The importance of Joseph Smith in Mormon theology cannot be overemphasized. Brigham Young, the church's second president, boasted:
Well, now, examine the character of the Savior, and examine the characters of those who have written the Old and New Testament; and then compare them with the character of Joseph Smith, the founder of this work ... and you will find that his character stands as fair as that of any man's mentioned in the Bible. We can find no person who presents a better character to the world when the facts are known than Joseph Smith, Jun., the prophet, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, who was murdered with him (Journal of Discourses, vol. 14, p. 203).
... no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith.... Every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are ... I cannot go there without his consent.... He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven (vol. 7, p. 289).
... I am an Apostle of Joseph Smith.... all who reject my testimony will go to hell, so sure as there is one, no matter whether it be hot or cold ... (vol. 3, p. 212).
I will now give my scripture—"Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God ... that spirit is of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Anti-christ ... (vol. 8, p. 176).
Heber C. Kimball, a member of the first Presidency under Brigham Young, said that the time would come when people would "prize brother Joseph Smith as the Prophet of the Living God, and look upon him as a God, and also upon Brigham Young, our Governor in the Territory of Deseret" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 88).
A photograph of the Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, page 289. Brigham Young claimed that no one would enter the celestial kingdom without the consent of Joseph Smith.
In the Bible we read that when Stephen was stoned, he died "calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59). When Brigham Young died, however, his last words which were distinctly understood were: "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph!" (A Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 509).
Mormons tend to elevate Joseph Smith almost to the same level as Jesus Christ. Mormon writer John J. Stewart surmised that Joseph Smith was "perhaps the most Christ-like man to live upon the earth since Jesus himself" (Joseph Smith—The Mormon Prophet, p. 1). It is interesting, however, to compare this with a statement attributed to Joseph Smith in the History of the Church, volume 5, page 335: "I am not so much a 'Christian' as many suppose I am. When a man undertakes to ride me for a horse, I feel disposed to kick up and throw him off, and ride him."
The following appeared in Tiffany's Monthly in 1859, p. 170:
People sometimes wonder that the Mormon can revere Joseph Smith. That they can by any means make a Saint of him. But they must remember, that the Joseph Smith preached in England, and the one shot at Carthage, Ill., are not the same. The ideal prophet differs widely from the real person. To one, ignorant of his character, he may be idealized and be made the impersonation of every virtue. He may be associated in the mind with all that is pure, true, lovely and divine. Art may make him, indeed, an object of religious veneration. But remember, the Joseph Smith thus venerated, is not the real, actual Joseph Smith ... but one that art has created.
A Fighting Prophet
Joseph Smith was a man of great physical strength. He enjoyed wrestling and other sports where he could display his strength. Under the date of March 11, 1843, we find this entry in the History of the Church, (vol. 5, p. 302). "In the evening, when pulling sticks, I pulled up Justus A. Morse, the strongest man in Ramus, with one hand." Two days later we find this statement: "Monday, 13.—I wrestled with William Wall, the most expert wrestler in Ramus, and threw him" (p. 302). On June 30, 1843, Joseph Smith gave a speech in Nauvoo in which he was supposed to have stated: "I feel as strong as a giant. I pulled sticks with the men coming along, and I pulled up with one hand the strongest man that could be found. Then two men tried, but they could not pull me up ..." (p. 466).
Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith reports in her book Mormonism: Its Rise, Progress, And Present Condition: "It appears the Prophet Joseph had one day broken the leg of my brother Howard, while
wrestling ... by an unlucky pass, Howard fell with a broken leg. It was immediately set by the 'Prophet,' ... Howard to this day claims he experienced no pain of any amount, and believes yet that Joseph healed it" (p. 52).
John D. Lee related that one day Joseph Smith and some of his men were wrestling. Because it was "the Sabbath day" Sidney Rigdon tried to break it up. Joseph Smith "dragged him from the ring, bareheaded, and tore Rigdon's fine pulpit coat from the collar to the waist; then he turned to the men and said: 'Go in, boys, and have your fun' " (Confessions of John D. Lee, pp. 76-78).
