Nauvoo Journals, May 1843–June 1844

The final fourteen months of Joseph Smith’s life were marked by important developments in the growth of , Illinois, and in the doctrine and practices of . These months were some of the busiest and most complex of Joseph Smith’s life, as he functioned in his roles of president and trustee-in-trust of the church, mayor of Nauvoo, lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion, and candidate for the presidency. During this time, violence both threatened and real increased against Joseph Smith and other members of the church, culminating in the murder of Joseph and his brother in , Illinois, on 27 June 1844. The journals of Joseph Smith presented in this volume are an essential source for understanding this critical period of Mormon history as well as the life and thought of the church’s founding leader in the time leading up to his death.
Joseph Smith’s journals during this period were kept exclusively by his private secretary, . Richards had been one of the principal writers for Smith’s earlier journals, and by September 1843 he was also serving as the church historian, church recorder, Nauvoo city recorder, and clerk of the municipal court. Until late in the journal, many entries document relatively few events—often only one—for each day rather than provide a comprehensive account of Joseph Smith’s activities. Most entries in Richards’s own journal for this period are even shorter, suggesting that the brevity of the entries in Joseph Smith’s journal resulted more from Richards’s journal-keeping style than from a lack of familiarity with Smith’s activities. Because of Richards’s terse style, we often know more about Smith’s activities through other individuals’ journals and other sources than we do through his own journal. Longer, more detailed entries toward the end of the journal probably resulted from Richards’s own interest in the growing number and seriousness of the threats against Joseph Smith beginning in January 1844. Unless otherwise noted, the first-person pronouns that occur in the journal refer to Joseph Smith and probably reflect Richards’s conscious effort to make this document Smith’s personal journal.
Though appears to have either participated in or witnessed most of the events he documented, he at times he wrote retrospectively or from secondhand information. Occasionally, such practices resulted in factual error. Only on rare occasions was Richards not personally aware of Smith’s actions; Richards, for example, remained in in June 1843 while Joseph Smith and his wife visited relatives in , Illinois, some 130 miles northeast of Nauvoo.
The trip to was ill timed. That same month, a special term of the circuit court in , Missouri, indicted Joseph Smith for treason committed during the “Mormon War” in 1838. Based on the indictment, governor issued a requisition to governor calling for Smith’s extradition to for trial—the third such call to return Joseph Smith to Missouri in as many years. The requisition resulted in his arrest on 23 June 1843, news of which began a massive rescue effort in that ended with Smith’s release at a habeas corpus hearing before the Nauvoo Municipal Court on 1 July.
Because of ’s physical separation from Joseph Smith during much of the third extradition attempt, little of this drama appears in the journal. Later entries and sources, however, indicate Smith’s continued concern about enemies in . Referencing the three extradition attempts, for example, the City Council passed an ordinance on 8 December 1843 stating that anyone found guilty of attempting to arrest Joseph Smith or others for alleged activities in Missouri in the 1830s would be incarcerated for life in the city prison. Another ordinance passed later in the month authorized the mayor to “select and have in readiness for every emergency” forty policemen, and a third required that all warrants originating outside of Nauvoo receive the signature of Nauvoo’s mayor before they could be served in the city. While these measures appear to have been a direct result of both real and rumored efforts to extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri, they also appear to have been influenced by the news that Missourians had crossed the into (where Nauvoo was located) and kidnapped two Mormons, and his father, , on the grounds that Daniel had stolen two horses in Missouri a few years earlier. Father and son eventually returned safely to , but not before residents of Nauvoo had petitioned to somehow prevent Missourians “from committing further violence upon the citizens of Illinois.”
