So, in reading The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, the author D Michael Quinn makes a very interesting claim. While most people think the publication of polygamy was the reason that Joseph Smith ordered the destruction of the printing press, Quinn makes a more startling reason–that Joseph was attempting alliances with foreign nations, and he didn’t want that to get out. Quinn almost acts as if the Expositor had only been about polygamy, then Smith would have left it alone.
We read this book for my book club. One of the other guys in the club majored in history, and he questions the validity of Quinn’s interpretations, so I will say that it is up in the air as to this accusation, but here’s how Quinn tells it. Basically, Joseph was upset with the mistreatment of the Mormons, and wanted to set up a theocracy. To some degree, Richard Bushman agrees with that in this Pew Research Forum interview. Quinn says that most of these contacts were to be done in secret. Smith sent ambassadors to
- the Republic of Texas (a foreign nation at the time),
- France, and
I’ve changed the formatting, but from page 132,
The assignment of ambassadors indicates the expansiveness of Smith’s intentions. The council decided on 13 March that “Amos Fielding should return to England.” To mask the theocratic origin of this assignment, Joseph and Hyrum Smith signed a certificate for Fielding “to transact such business as may be deemed necessary for the benefit of said Church.” The next day the Council of Fifty sent Lucien Woodworth on “a mission to Texas.” After Smith signed Orson Hyde’s public credentials as a church missionary on 30 March, the council commissioned him on 4 April as its emissary to Washington, DC. Next the Fifty voted to send Almon W Babbitt to France.
On 7 June, a week after the last meeting under Smith’s direction, he and his brother Hyrum signed a missionary certificate for George J. Adams “to the empire of Russia.” This appeared to be simply a reinstatement of an earlier assignment for Adams to proselytize in Russia, but Council of Fifty members knew otherwise. Almon W. Babbitt, ambassador to France, later told the Council of Fifty that “the Russian Mission” was connected to Uriah Brown’s invention “to destroy an army or navy.” Even before the council’s formation, Joseph and Hyrum Smith explained that the proposed mission to Russia involved “some of the most important things concerning the advancement and building up of the kingdom of God in the last days, which cannot be explained at this time.” Like the certificate to Amos Fielding three months earlier, Adams written commission provided a ministerial cover for a theocratic ambassador.
As proof for this, Quinn tells that there were negotiations with Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas for a Mormon district in his country. Smith also wanted to coordinate interests with the U.S. Congress, France, Russia, and England, who all had a stake in claims in Oregon and California territories. In Quinn’s mind, it seems that Smith wanted to have a presence with all the key players in the territorial disputes so Mormons could take advantage of any further problems in the U.S. It is important to remember that the Mississippi River was essentially the border of the United States at this time, though the U.S. had several claims to the western territories, and was actively trying to expand the borders, including areas of Canada (as I mentioned in my post about Joseph Smith’s Presidential platform.) Quinn also states (without footnotes to back it up) on page 134, that Joseph “had publicly proposed to lead 100,000 soldiers and privately commissioned Mormon scouts to act as an exploring party.”
Quinn further outlines that the Illinois legislature, which had previously granted a liberal charter for Nauvoo, was now trying to revoke the town charter. In response, Smith petitioned Congress to make Nauvoo an independent territory. This also led to Smith’s presidential candidacy. While Smith took the presidential campaign seriously, he also knew that as a third party candidate, he could try to extract concessions even if he was unsuccessful in his presidential bid. Quinn states on page 136,
If Smith could succeed as a third party “spoiler” in the 1844 presidential electoral vote, he would have the power to demand concessions regarding Nauvoo from whomever the U.S. House of Representatives elected. The House’s election of John Quincy Adams twenty years earlier proved such a bargain was possible….
Even if both U.S. efforts failed, Smith was preparing a safe retreat for Mormon settlers to the western territories of Mexican California, British Columbia, or the Republic of Texas. Again Smith would send settlers wherever the theocratic ambassadors had successfully prepared the way.”
I will state that Clean Cut has an interesting post on Lyman Wight’s Mormon colony in Texas. It is also interesting to me that Sidney Rigdon (who led a Mormon movement after Joseph’s death) sent a missionary by the name of Stephen Post to British Columbia. Post was able to set up a small congregation loyal to Rigdon, but it did not last long.
