure literary references, and this was no exception. Here’s a sample of what Phelps wrote:
[Martin Van Buren] and his measures have such a striking resemblance to the anecdote of the Welchman and his cart-tongue, that, when the constitution was so long that it allowed slavery at the capitol of a free people, is could not be cut off; but when it was [so] short that it needed a Sub-Treasury, to save funds of the nation, it could be spliced! Oh, granny what a long tail our puss has got! As a Greek might say, hysteron proteron; the cart before the horse; but his mighty whisk through the great national fire, for the presidential chesnuts burnt the locks of his glory with the blaze of his folly!
Emmons dryly comments on this nonsense that electing Joseph Smith president will apparently usher in a golden age “in which a Prophet only can tell whether granny’s cat has a long tail or not; or whether the Greek’s cart will be before the horse or otherwise; the constitution we presume will be as long as the Welchman’s cart tongue.” In other words, what the hell are you even talking about, Joseph Smith? This was worthwhile commentary as many outlets, including Thomas Sharp’s Warsaw Signal, had made absolute hay with Jo’s presidential pamphlet. Once again, the Expositor wasn’t a political paper, but an anti-Joseph paper and commenting on his presidential pamphlet walked the line of being political without actually engaging in politics.
On a similar political note, the newspaper also includes an editorial from Francis M. Higbee in which he calls upon the people of Hancock County to defeat the Mormon candidates in the upcoming election, including Joseph Smith for president and Hyrum Smith for state legislature. In voting for Joseph Smith, “you are voting for a man who contends all governments are to be put down and the [new] one established upon its ruins.” You’re voting for a man who told W. W. Phelps in Missouri that he had come to the point of resisting all law. “You are voting for a man who refuses to suffer criminals to be brought to justice, . . . for a man who stands indicted, and who is now held to bail, for the crimes of adultery and perjury.” Joseph was “one of the blackest and basest scoundrels that has appeared upon the stage of human existence since the days of Nero, and Caligula.” And if you vote for Hyrum Smith for legislature, then you “are supporting Joseph Smith, for whom he (Hyrum) goes teeth and toe nails.”
So, what does Francis Higbee claim you should do instead? “Let us arise in the majesty of our strength and sweep the influence of tyrants and miscreants from the face of the land, as with the breath of heaven. . . . Call into the field your best men under the solemn pledge to go for the unconditional repeal of the Nauvoo Charter, and you have our support; whether they be Whig or Democrat we care not; when a friend presents us with a draught of cool water, we do not stop to inquire whether it is contained in a silver vase, a golden urn or a long handled gourd.” In other words, this is the vote blue no matter who movement of the nineteenth century. Vote for anyone but Joseph and we’ll get the Nauvoo Charter repealed and the world can go back to normal. Doing so, however, provided a bit of a rock and a hard place for many movers and shakers in politics. Joseph Smith was so deep in the blood of Illinois and federal level politicians that calling on the voters to oppose Jo made it tough to balance the Mormon voting bloc with the weight of non-Mormon or anti-Mormon constituents. Any politician advocating for the repeal of the Nauvoo Charter instantly placed themselves into the enemy of the kingdom camp and were guaranteed to never get a single Mormon vote from that point forward. However, if enough non-Mormon voters would show up to overrule the Mormon bloc, it was better to curry favor with those voters. Add into this the complexity of Jo’s political platform of abolition and annexation of Texas and Oregon. If a politician was running in opposition to Joseph Smith on grounds of his overwhelming power, they could expect to be painted the broad brush of opposing his political platform as well, which was tough because a politician could hold largely the same views as Jo but running as a competitor, which may create false impressions about their own platform. Jo being so deeply intertwined with politics made the calculus quite a challenge for other figures in power, or having ambitions for power, during this controversial 1844 election cycle.
The Nauvoo Expositor also included some news items concerning court proceedings. The circuit court of Hancock County had just ended its session. During the session, four cases in which Joseph Smith was defendant had been transferred to another county; two of the cases were for false imprisonment, one for slander, and one for trespassing. Also, a grand jury had indicted Smith on two charges, “one for perjury, and another for fornication and adultery; on the first of which Smith delivered himself up for trial, but the State not being ready, material witnesses being absent, the case was deferred to the October term.”