Former and current difficulties with lay behind several other petitions issued from during this period. Between December 1843 and the end of February 1844, Joseph Smith and others petitioned several states—, , , , , and Tennessee—to use their influence to help force Missouri to recompense the Mormons for the losses they suffered there in the 1830s. At the same time, non-Mormon , a surveyor from , Illinois, petitioned Congress on behalf of the Saints to consider Missouri’s crimes against the Mormons “and grant such relief as by the Constitution and Laws you may have power to give.” In a separate document written in December 1843, the Nauvoo City Council memorialized Congress to grant territorial status to Nauvoo until the state of Missouri provided redress for Mormon losses and to authorize Nauvoo’s mayor to call upon federal troops if necessary to help the Nauvoo Legion “repel the invasion of mobs, keep the public peace, and protect the innocent from the unhallowed ravages of lawless banditti.” Like earlier appeals to Congress, none of these efforts resulted in any tangible aid for the Saints.
In a separate action, Joseph Smith instructed the in February 1844 to send a small exploring party to the western reaches of the continent to find a location where the Saints could move, build a city, and “have a governme[n]t of [their] own.” Within six weeks, some twenty-nine men either volunteered for the expedition or were assigned to go. Over the course of those six weeks, however, the plan changed significantly. On 10 March, Joseph Smith received two letters from and , who were harvesting lumber along the Black River in Wisconsin Territory for the construction of the House and Nauvoo temple. Wight and Miller proposed that they and their associates in be called to preach the gospel in the southern and other points south and to build a new settlement in the Republic of Texas, which would serve as a center of gathering. Using the letters as a springboard, Joseph Smith and others met the following day and “agreed to look to some place” where they could go “and establish a Theocracy either in Texas or Oregon or somewhere in California.” The group also appointed a committee to draft a constitution “according to the mind of God” that would serve as “an ensign to the nations.” Under Smith’s direction, those assembled then organized themselves into a council—later known most often as the , but also as the Kingdom of God or Council of the Kingdom—to oversee the endeavor.
The Council of Fifty met on sixteen occasions between March and the end of May 1844, often for the better part of an entire day. In most cases, recorded very little about the council’s proceedings in Joseph Smith’s journal, even though both men attended the meetings. Extensive minutes kept by , however, provide details about the council’s discussions and plans. According to, a member of the council as well as a in the church’s governing , the group’s ultimate goal was “to form a theocracy according to the will of Heaven, planted without any intention to interfere with any government of the world. . . . We will hunt a spot somewhere on the earth where no other government has jurisdiction and cannot interfere with us and there plant our standard.” The council dealt with several concerns, one of which was issuing yet another petition to Congress, this one proposing a bill that would make Joseph Smith a member of the Army and authorize him “to raise a company of one hundred thousand armed volunteers, in the United States and Territories” to protect American interests in the West.
After its organization in March, the Council of Fifty also oversaw Joseph Smith’s 1844 campaign for the presidency of the , an effort launched in earnest the previous month. Smith had accepted the nomination from fellow church members in January 1844 after writing to leading Whig and Democratic candidates two months earlier and asking them what their “rule of action” would be toward the Latter-day Saints, particularly in helping them obtain redress for the losses they had sustained earlier in . Unsatisfactory answers from three of the candidates, and silence from the other two, appear to have been significant factors behind Joseph Smith’s decision to run. Smith explained that he accepted the nomination because “no portion of the government as yet has step[p]ed forward” to protect the Saints from persecution and compensate them for their losses in Missouri. “Under view of these things,” he told a small assembly in February, “I feel it to be my right & privilege to obtain what influence & power I can . . . for the protection of injured innocence.” Joseph Smith proffered a commitment to protect the rights of all people—not just the Mormons—and expressed a desire to alter the United States Constitution “to make it imperative on the officers to enforce the protection of all men in their rights.” His expansive platform called for a variety of legal, economic, military, and social reforms, as well as for the annexation of both Texas and Oregon. Some of these proposals, such as annexing Texas, reflected Democratic ideals; others, such as abolishing slavery and annexing Oregon, were more aligned with Whig priorities. Predictably, Smith’s platform also argued that the president should have “full power to send an army to suppress mobs” and that governors should not have to ask the president for troops “in cases of invasion or rebellion.” Erroneously believing that his first choice of a running mate, of , was ineligible for the office of vice president and evidently not receiving a reply from his second choice, of Tennessee, Joseph Smith ultimately asked to run as his vice-presidential candidate. A “state convention” held in on 17 May formally selected Smith and Rigdon as candidates and resolved to hold a national convention in Baltimore in July.