Quinn goes on to state how some church members became alarmed about Smith’s intentions of theocracy, when he was ordained a king. From page 137,
Their worst fears seemed confirmed when Smith publicly announced on 12 May 1844, a month after his kingly anointing: “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.” He stressed that this revolution “will not be by the sword or gun,” and a recent interpreter observes that Smith emphasized “conversion, not coercion” as the basis of his revolution. Nevertheless, Smith’s sermon about revolution had an immediate and measurable impact on Nauvoo. Several hours later, 300 people attended the meeting of William Law’s “Reformed Church” which openly rejected a Mormon theocracy.
Quinn speculates that Smith may have used the words of revolution to a Council of Fifty meeting on 22 April, which caused some alarm among those in attendance, and they informed the recently excommunicated William Law of Joseph’s ordination as “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth.” From page 138,
On 10 May 1844 Smith’s former counselor William Law and his fellow religious dissenters distributed a prospectus for their newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. It advocated repeal of Nauvoo’s charter and proposed to reveal “gross moral imperfections” in Nauvoo. This was nothing new. Arguments in favor of repealing the charter had appeared for months, and partial (but accurate) lists of Smith’s plural wives had circulated in the anti-Mormon press since 1842.
However, there was a disturbing reference in the prospectus about Nauvoo’s “SELF-CONSTITUTED MONARCH.” If Smith doubted that this vague statement hinted at betrayal by one of the Fifty, he did not want to risk even the possibility of disclosure. On 13 May he “called a meeting of the Kingdom,” during which the Nauvoo Expositor‘s prospectus was a topic of discussion.
Quinn goes on to report that Sidney Rigdon approached Law to try to arrange some peace. Law was offered to be reinstated back into the church, along with his wife and friends. Law would regain his old position as counselor in the First Presidency.
Law countered with his own ultimatum. He refused to accept reinstatement unless Smith publicly apologized for teaching and practicing “the doctrine of the plurality of wives.” Otherwise, Law said, “we would publish all to the world.” Ridgon “said he had not authority to go so far.”
On the surface this was a failure of Rigdon’s ecclesiastical mission from the Fifty. However, Law had not mentioned the Council of Fifty or Smith’s office as king. This may have reassured Smith that the members of the council had maintained its secrets. Therefore he took no action to forcibly suppress the pre-announced publication of the Expositor‘s first issue the next month. Smith no longer seemed greatly concerned that the dissident publication would reveal secrets about his polygamy and would advocate repeal of Nauvoo’s charter. Such publicity did not justify his taking the risk of attacking freedom of the press.
However, he got a shock when the first issue of the Nauvoo Expositor appeared on 7 June. Law and associates proclaimed: “We will not acknowledge any man as king or lawgiver to the church: for Christ is our only king and lawgiver.” The first issue promised that details of all its allegations would appear in the next edition. In fact, these dissenters intended to emphasize the details of Smith’s “delectable plan of Government,” according to Francis M. Higbee’s private outline of what their publication would do.
Smith realized that Council of Fifty members had betrayed him. He could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king.
Quinn goes on to say that Smith no longer trusted the Council of Fifty, and directed the city council to declare the Expositor a public nuisance, which officially ordered the destruction of the printing press. Quinn on page 139 says that Law wrote in his diary, “I could not even suspect men of being such fools.”
Of course, we know the chain of events that followed. Smith and other church leaders were charged with treason, and escaped to avoid jail. Citizens in Nauvoo accused him of cowardice, to which Smith replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself”, and he turned himself in at Carthage. Quinn does give some interesting details of this last few weeks. From page 141,
To Smith, the kingdom was dead. On the evening of 25 June a trusted mormon friend gave him final verification of treachery in the Council of Fifty. The man reported that dissident Wilson Law was saying that “the kingdom referred to [in Daniel] was already set up, and that he [Joseph Smith] was the king over it.”
The morning of 27 June, Smith sent an order (in his own handwriting) to Major-General Jonathan Dunham to lead the Nauvoo Legion in a military attack on Carthage “immediately” to free the prisoners. Dunham realized that such an assault by the Nauvoo Legion would result in two blood baths–one in Carthage and another when anti-Mormons (and probably the Illinois militia) retaliated by laying seige to Nauvoo for insurrection. To avoid civil war and destruction of Nauvoo’s population, Dunham refused to obey the order and did not notify Smith of his decision. One of his lieutenants, a former Danite, later complained that Dunham “did not let a single mortal know that he had received such orders.”
About 5 p.m. on Thursday, 27 June 1844, more than 250 men approached the Carthage Jail. When informed by the panicky jailer, Joseph Smith replied: “Don’t trouble yourself [-] they have come to rescue me.” That was not to be.
We all know that Joseph and Hyrum were killed, apostle John Taylor was severly wounded, and apostle William Richards escaped with only a scratch. So what do you think of Quinn’s research?