Also, the municipal court of Nauvoo had heard appeals on the cases of Robert D. Foster, Chauncey Higbee, and Charles A. Foster. To review, in case you missed the episode about the Higbees a couple weeks ago, on April 26, 1844, Joseph Smith had ordered Marshal John P. Greene and Orrin Porter Rockwell arrest Augustine Spencer, allegedly for assaulting his brother Orson Spencer. Augustine Spencer resisted arrest, so Rockwell ordered the Fosters and Higbee to assist him in taking Spencer into custody. The three bystanders refused to help, protesting that Rockwell had no warrant for Spencer’s arrest. Their refusal enraged Joseph Smith, who then ordered Marshal John P. Greene to arrest Higbee and the Fosters for refusing to obey a law officer. The three men resisted arrest, and Charles A. Foster drew a double-barreled pistol and pointed it at Joseph Smith’s breast. Charles Foster was disarmed, but Foster said that if he hadn’t been disarmed then he would have shot Joseph and considered himself a hero for ridding the world of a tyrant. Joseph fined the three men $100 and charged Charles Foster with assault and battery. The men appealed the decision, but the final verdict wouldn’t be appealed and sorted out in the court system until pretty late in 1844.
The final point of commentary on this legal affair is quite rich. “The cases referred to above, afford abundant reason both for complaint and comment. We intend as soon as our time will allow, to express our views fully and freely upon this feature of Mormon usurpation; first, enact a string of ordinances contrary to reason and common sense, and then inflict the severest penalties for not observing them.” If only they had time for a second edition to express their views fully and freely upon these legal machinations by the prophet and his cronies.
Finally we turn to the back page of the Expositor. The paper concludes with some advertisements, a song, some news items, and the prospectus of the newspaper. These may seem like pretty typical advertisements of the newspapers of the day, but there are some interesting features among them.
One advertisement was from William and Wilson Law, who informed “all those who through sickness; or other misfortunes, are much limited in their means of procuring bread for their families, that we have allotted Thursday of every week, to grind TOLL FREE for them, till grain becomes plentiful after harvest.” Nauvoo had a huge problem with sickness and poverty, so it’s interesting that the Expositor’s publishers made their mill available for free to those in need. It speaks to the character of these men and the fact that the people in Nauvoo were their friends and family. They merely wanted peace and prosperity in the kingdom, instead of the tyranny of Joseph Smith.
Another interesting advertisement was from Lucinda Sagers, who notified to the public that her husband, William Henry Harrison Sagers, “has left my bed and board without cause or provocation,” and that no one should “harbor or trust him on my account, as I will pay no debts of his contracting.” What was this advertisement about? Polygamy, of course! In November 1843, the 28-year-old William Henry Harrison Sagers had secretly taken his wife Lucinda’s 23-year-old sister as a plural wife. When he got caught, he claimed that polygamy was a doctrine taught by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith of course denied this before the high council, but the council acquitted Sagers on the grounds that he had been “taught false doctrine which was corrected by President Joseph Smith.”
The high council may have acquitted Harrison, but Lucinda didn’t. Tensions rose between the couple to the point that within a month he abandoned her and ceased providing any kind of financial support for Lucinda and their son Samuel. A few months later, in April 1844, Lucinda appeared before Joseph Smith and the Twelve and said, “Inasmuch as you have declared officially that you will deal with all persons who teach or have taught the abominable doctrine of Spiritual wives[,] This is to notify you that Harrison Sagars is guilty of that said sin, which thing can be proven by credible witnesses[,] and if he is not chastised for it by the church[,] the law of the land will be enforced enforced against him. H. Sagars left his family in December last[.] since such time he has not provided for them in any way what ever.”
Joseph Smith referred the issue back to the high council, and the high council basically threw up its hands and said, “we already acquitted him on that, so there’s nothing we can do!” As for the charge of abandonment, it was “not sustained,” whatever that means. This is not unexpected as anybody practicing polygamy was one of the boys and the high council would do whatever necessary to protect him from legal troubles resulting from the practice. It was, indeed, one of the primary functions of the high council and municipal court. Finding no satisfaction from the high council, Lucinda resorted to the only justice left to her: the vigilante justice of outing him as an adulterer in the Nauvoo Expositor and warning people not to lend him money. It’s simply remarkable how much backstory can be packed into one tiny newspaper advertisement.
One of the items on the back page of the paper is an Irish song about a saucy lad who wants to kiss a girl, and she tells him no, and he kisses her anyway because her eyes were saying yes. Unfortunately, the song sort of vindicates his decision to kiss her by suggesting that yes, the girl actually really wanted this. “Alack, he is so sly!” she responds to this nonconsensual kiss. It is a remarkable inclusion in this paper so heavily focused on women being the prey of the church leadership. In some ways, this song reveals the cultural mores of the 19th century; it’s a reminder to women readers that their consent in monogamous courtship is incidental while the implied premise in the paper relies on the conclusion that female consent in polygamous courtship is impossible. That’s an issue I won’t wade into here because I’ve done so many times on the show before and it would take too long. Suffice it to say, the compartmentalization of what constitutes female consent in the Nauvoo Expositor is pretty complicated.