Joseph Smith and his followers found themselves involved in more local political concerns during this period as well. Most consequential was the election of 7 August 1843, which pitted Whig candidate against Democratic candidate for the seat in the House of Representatives for the district that included . The day before the election, Joseph Smith told a group of assembled Saints that he had planned to support Walker, one of his attorneys and “an old fri[e]nd,” and recounted the help he had received from Walker after his arrest in two months earlier. Following these remarks, however, he told the congregation that “has had a testimo[n]y” that it would be “better for this people to vote for hoge” than for Walker and that he, Joseph, “never kn[e]w Hiram say he ever had a revelation & it faild.” With strong Mormon support, Hoge won the election handily, as did the Democratic candidates for most of the contested county positions. The victories set off a violent backlash from non-Mormons and Whigs in the county, who complained at a meeting in the following month that they “have had men of the most vicious and abominable habits, imposed upon us, to fill our most important county offices, by his [Joseph Smith’s] dictum, . . . that he may the more certainly control our destinies, and render himself, through the instrumentality of these base creatures of his ill-directed power as absolutely a despot over the citizens of this county, as he now is, over the serfs of his own servile clan.” The meeting ultimately resolved to resist all future “wrongs” imposed by the Saints “peaceably, if we can, but forcibly, if we must,” thus helping to set the stage for violence the following year.
Despite growing opposition from without, Joseph Smith continued to instruct faithful members of the church, delivering more than sixty public addresses in the months covered by the journal presented in this volume. Most of these discourses are noted in the journal, though the detail with which recorded their contents varies considerably. Joseph Smith delivered most of these addresses to the general membership of the church in various outdoor meeting places, although some, reflecting the variety of activities in which he was engaged, were given to the Legion, Nauvoo policemen, or some other group. He spoke on a variety of topics, often transitioning from religious themes to civic and political ones within the same discourse. Prominent among the more temporal concerns he addressed were his political views, the ongoing threats of violence directed against him and his followers, and the government’s inability to offer protection. He also defended the Nauvoo city charter, which some citizens and lawmakers wanted amended or revoked. Religious topics included resurrection and salvation, as well as unique Mormon doctrines such as baptism for the dead, other priesthood ordinances, and a complex, multi-tiered heaven. On 7 April 1844, Joseph Smith delivered his well-known “King Follett discourse,” in which he taught that God had a mortal past and that humans could progress to godhood. By 1843 it was not unusual for several people to record his sermons, thereby providing historians with a rich record of Joseph Smith’s theological ideas during the last months of his life.
Continuing a practice he had begun earlier, Joseph Smith married several women as plural wives during the first six months covered in the journal presented here. Several of his close associates, including and , also married plural wives in . While relatively few members of the church were aware of these plural marriages, rumors that something of the sort was taking place were rampant, especially after publicly accused Joseph Smith in 1842 of having multiple “spiritual” wives. Believing the practice to be legitimate only under his direction as prophet and church president, Joseph Smith emphasized the general standard that “no man shall have but one wife” and directed Richards to discipline “those who were preaching teaching . . . the doctrin of plurality of wives” on their own. In a rare exception to his practice of not noting plural marriages in Joseph Smith’s journal, Richards recorded in shorthand Smith’s marriage to —Willard’s older sister—on 12 June 1843, as well as his own plural marriage to Susan Liptrot on the same date. Though evidently agreed to and even attended at least some of these marriages, carefully worded entries in the journal and evidence from other sources indicate that by the summer of 1843 she would no longer countenance them. Most of these plural marriages took place before 12 July 1843, the day Joseph Smith dictated the revelation explaining that a man was permitted to have multiple wives if God commanded it. After two additional plural marriages—one in September and one in November—Smith appears to have stopped marrying new plural wives.
