Part 4: January 1846

The day following the 4 October 1845 session of the Council of Fifty, the Latter-day Saints met in the still-unfinished for the first time so that they could dedicate the first floor in advance of the upcoming general conference. With some five thousand people in attendance, opened the meeting with “a form of dedication prayer” and spoke on “our removal to another place,” the theme that would dominate the three-day general conference that began the next day. That conference, convened in the same space, set the stage for much of what would occupy council members and the church during the three-month recess before the council met again.
In the 4 October meeting of the council, had suggested the tone that leaders should use in presenting to the Saints details of the plan to move beyond the . Insisting “that we are going cheerfully,” he wanted the focus to be on “getting ready to go away,” with nothing said “about our troubles, the mob, nor any thing pertaining to it.” Conference speaker developed the theme. Promising the Saints that “there is no sacrifice required at the hands of the people of God but shall be rewarded to them an hundred fold, in time or eternity,” he declared that “the Lord designs to lead us to a wider field of action, where there will be more room for the saints to grow and increase.” concurred with Pratt’s assessment and thanked “the great God that the time has come so much sooner than he expect[ed] and he almost feels to thank our friends abroad for hastening it on.”
The conference provided the setting for making public the plans long discussed in the Council of Fifty—and now made binding upon the Saints by vote of the congregation. It was unanimously resolved that “this people move, en masse, to the West.” The conference further voted to “take all of the saints with us to the extent of our ability, that is, our influence and property.” recorded that “all things went off in peace & union—not a dissenting voice in the Congregation & a perfect union existing by the Saints to remove from the country the coming Spring.” A circular carried the conference themes abroad. In it spoke of “the present glorious emergency” and instructed the Saints elsewhere to gather to to receive their endowments before the was abandoned.
For the next three months a central focus of , the Quorum of the Twelve, and many members of the Council of Fifty was to put these plans into action. This effort began at the conference, with time dedicated to further organizing emigrating companies and to appointing committees to supervise the sale of lands in and around . Though none of the many subsequent councils held that year to advance preparations were meetings of the Council of Fifty, council members played important roles in these meetings and in moving the plans forward. At a meeting held four days after the conference, church leaders revealed for the first time the names of the captains for all twenty-five companies. All but nine were members of the Council of Fifty. The combined efforts of the Saints to prepare teams, equipment, and foodstuffs yielded impressive results. By late November, reported: “families organized 3285[.] Waggons on hand 1508[.] Waggons on Stocks [i.e., under construction] 1892.”
To provide funds for the migration, church leaders sought to sell Mormon lands and buildings in . In accordance with the earlier decision to offer public and private properties to the Catholic church, was sent to confer with John Baptist Purcell, the Catholic bishop of , and to invite him to send “authorized Agents to visit our that we may negotiate with them at as early a period as possible the sale of our property.” Purcell referred Babbitt to Bishop William Quarter of , who then instructed Hilary Tucker, a priest in , Illinois, and George A. Hamilton, a priest in , Illinois, to travel to Nauvoo to evaluate the Mormons’ proposal to sell the . On 9 December, Tucker and Hamilton met with and other church leaders. “Our object,” Young told them, “is to get means to assist away the poor.” He spoke of hundreds of families “who have been robbed of their all” and could not go west without assistance. Tucker and Hamilton expressed interest in leasing or purchasing the temple and some of the other public buildings, but no arrangements were ever concluded.
Even as church leaders sought to sell the , they rushed to complete it so that Latter-day Saints could participate in temple rituals, including sealings and endowments, before leaving . The dual priorities of preparing for the emigration and completing the temple were fused together in the minds of the Saints. Though opponents believed that finishing the temple would tie the Mormons ever stronger to Nauvoo, church leaders saw finishing the edifice and endowing the Saints as a prerequisite for moving west. As insisted to a gathering in the temple, “We will enjoy it this winter and then leave it.” By 26 November church leaders concluded that the temple was far enough along to begin ordinance work, and on 29 November they began furnishing the rooms to be used. The next day twenty-two men met in the attic story to dedicate selected upper rooms for the endowment. All but one of the men gathered were members of the Council of Fifty.