Jedediah M. Grant, a member of the First Presidency under Brigham Young, recounted a humorous incident:
I am aware that a great many have so much piety in them, that they are like the Baptist priest who came to see Joseph Smith.... and folding his arms said, "Is it possible that I now flash my optics upon a man who has conversed with my Savior?" "Yes," says the Prophet, "I don't know but you do; would not you like to wrestle with me?" That, you see, brought the priest right on to the thrashing floor, and he turned a summerset right straight. After he had whirled round a few times, like a duck shot in the head, he concluded that his piety had been awfully shocked, even to the centre, and went to the Prophet to learn why he had so shocked his piety (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, pp. 66-67).
Benjamin F. Johnson recalled how Joseph Smith sometimes lost his temper and resorted to physical violence:
And yet, although so social and even convival [sic] at times, he would allow no arrogance or undue liberties. Criticisms, even by his associates, were rarely acceptable. Contradictions would arouse in him the lion at once. By no one of his fellows would he be superceded. In the early days at Kirtland, and elsewhere, one or another of his associates were more than once, for their impudence, helped from the congregation by his foot.... He soundly thrashed his brother William.... While with him in such fraternal, social and sometimes convivial moods, we could not then so fully realize the greatness and majesty of his calling. But since his martyrdom, it has continued to magnify in our view as the glories of this last dispensation have more fully unfolded to our comprehension (Letter by Benjamin F. Johnson, 1903, as printed in Testimony of Joseph Smith's Best Friend, pp. 4-5).
Calvin Stoddard once testified that "Smith then came up and knocked him in the forehead with his flat hand—the blow knocked him down, when Smith repeated the blow four or five times, very hard—made him blind—that Smith afterwards came to him and asked his forgiveness..." (Conflict at Kirtland, p. 132).
Mormon writer Max Parkin quotes Luke Johnson as saying that when a minister insulted Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, Smith "boxed his ears with both hands, and turning his face towards the door, kicked him into the street ..." (Ibid., p. 268).
In Joseph Smith's history for the year 1843, we read of two fights which he had in Nauvoo: "Josiah Butterfield came to my house and insulted me so outrageously that I kicked him out of the house, across the yard, and into the street" (History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 316).
"Bagby called me a liar, and picked up a stone to throw at me, which so enraged me that I followed him a few steps, and struck him two or three times. Esquire Daniel H. Wells stepped between us ... I told the Esquire to assess the fine for the assault, and I was willing to pay it. He not doing it, I rode down to Alderman Whitney, stated the circumstances, and he imposed a fine which I paid ..." (Ibid., p. 524).
According to the History of the Church, Joseph Smith admitted that he had tried to choke Walter Bagby: "I met him, and he gave me some abusive language, taking up a stone to throw at me: I seized him by the throat to choke him off" (Ibid., p. 531).
The reader will remember also that some material appears in Joseph Smith's diary that has been suppressed in the History of the Church. Under the dates January 1 and 2, 1843, Joseph Smith related that he had "whipped" seven men at once and on another occasion had "whipped" a Baptist minister "till he begged."
Brigham Young once made this evaluation of Joseph Smith: "Some may think that I am rather too severe; but if you had the Prophet Joseph to deal with, you would think that I am quite mild.... He would not bear the usage I have borne, and would appear as though he would tear down all the houses in the city, and tear up trees by the roots, if men conducted to him in the way they have to me" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, pp. 317-18).
Joseph Smith's interest in military matters is reflected in the Book of Mormon, for it is filled with accounts of wars and bloodshed. Dr. Hugh Nibley claims there are "170 pages of wars and alarms" in the Book of Mormon.
Only four years after Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, he organized an army and marched "to Missouri to 'redeem Zion.' " This project was a complete failure (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? pp. 192-93). In 1838 Smith had the Mormons organized into an army at Far West, Missouri, but he ended up surrendering to the militia.
A drawing of "Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith" with sword drawn.
At Nauvoo, Illinois, the Mormons organized the Nauvoo Legion. Robert Bruce Flanders explains: "The crowning provision of the charter gave the city its own little army, the famous Nauvoo Legion.... The Legion was therefore independent of and not subject to the military laws of Illinois" (Nauvoo: Kingdom On The Mississippi, p. 100).
"... Colonel," "Captain," or "General" came to replace "Brother," "Elder," or "President" in the address of the Saints. Military trappings were for them a particular symbol of status, prestige, and reassurance.... The record clearly reveals that Lieutenant General (he preferred the full title) Smith set great store by his military role....