The same revelation that explained the conditions under which a man could take plural wives also explained the principle of eternal marriage, whereby a man and a woman who were “sealed” as husband and wife by one holding the proper priesthood authority would “pass by the and the gods . . . to their exaltation and glory” after death. Such sealings were an integral part of many (perhaps all) of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, as evidenced by several of his plural wives later testifying that they had been “married or sealed” to him “for time and eternity.” An entry in shorthand in Joseph Smith’s journal suggests that he and , who had been married civilly in 1827, were sealed for eternity on 28 May 1843. One of his close associates, , was evidently sealed to his wife the same day, and other trusted friends were sealed to their current spouses over the ensuing months.
These sealing ceremonies generally took place in meetings of church members who had earlier participated in rituals, or ordinances, that would later be performed in the temple. In Joseph Smith’s journal, referred to meetings of this group by a variety of names, including “,” “,” “council of the quorum,” and “prayer meeting.” Members of this group first met on 4 May 1842 when, in Richards’s words, Joseph Smith taught nine men about the “ & , , and the communications of . . . & all those plans & principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings which has been prepared for the chu[r]ch of the first-born, and come up, and abide in the prese[n]ce of Eloheim in the eternal worlds.” This group met four more times by the end of June 1842, after which it did not meet again until 26 May 1843, almost a year later. On this date, Joseph Smith evidently repeated the same instruction to some of the same men, probably to prepare them for the additional of being sealed to their wives. Several were sealed just days later. In a separate ordinance performed the following September, Joseph and were “anointed & ordd. [ordained] to the highest and holiest order of the .” Other members of this council—including all nine members of the Quorum of the Twelve who were living in the area and their wives—eventually received the same ordinance, which , a member of the council, often referred to as a “second anointing” in his journal. In addition to participating in these rituals, the growing number of men and women invited to attend these meetings often prayed together and received instructions from Joseph Smith about teachings and doctrines related to the temple.
Joseph Smith spoke about the temple and its ordinances in more public settings as well, and he frequently urged church members to complete the construction of the temple as soon as possible so they could receive the promised blessings therein. The effort to finish the temple extended well beyond the borders of Nauvoo, with , , and several others harvesting lumber in for the temple and authorized agents collecting money for its construction from church members living elsewhere in the and . Stone for the walls and window arches was one of the most pressing needs for the temple by June 1843, leading Joseph Smith and others to repeatedly request men and means to quarry and haul stone to the temple site. By the winter of 1843–1844, the temple’s stone walls were “as high as the arches of the first tier of windows all around” and Joseph Smith was examining fringe designed for the temple’s pulpits. Up to this time the Mormons had also been building the Nauvoo House, which was to be used as both a private residence for Joseph Smith’s family and as a boardinghouse or hotel for visitors to Nauvoo. Faced with limited resources, however, Smith decided in March 1844 to halt construction of the Nauvoo House until the temple was completed. Church leaders renewed their call for laborers and supplies for the temple the following month, and on 4 May 1844 reported that four circular windows of the temple’s upper story had been completed. While work on the temple appears to have continued apace during the first half of 1844, Richards made fewer references to it in the journal as he devoted more attention to the growing opposition to Joseph Smith.
The opposition that Joseph Smith faced stemmed from a variety of sources. Many non-Mormons in the area, for example, felt the Municipal Court had overstepped its authority on 1 July 1843 when it discharged Joseph Smith from his arrest in . Following the Democratic Party’s virtual sweep in the August 1843 county elections, others, especially local Whigs, opposed Smith’s growing political influence in western . In addition, rumors, misunderstandings, and disagreements about the practice and validity of plural marriage turned several influential Latter-day Saints against the Mormon leader. Some church members also turned against him over doctrinal developments—such as those taught in the King Follett discourse—and over concern that his roles as president of the church and mayor of Nauvoo represented a dangerous combination of church and state. Joseph Smith’s tendency to speak freely and publicly against his detractors—a habit his brother cautioned him about—also probably contributed to the intensity of the opposition against him.
