Nauvoo City Council Minutes

Not sure what to get for someone who knows everything about Mormon history?  Here’s a last minute gift-idea: The Nauvoo City Council and High Council Minutes.  The book is due to be released on Dec 19 and is edited by John Dinger.  This is the first time that the City Council Minutes have ever been available to the public.

Obviously, of greatest interest is the council activities surrounding the Nauvoo Expositor.  For those unfamiliar with the history surrounding the Expositor, here is a brief introduction.  William Law was originally a member of the First Presidency.  He was disturbed to learn about polygamy, and at first tried to work with Joseph Smith.  However, Joseph excommunicated him, and he was purged from the city council.

In response, William and his brother Wilson Law, along with a group of others started a rival newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor, publishing information about polygamy as well as calling for the repeal of the city charter for Nauvoo.  The Expositor published only 1 issue; the city council met and declared the Expositor guilty of libel, a public nuisance, and called for the press to be destroyed.  The council also asked for a barn owned by the paper’s editor Robert Foster to be destroyed as well.

Following the destruction of the press, Joseph, Hyrum, and others were transported to Carthage on the charge of riot.  Once there, the charge was upgraded to treason.  I’ve talked previously about Michael Quinn downplaying polygamy in relation to the Expositor, as well as Dallin Oaks’ book discussing the trial of Joseph’s assassins.

I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release version of the book.  When I received it, I had to turn to June 1844, the month that changed Mormon history forever.  One of the interesting things to learn was how John Dinger compiled the book.  There are 3 sets of minutes for these city council meetings.  The minutes were originally recorded on loose sheets of paper.  Then, the minutes were corrected and copied to some rough bound books.  A final set was corrected, to be furnished for official publication to newspapers with additional additions and deletions.

Some of the originals were damaged crossing the plains, so it was important that different versions of the minutes survived.  The council minutes cover 1841-1845.  Each year composes  one volume. Volume 2 of the rough bound minutes are missing, and it is believed that the missing volume contained information about the trial of John C Bennett (also a former member of the First Presidency, and original mayor of Nauvoo.)  I wish that volume survived–I’d love to learn more about John C. Bennett.

I think that sometimes people look at the events of June 1844 with a limited scope: polygamy.  However, as we read the city council minutes, there were other larger issues that were discussed in addition to polygamy.  It becomes clear that agents in Missouri were still trying to extradict and arrest Joseph Smith, specifically for the assassination attempt on Missouri Governor Boggs.  As such, original Mayor John C. Bennett helped push the original Nauvoo city charter through the state legislature.  It was the most expansive city charter in Illinois (and in the nation.)

The city council, aware of Joseph’s problems in Missouri, passed the most expansive habeus corpus laws in the country to stymie efforts to arrest Joseph.  Because Missouri officials continued to make attempts to arrest Joseph, the Nauvoo city council granted itself the power to review all arrest warrants and determine their validity.  As such, it became nearly impossible to take Joseph out of Nauvoo, and prompted calls for the repeal of the Nauvoo city charter so that Joseph could be arrested and face charges in Missouri.

Disenchanted with polygamy, the Law and Higbee brothers (former members of the church hierarchy and city council) saw no other recourse than to call for the repeal of the city charter and publish information about polygamy.  This obviously didn’t sit well with the city council.

These notes are quite rough.  Brackets to fix grammar and add information about individuals has been added for readability.  Quoting from page 258, (items in blue are my editorial comments)

C[ounselor] H[yrun] Smith believed the best way [would be] to smash the press all to pieces and pie {or spill/scatter} the type…{several council members concur} A[lderman] [Samuel] Bennet…considered [the paper] a public Nuisance.

However, I was interested to learn that it was not unanimous.  (Please note that “the Mayor”  is Joseph Smith below.)  From page 259,

B[enjamin] Warrington [said he was] convinced [t]his [was] a peculiar ^situation^ for the city council to pass this a[ction, to declare a newspaper] a nuisance[,] [and] would [not] be hasty & [he] propose[d] giving a few days limitation & assess a fine of $3000.00 for any libel – & if they would not cease publishing [the] libels[,] [then] declare it a nuisance.  C[ouncillor] Warrington said the counsellor State made provisions [for such instances]. – [They could] fine [the paper] 500.00.