The news items all related to the mixing of religion and politics. One article is a chastisement of Protestants in Philadelphia who rioted against the Irish Catholic community there. The article suggests that the riots are anti-republican and religious violence is never justified. I think the inclusion of this article suggests that one thing the publishers were not trying to do was stir up riots or anti-Mormon violence. A second article decried the religious conflicts between European empires like Italy, Britain, and Russia. Another described the persecution of Jews in Russia, and yet another described how the mayor of an English village used his government power to suppress the preaching of John Wesley.
Alongside these news items about religious violence, religious persecution, and religious abuses of government power were several articles about Mormonism that seemed to put Joseph Smith in the same category as the Pope or the Russian emperor. An article from the Quincy Whig, put Joseph Smith in the same category as all these violent Catholics and Protestants. Since the political maneuvers in late 1843, the Whig took on a pretty strong anti-Joseph tack and many articles were on par with the Warsaw Signal. In the Whig article specifically included in this issue of the Expositor, it says, “The spectacle presented in Smith’s case of a civil, ecclesiastical, and military leader, united in one and the same person, with power over life and liberty, can never find favor in the minds of sound and thinking Republicans. The day has gone by when the precepts of Divine Truth, could be propagated at the point of the sword—or the Bible made the medium of corrupt men to gratify their lustful appetites and sordid desires.”
The news section also included an editorial from the Upper Mississippian congratulating the Expositor’s publishers on “humbling the haughty miscreant” and “self-constituted monarch” Joseph Smith and “exposing his rank villainies” with their new newspaper and their new Church. This was a result of the Prospectus of the Expositor being published on May 10th and being widely circulated. Missouri newspapers had been extremely critical of Joseph Smith and the Mormons for over a decade so the Upper Mississippian receiving the Prospectus of the Expositor must have been music as they’d have a slew of new articles about the Mormons to publish in their paper. It’s worth noting that papers with a headline about the Mormons often sold quite quickly, especially since Jo debuted onto the national political stage with his bid for President. People eagerly purchased those papers and the prospect of an anti-Joseph press based in Nauvoo created plenty of material for future newspaper articles nationwide.
The inclusion of this article from the Mississippian shows us that the publishers of the Expositor were self-consciously aligning themselves with republican principles that established a separation between religion and politics and religion and violence.
They underscored this in the “Prospectus of the Nauvoo Expositor,” which also appeared in the back matter of the paper. The paper, says the prospectus, is “devoted to a general diffusion of useful knowledge.” The paper will run for at least a year, and will discuss “all matters of public interest,” with “no preference given to either of the [national] political parties.”
But because of their “peculiar locality” in Nauvoo, the paper’s publishers considered it “a sacred duty they owe to their country” to “decry [the] gross moral imperfections” of Nauvoo’s “self-constituted MONARCH” and “Ministerial powers,” and to advocate for the “unconditional repeal” of the Nauvoo city charter by the state. “In a word, to give a full, candid, and succinct statement of facts, as they exist in the city of Nauvoo,” and “to ward off the Iron Rod which is held over the devoted heads of the citizens of Nauvoo and the surrounding country.” (For Mormons the “iron rod” of the priesthood is something to cling to for guidance, but to the dissenters “iron rod” sounds ominous, like a weapon that threatens American freedoms by forcing compliance to criminal activities.)
In summary, the Nauvoo Expositor stood against: monarchy, immorality, and “any Union of Church and State.” The prosepctus also described what it stood for: “morality, the pure principles of truth . . . freedom of speech,” and “free toleration to every man's religious sentiments.”
Once this paper was published, it set the kingdom on the Mississippi ablaze. Thousands of copies were circulated through town and copies made their way to the surrounding settlements including Warsaw and Carthage, the hotbeds of the anti-Mormon political party. Other copies made their way to New York, St. Louis and all over Missouri, Pennsylvania, and locations throughout frontier America.
Joseph Smith had weathered exposes before. It started with James Gordon Bennett’s 1830 article about the Mormons. Then Eber D. Howe of the Painesville Telegraph wrote numerous scathing articles and the first book-length expose titled Mormonism Unvailed. Then the Missouri Democrat covered all things Mormon during the Missouri Mormon war. After the settlement of Nauvoo, Thomas C. Sharp of the Warsaw Signal made Mormonism a mainstay in his constant repudiations of the growing power of the Mormon empire. John Bennett’s expose caused a meltdown within the kingdom and Jo was forced into hiding for 6 months.
The Nauvoo Expositor, however, was different. Never had an opposition journal come out of a recently organized competitor sect comprised of his closest advisors who’d been excommunicated and starved out of resources for months. The timing had never been so crucial. Never were the nation’s eyes more turned toward the Mormon empire than when Joseph was running for president and his public image couldn’t suffer a blow like this.