The administration of ordinances in the began on 10 December, and from that day almost until the council met again on 11 January, and his closest associates spent nearly all their time involved with the temple and its ordinances. Young oversaw endowment ceremonies for hundreds (eventually thousands) of men and women; because work started early in the morning and continued late into the evening, he often slept in the temple. More than once late at night, Young and those who stayed overnight with him read information about the West, including ’s and Lansford Hastings’s book-length accounts of the region “west of the .” By late December, Young and the apostles began involving the Presidency of the Seventy more fully in administering the temple ordinances, and by at least 7 January they had turned responsibility for the endowment entirely over to that presidency. This transition allowed Young and the apostles to attend to other temple ordinances and to devote more time to the fast-approaching challenge of leaving for the West.
As early as April 1845, governor had warned that the federal government might intercede to prevent the Mormons’ departure, and this concern only grew with time. On 11 December, Young received a detailed and disturbing letter from , a church leader in who had been contacted by Amos Kendall, the former postmaster general and a well-connected Democratic Party political insider. In an attempt to extort an agreement from the Mormons to give him and his business partner fully half of all of the land they would eventually settle on in the West, Kendall misrepresented to Brannan that federal intervention against the Mormons was imminent. Brannan conveyed the warning that “the Secretary of War and the heads of government were . . . determin’d to prevent our moving West, alleging that it is against the Law for an armed body of men to go from the to any other government.” Rather than allow the Mormons to settle in or , Brannan reported, the government would obliterate them “from the face of the earth.” Young responded with an effort to secure government contracts for building a line of forts or stockades on the route to Oregon, but the possibility of having the way hedged up remained.
In addition, Latter-day Saints worried that their enemies would pursue charges against church leaders in local and federal courts. Although the agreement brokered by between church leaders and the anti-Mormons in in early October 1845 had stated that no prosecutions on either side would take place while the Saints prepared to leave the state, anti-Mormons proffered charges of counterfeiting against and other leaders in local courts later that month. and Major William B. Warren, the head of the peacekeeping force in set in place by Hardin, refused to enforce the writs, but on 31 October several church leaders nevertheless met to make plans to evade authorities should government officials attempt “to prevent our removal West by taking out writs for the council of Fifty.” Stymied by local and state authorities, anti-Mormons appealed to the federal court in , Illinois. On 18 December a federal grand jury indicted Young for counterfeiting Mexican and American coins. The grand jury also issued bills of indictment for four other members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Council of Fifty members and , and several non-Mormons who had previously been associated with the church, such as former council members and .
Although some of the indicted men—such as and —were likely counterfeiters, the scope of the alleged counterfeiting in was clearly exaggerated and some of the charges were likely fabrications. In reality, the Mormons in Nauvoo—like most Americans in western states like —were specie poor; financial records suggest that much of the business in Nauvoo was conducted through barter and exchange. After the indictment, narrowly escaped arrest when a deputy federal marshal came to Nauvoo on 23 December and waited outside the for him. Learning of the situation, church leaders disguised in a cloak and sent him down with . When Grant addressed Miller as if the latter were Young, the marshal arrested Miller and then left the city with his prize, traveling all the way to before the ruse was discovered.
Although and other leaders escaped arrest, fears of federal intervention over the indictment were heightened when Young received a letter from to Sheriff warning that in response to the charges, Secretary of War might send “a Regiment or two of the Regular Army” to occupy until arrests could be made. Ford also declared that “it is very likely that the Government at Will interfere to prevent the Mormons from going West of the Many intelligent persons sincerely believe that they will join the Brittish if they go there and be more trouble than ever And I think that this consideration is likely to influence the Government.” Young did not intend to wait to test the likelihood. By 6 January he instructed , clerk of the council, to alert members of the Council of Fifty to gather in the attic story of the on Sunday morning, 11 January.
Although the bound volumes of the minutes of the Council of Fifty contain minutes of only two meetings in January 1846, those of 11 and 13 January, council members met at least twice more that month before they ceased meeting and their focus shifted to carrying out the project that the council had been formed to advance. kept minutes on 11 and 13 January, but there are no extant Clayton minutes for the 18 January meeting. The surviving record for that meeting, included in an appendix to this volume, was copied by temple clerk into ’s journal. An appendix also reproduces Clayton’s surviving draft minutes for the 19 January meeting.