[The] Mayor was sorry to have one dissenting voice[.] – C[ouncillor] Warrington did not mean to be understood to go [against the proposition.] but [would] not be in haste.  C[ouncillor] [Hyrum] Smith – spoke of the Mortgages on the property of the proprietors of the Expositors [and thought they city could not collect fines against them.]

The rest of the minutes are interesting as well.  There were (unfounded) charges of infidelity against William Law, (unfounded) charges of Francis Higbee participating in counterfeiting money, and many other accusations against the proprietors of the Expositor.  Council members recited the indignities of Haun’s Mill, and mobbings in Missouri as a reason not to tolerate the Expositor.  Obviously the resolution to destroy the Expositor passed, setting into motion a series of unfortunate events, leading to Joseph’s death.

One day later is a short entry (June 11) references the burning of the Expositor and possible retaliation.  From page 266,

Jason R. Luce said [he heard] Ianthus Rolf said while the [Nauvoo Expositor] press was burning last eve[ning] [that] before 3 weeks [were out] the [Nauvoo] Mansion House would be strung [pulled] to the ground & he would help do it.  And Tallman Rolf said the city would be strung to the ground within 10 days (Moses Leonard heard it.  Joshua Miller was present[)].  ^Henry Redfield said^ Matthias Spencer said that [storeowner David] Bryant said before he would see such things[,] he would wade to his knees in blood.  (Others were present).

The day Joseph [Smith] went to Carthage[,] ^[I] was at^ [the] Finch & Rollison Key Stone [store].  [Abner] Powers ^a taylor^ was talking with Mr ^N. N.^ Davis – about Joseph’s going [to Carthage].  Powers ^of Potsdam N.H.-^ said they would attempt to kill Joseph.  Mr Davis replied [“]O no, I think not.[“] – Yes says Powers[,] “they will by God & you know it[,] by God.

On June 21, the city council minutes were approved and the members in attendance were noted.  Joseph was killed on June 27, as a mob stormed the jail and killed he and Hyrum, wounding John Taylor severely, and Willard Richards slightly.

The book adds a ton of footnotes that I have omitted.  These footnotes give biographical and other information that aids in understanding, and they are very useful.  After all the emotion of the June 10 city council meetings, the July 1 meeting is much more somber and conciliatory.  Letters from Illinois Governor Ford and other government officials were read.  Councillor W.W. Phelps rose and stated on page 274,

As to the press[,] we will do whatever is right towards a remuneration “whatever we ascertain the minds of all the Proprietors of the Expositor.”  Moved by Ald[erman] Phelps that the resolution pass – and it was carried.  Moved that Hiram Kimball be appointed to make [an] [en]treat[y] with the Proprietors of the said Expositor – and carried.

It is interesting to see the combustible atmosphere of June 1844, and I haven’t even started talking about the High Council minutes.  I plan to talk about that more next week.  Comments or questions?  How do you think history would have changed if the city council had listened to Councilman Warrington?  Would the majority of the church be reading this while looking over the Mississippi River?

6 comments on “Nauvoo City Council Minutes

  1. I don’t think that history would have been changed so much as delayed, by how much I do not know, but not by very much. If I recall correctly, Joseph was initially released under the Nauvoo habeas corpus powers. The treason charges were brought later to get around that road block.
    There were people determined to get Joseph into jail away from Nauvoo in order to kill him. The only way that Joseph could have escaped that fate was to make the move to the west sooner rather than later.
    There is one caveat here. This is my opinion.



  2. You could very well be right Glenn, but it is fun to speculate and see if tensions could have been ratcheted down a bit.

  3. An interesting point to speculate maybe, is what would have happened if Joseph Smith had not tuned himself in and rather escaped to the mountain west?


  4. As far as i’m aware Joseph was planning to move saints west. I read an account were he and a few others crossed the river and headed west . I think they were going to scout a trail for the the others to follow. But a few days later the people he’d left behind came and begged him to come back and lead the people.
    I agree with Glen, I feel that they would have gone west eventually.

  5. I have a photo-copy of the June 19, 1844 ‘Nauvoo Neighbor’ that contains minutes of the June 10, 1844 City Council minutes. I noticed there are omissions made in what was included in the LDS History of the Church in regard to statements made by Joseph Smith, Jr. & Hyrum Smith about denial of what in the ‘revelation’ dealing with polygamy in former days or ancient times & not to be practiced in their day, etc. Hyrum talks of the same in what he read to the high council in August 1843.

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