In some cases, Joseph Smith was able to peacefully resolve differences with his opponents. In March 1843, for example, he accused of colluding with and other apostates and threatened to disfellowship Rigdon from the church “unless satisfa[c]tion was made.” The matter was apparently dropped after Rigdon protested his innocence, but conflict resurfaced on 13 August 1843 when Joseph Smith told a meeting of church members that he had heard from gentlemen abroad that Rigdon had “made a covena[n]t” to betray him. “I most solmnly proclaim the withdrawal of my fellowship from this man, on the conditi[o]n that the foregoi[n]g be true,” Smith told the assembled Saints, who then sanctioned his decision by a unanimous vote. Two months later, however, following appeals by , , , and Rigdon himself, the October of the church voted that Rigdon retain his position as a counselor in the First Presidency. Joseph Smith told the gathered Saints that he had not received “any material benefit” from Rigdon as his counselor for some time and that while he was willing to have Rigdon as a counselor, he still lacked confidence “in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.” Though Rigdon apparently did not play a prominent role in the First Presidency after this time, the following year he actively participated in the Council of Fifty and was Smith’s choice (albeit his third choice) for a running mate in his presidential campaign.
Conflicts with other associates were resolved less successfully. In early January 1844, Joseph Smith informed that he had been removed from the First Presidency and from the group that participated in temple ordinances—both decisions evidently rooted in Law’s increasingly strident opposition to Joseph Smith, especially over plural marriage. At the same time, conflict arose between Joseph Smith and influential lawyer and businessman following a 5 January 1844 city council meeting in which Smith accused Higbee of immoral conduct and of “conniving with .” In addition, long-standing differences between Joseph Smith and , a prominent land speculator and physician, flared into open hostility two months later, in part because Joseph Smith believed Foster’s brother had written a letter berating the Saints to the New York Weekly Tribune. In spite of his efforts to bring about a reconciliation in each case, Joseph Smith learned in late March of a conspiracy against his life, spearheaded by William Law, his brother , Robert D. Foster, , and Francis M. Higbee’s brother Chauncey, who had been excommunicated in 1842. The Laws and Robert D. Foster were excommunicated the following month for “unchristianlike conduct,” as was Francis M. Higbee in May. By that time the dissidents and their supporters had proclaimed that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and organized a new church, with William Law as their president, Wilson Law as one of his counselors, and Robert D. Foster and Francis M. Higbee as members of a new quorum of twelve apostles.
Joseph Smith’s opponents also took their grievances to the courts. On 6 May 1844, Smith was arrested by deputy sheriff John Parker on a writ issued by the Hancock County Circuit Court on complaint of Francis M. Higbee, who accused Joseph Smith of defaming his character in the 5 January city council meeting “and on divers other days and times with in one year last past.” Two days later, the same day the Municipal Court discharged Smith on a writ of habeas corpus, the clerk of the Hancock County Circuit Court issued Smith a summons to appear before the circuit court to answer the charge. Later in the month, Joseph Smith learned the grand jury had indicted him for two offenses. The first indictment, based largely on the testimony of , was for perjury; the second, based largely on the testimony of and and clearly related to Smith’s marriages to Maria Lawrence and other women as plural wives, was for adultery and fornication. In spite of Joseph Smith’s hope to “meet [his] enemies—before the court and have [his] Indictments invstigat [investigated],” none of these cases were resolved by the time of his murder the following month.
In the 7 May 1844 entry of the journal, noted the report that had just obtained “an opposition printing press” from , Ohio. Precisely one month later, on 7 June 1844, Foster and other dissenters published the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor, a paper dedicated to providing its readers with “a full, candid and succinct statement of facts, as they exist in the city of Nauvoo, fearless of whose particular case they may apply.” Setting their sights squarely on Joseph Smith, the paper’s publishers charged the Mormon leader with combining church and state in , teaching false doctrine, and marrying convert women as “spiritual” wives. Persuaded by the argument that the paper’s publishers were intending to “raise a mob” against Nauvoo by publishing lies, on 10 June the city council directed Smith, in his capacity as mayor of Nauvoo, to “cause said printing establishment and papers to be removed without delay”—an order Joseph Smith fulfilled by directing Nauvoo marshal to destroy the press. Greene reported later that evening that he and others “had removd the press. type—& pinteed [printed] pape[r]s—& fixtures into the street & fired them.”
