Antagonizing Joseph Smith

Posted on July 3, 2012 by

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Frank Daniels III writes in The Tennessean:

“Smith persuaded the Nauvoo city council to declare the newspaper a public nuisance, and he was ordered to destroy the newspaper and the press.”

The minutes of the meeting of the Nauvoo city council for 10 June 1844, when the Nauvoo Expositor was declared a nuisance and ordered destroyed, are available on-line.  Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Daniels did not read them before attempting to characterize those proceedings.

Joseph Smith proposed to the city council that the Expositor be declared a nuisance.  The council did not need any persuasion as council members Hyrum Smith, John Taylor, and George P. Stiles readily agreed with Joseph.  It was Hyrum – not Joseph – who proposed the destruction of the press.  Council member Benjamin Warrington, not a member of the church, was not against the proposition to declare the Expositor a nuisance, but expressed concern that it was too harsh to be done hastily and preferred to see a fine of $3000 (nearly $90,000 in 2009 dollars) levied for the publication of libels.  Hyrum doubted that such a fine could be paid by the Expositor owners.  Council members Levi Richards, Phineas Richards, and William W. Phelps all readily agreed with Joseph.  Indeed, councilman Phelps energetically likened the proposed destruction of the printing press of the Expositor unto the destruction of tea at the Boston Tea Party.

So it’s clear from the minutes of the meeting that Joseph Smith did not persuade the council to declare the Expositor a public nuisance.  It would appear that, excepting Mr. Warrington, the city council was already determined in this matter.

Furthermore, while Joseph, as mayor of Nauvoo, was “instructed to cause said printing establishment and papers to be removed without delay”, the task was assigned to the town marshal, John P. Greene, to carry out.  Mr. Daniels’s statement can be easily misunderstood to mean that it was Joseph who destroyed the press.

Mr. Daniels continues:

“Smith was dealing with problems similar to those that had pushed him from New York to Ohio to Missouri and finally to Illinois.

Smith’s followers had gone to western Missouri after being pushed out of Kirtland, Ohio.”

These statements are so over-simplified that it incorrectly characterizes the opposition found in New York and Ohio to be identical to the opposition in Illinois.  Indeed, the opposition was similar in that it was directed at Joseph Smith and the church members largely on religious bias and fear, but the specifics of the problems were quite dissimilar between them.

The move from New York to Ohio was largely due to the desire to unite the church members in one location near the planned temple in Kirtland.  Although Joseph and many members did move from Ohio to Missouri the entire church did not.  Most stayed in Kirtland.  The oppression against Joseph in Kirtland was largely due to financial reasons, in particular the bank failure of the Kirtland Safety Society.  Indeed, in the move to Nauvoo, Illinois the church members arrived from both Missouri and Ohio.  Opposition in Missouri centered on property rights – including slavery – and political influence.  Finally, opposition in Illinios was a culmination of all of these things adding new opposition to the initiation of the practice of plural marriage.

So it’s not as if the problems dealt-with by Joseph in Nauvoo were identical to those dealt-with in Palmyra.

Mr. Daniels writes:

“The experience hardened Smith, and he began to believe that the Mormons must respond to their enemies with force.”

Again, Mr. Daniels incorrectly characterizes the facts.  Joseph believed in the word of the Lord given in Kirtland on 17 August 1835 which is found in Doctrine & Covenants section 134.  Verses 10 and 11 make it clear that Joseph believed that religious organizations do not have any authority to inflict physical punishment upon its members, and that all men should “appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances”.  However, when immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws then “all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government”.

Consequently, Joseph led an army in what was known as “Zion’s Camp” to offer protection for the members of the church in Missouri.  Joseph had understood that this was done with the blessing of the governor to defend themselves.  However, in the end Zion’s Camp did no fighting at all and ultimately returned without so much as a single confrontation.

Consequently Joseph and Hyrum surrendered themselves peacefully to the law in order to be held accountable for the destruction of the press at the Nauvoo Expositor.

Had Joseph Smith believed, as Mr. Daniels suggests, then would Joseph have disbanded Zion’s Camp without any fighting?  Would Joseph have surrendered himself to arrest and imprisonment at Carthage leading to his martyrdom?  No.

Mr. Daniels quotes Joseph Smith as having said to “establish our religion with the sword”.  However, this quote comes from an affidavit dated 24 October 1838 by Thomas B. Marsh who claimed to be quoting Joseph.  The affidavit was corroborated by George M. Hinkle, John Corrill, George Walter, and partially by Abner Scovil.  However, Mr. Marsh had left the association of the church five days earlier, despite being president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and all of its corroborators were, themselves, disaffected with the church and Joseph Smith.  There is good reason to believe that the quote was a complete fabrication, as Mr. Marsh looked back at his decision to leave the Church with regret, recanting the 1838 affidavit.

Mr. Daniels appears to not understand the purpose behind Latter-day Saint temples when he says the temple at Nauvoo was “for recovering lost and ancient knowledge”.  In this Mr. Daniels appears to be quoting the article on Joseph Smith in Wikipedia. and while the statement is not wholly false it is an incorrect characterization of the purpose of the construction of the Nauvoo temple.  The Lord’s commandment to build the Nauvoo temple is found in Doctrine & Covenants section 124 verses 26 through 44.  The purpose that the Lord gives is to perform sacred ordinances.

Mr. Daniels biased characterizations of Joseph Smith continue:

“[William] Law became the leader of the opposition, and claimed Smith had made several proposals to his wife, Jane, to become one of Smith’s wives.”

While Joseph did practice plural marriage which was commanded him of the Lord, the truthfulness of this quote seems dubious as Mr. Law was already in open opposition to Joseph.  Thus, Mr. Law had ample motive to speak deceitfully.  Consider, also, the journal of Alexander Neibaur entry on 24 May 1844 which states that what truthfully transpired was that Joseph refused to seal William and Jane in the Nauvoo temple because of unworthiness on William’s part.  Jane then propositioned Joseph in her home to seal her to himself to which Joseph gently denied her.  Upon his return home, William discovered that Joseph had been there, and Jane explained that Joseph had made advances on her.

Mr. Daniels describes the martyrdom of Joseph Smith as follows:

“… a mob of about 200 people converged on the jail, shot Smith and his brother Hyrum, and threw Joseph from a window.”

Accounts of the martyrdom by both survivors, Willard Richards and John Taylor, do not describe the mob as throwing Joseph from the window.  Instead, both describe Joseph as leaping from the window in an apparent attempt to either save the two men still alive or to escape.  Indeed, what kind of assassination is it where the perpetrators shoot the victim and then throw him to a survivable fall from a second-story window?  The witness accounts are that Joseph was shot in the back and in the front as he leaped from the window and was possibly also shot after landing on the ground and being propped-up as if it were an execution.

It seems that the purpose in Mr. Daniel’s article was to propagate misinformation about Joseph Smith, selectively disseminate information to incorrectly characterize him, and to sympathize with those who antagonized him.

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