We’re animals. We respond to stress and stimuli in relatively predictable ways. Joseph Smith may have been the man sitting atop a massive empire but he was also caged. He had constructed his public image and the façade could only withstand so many blows before it came crumbling down. As we’ll see in the coming weeks, it wasn’t as much the threat of what the Nauvoo Expositor printed as it was fear of what it might print in future issues which motivated the prophet’s actions throughout June of 1844.
I opened the episode saying that when people talk about the Nauvoo Expositor, rarely is it not in the same breath as the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage Jail. One event leads directly to the other and when gripped by a state of uncontrollable fear, Jo made a rash decision which cost him his life, but preserved his legacy as a martyr. We’ll be getting into that in the coming weeks.
The fact remains, he had to be stopped. Joseph Smith was a dangerous man. He caused unbelievable pain and anguish. His decisions led to the deaths of hundreds of people from starvation and sickness. The religion he created is responsible for conquest and genocide and he would have been at the helm of those atrocities had he not been assassinated in June of 1844. The judgement of a dangerous person should be assessed just as much on their intentions and ambitions as their actual accomplishments.
Something had to break. The constant escalation of the Mormon movement, whether in politics, religious control by the hierarchy, economic inflation and depression caused by the credit economy of Nauvoo, perceived signs of the second coming; all of these factors contributed to an escalation within the Mormon movement which was answered by escalating fears of conflict by the outside communities. Something had to give. Someone had to break. Something would be the fault line because escalation like this doesn’t simply resolve with everyone having a reasonable conversation and letting bygones be bygones.
The increasing threat of the government revoking the religious privilege enjoyed by the Mormons through military force; the increasing number of so-called anti-Mormon papers lobbing increasingly scandalous accusations at the leadership; the increasing dissent growing in the ranks of the leadership; these increases feed each other and result in a tired, starving, and weary community looking forward to tomorrow when Jesus returns and fixes everything, but he never does. The constant articles in Nauvoo newspapers about riots, pandemics, wealth inequality and poverty, religious abuse, natural disasters, unabated corruption of governments around the world, conspiracies, persecution, all these terrifying concepts that cause the average Mormon to feel completely powerless and primal instincts dictate action. These people were forced to relinquish all control of their lives because no matter what happens they’re on the right side of the kingdom of god and the second coming will happen any day now.
A population conditioned this way never deescalates, especially when their leaders only increase the intensity and frequency of this narrative to the people. Something had to break. Something has to break. Any human system can only take so much of this stress and intensity before a fracture relieves the pressure. The Nauvoo Expositor rested on the laurels of a dozen exposes that preceded it, but this was the break of Joseph Smith’s system. The mad tyrant had withstood events which should have led to the end of his life and legacy, but this would prove to be the end; his luck ran out, his power wasn’t strong enough, his control too limited, his empire too vulnerable. The Nauvoo Expositor set into motion a sequence of events that resulted in the end of Joseph Smith. This is it, folks. This is the beginning of the end.
That does it for our examination of the Nauvoo Expositor. I know we’ve been in for a long haul today just like the good old days of the podcast when this research journey first began. Now, you may be looking at your podcast app right now seeing that we’re only a little over halfway through the time on this episode, well that’s because I have a special treat in store. But first, for 200 episodes now, I’ve done my best to become an expert on individual topics in Mormon history, write an essay about them, and read that essay with citations into a mic for all of you. This week was the first time I called on expert help to put together the show notes. This research assistant is a long-time friend of the show and he’s back for a few minutes to tell us what he’s up to and for me to issue a debt of gratitude. Chris Smith, thank you for your help researching the Nauvoo Expositor and thank you for briefly joining us today.
Chris, you’re currently an independent researcher of Mormon history, a mercenary historian as some call it. You have a very particular set of skills (Liam Neeson). How are you using those skills lately?
The field of Mormon history can be pretty scant for resources unless a person is working for the church, but I hear it’s pretty hard to get a job with them. Word around is that you have your own publishing project in early stages. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Awesome, where can people find information or get in touch if they need a little heavy hitting Mormon historian consulting work like me?
Chris Smith, thank you for your help this week and thanks for talking to us for a few minutes today.
We aren’t done just yet, dear listeners. A few weeks ago, we set a new goal to put on a Mormon history themed Dungeons and Dragons campaign with yours truly as the Game Master. If you don’t know what DnD is, if you grew up in the 80s it’s the surest way to summon a demon in your parent’s basement. Or, for rational people, DnD is a roleplaying game where the game master creates a universe and players interact with that world. Setting a goal isn’t good for much unless we have an idea of what that goal looks like when accomplished, so if you want to learn how to help us accomplish that goal, listen to the very end. And, without further ado, I present to you session 1 of Zion, run by myself and played by my good friends, Tanner Barker, and Marie Kent.
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