The reaction of Joseph Smith’s enemies, both within and without, was immediate., one of the paper’s publishers, charged Joseph and , , and several others with committing a riot, while armed men from surrounding communities began gathering to , the county seat of . Apprised of the growing tension by letters and messengers, governor traveled to Carthage as well, ostensibly to prevent violence between the Mormons and their enemies. After reviewing the situation, Ford ordered Joseph Smith and the others accused of riot to come to Carthage for a hearing on the charge, even though they had already been discharged from arrest by two different courts in Nauvoo. Fearing they would be killed if they went to Carthage, Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and crossed the to the night of 22–23 June to avoid arrest. , who had not been charged, accompanied them. In Iowa the men spoke with , who had talked with the captain of the posse that was to arrest the Smiths. Bernhisel gave Joseph and Hyrum “greater assurance of protection” if they were to go to Carthage and satisfied them that Ford had “succeeded in bringing in subjection . . . to some extent” the men who had gathered there. Abandoning their plan to travel to for help, the two Smiths and Richards returned to Illinois and, in company with others who were charged with riot, made their way to Carthage, where they arrived shortly before midnight on 24 June.
The following morning, Joseph and were arrested on the charge of treason, reportedly because Joseph Smith had put under martial law a week earlier, when an attack by anti-Mormons appeared imminent. After posting bail in the riot case later in the day, both men—along with several of their supporters—were committed to the debtors’ room on the first floor of the jailhouse to await trial on the treason charge, which was not eligible for bail. Two days later, still awaiting trial, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in the jailhouse by an armed mob of between 150 and 250 men.
likely inscribed the last entry recorded in Joseph Smith’s journal—dated 22 June 1844—shortly before he and the others left for the night of 22–23 June. Evidently leaving Smith’s journal in Nauvoo, Richards recorded in his own journal, in great detail, the events of the following five days, probably intending to use it to fill in Joseph Smith’s journal at some later time. These entries in Richards’s journal are included as Appendix 1 in this volume. Appendix 2 reproduces entries from a daily record kept by that focuses on Joseph Smith’s activities during the nine days preceding his flight from Nauvoo (14–22 June 1844). Clayton’s journal contains entries that highlight his own activities on these same nine days, suggesting that his record on Joseph Smith may be a second authorized journal of Joseph Smith, though no evidence has been found indicating that Smith commissioned Clayton to keep such a record. Appendix 3 includes draft notes made by Richards, some of which were later incorporated in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo journals.
For all their significance in Mormon history, the events in , Joseph Smith’s candidacy for the presidency, the third attempt to extradite him to , and the Council of Fifty figure far less prominently in his journal than more mundane activities such as business transactions, pleasure trips, visits with American Indians, conversations with friends, and observations on the weather. Many entries deal with land transactions, some of which appear to be connected to Joseph Smith’s role as trustee-in-trust for the church. Others deal with issues arising from his position as mayor of , including city council decisions and court rulings. The journals also show Joseph Smith’s engagement with many of the larger political and cultural issues of the time, such as abolitionism, the annexation of Texas, communitarianism, and a national bank. True to form, kept most entries quite brief, and his record is incomplete in many ways. Yet in their terse recital of any given day’s events, his entries illustrate the variety of activities in which Joseph Smith was involved and his significance in the church, community, and region. The journal also provides glimpses into the richness and vibrancy of life in Nauvoo as well as the complexity of a society under tension, a society whose finer features are often blurred in broader historical narratives and thematic studies. The journal presented here is an essential primary source for anyone interested in understanding one of the most significant periods, and certainly the most significant personality, in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.