As the city grew, so did the Legion, exciting apprehension among gentiles in the vicinity concerning the nature and intent of the Mormon kingdom (Ibid., pp. 112-13).
Mormon writer Hyrum L. Andrus recorded: "Of the Prophet's appearance as a Lieutenant General at the head of the Nauvoo Legion, Lyman L. Woods recalled, 'I have seen him on a white horse wearing the uniform of a general.... He was leading a parade of the Legion and looked like a god' " (Joseph Smith, The Man And The Seer, p. 5).
Joseph Smith was very proud of his position as head of the Nauvoo Legion and liked to be referred to as "Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith" (see History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 382). Actually, this title did not amount to anything outside of Nauvoo.
Joseph Smith seems to have loved military displays. Under the date of May 7, 1842, we find this statement in the History of the Church: "The Nauvoo Legion ... was reviewed by Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith, who commanded through the day.... At the close of the parade, Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith ... remarked 'that his soul was never better satisfied than on this occasion' " (vol.5, p. 3).
Joseph Smith seems to have desired to lead a large army, for he prepared a "Petition to the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, dated 26th March, asking the privilege of raising 100,000 men to extend protection to persons wishing to settle Oregon and other portions of the territory of the United States, and extend protection to the people in Texas" (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 282). In this document we read:
Section 1. Be it ordained ... that Joseph Smith ... is hereby authorized and empowered to raise a company of one hundred thousand armed volunteers ...
Sec. 2. And be it further ordained that if any person or persons
shall hinder or attempt to hinder or molest the said Joseph Smith from executing his designs in raising said volunteers,... he, or they so hindering molesting, or offending, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ... or by hard labor on some public work not exceeding two years, or both,...
See. [sic] 3. And be it further ordained.... the said Joseph Smith is hereby constituted a member of the army of these United States.... (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 277).
There was, of course, hardly any chance that Joseph Smith's petition would be accepted. On April 25, 1844, Orson Hyde wrote a letter from Washington in which he stated: "Mr. Semple said that Mr. Smith could not constitutionally be constituted a member of the army by law; and this, if nothing else, would prevent its passage" (Ibid., vol. 6, p. 372).
Joseph Smith's military plans and maneuvers were very disturbing to the non-Mormons who lived around Nauvoo. On July 21, 1841, the anti-Mormon paper, Warsaw Signal reported: "How military these people are becoming! Everything they say or do seems to breathe the spirit of military tactics. Their prophet appears, on all occasions, in his sp[l]endid regimental dress signs his name Lieut. General, and more titles are to be found in the Nauvoo Legion, than any one book on military tactics can produce; ... Truly fighting must, be a part of the creed of these Saints!"
Joseph Smith seems to have envisioned himself as a great military leader. The reader may remember the dream and interpretation in Joseph Smith's diary which indicated that the U.S. government would plead with Smith for his help against a foreign foe.
"The Greatest Egotist"
In 1843 Charlotte Haven wrote some letters from Nauvoo which contain some candid observations about Joseph Smith:
Joseph Smith ... is evidently a great egotist and boaster, for he frequently remarked that at every place he stopped going to and from Springfield people crowded around him, and expressed surprise that he was so "handsome and good looking" (Overland Monthly, December 1890, p. 621).
He talked incessantly about himself, what he had done and could do more than other mortals, and remarked that he was "a giant, physically and mentally." In fact, he seemed to forget that he was a man.... They say he is very kindhearted, and always ready to give shelter and help to the needy (p. 623).
I rushed out with the umbrella to shield Mrs. Smith, the others
followed.... Mrs. Smith was pleasant and social, more so than we had ever seen her before.... while her husband is the greatest egotist I ever met (p. 631).
Josiah Quincy related: "In a tone half-way between jest and earnest, and which might have been taken for either at the option of the hearer, the prophet put this inquiry: 'Is not here one greater than Solomon, who built a Temple with the treasures of his father David and with the assistance of Huram [sic], King of Tyre? Joseph Smith has built his Temple with no one to aid him in the work' " (Figures of the Past, as cited in Among the Mormons, p. 138).
A reporter who visited Joseph Smith wrote in 1843:
We spent about an hour conversing on various subjects, the prophet himself, with amazing volubility, occupying the most of the time, and his whole theme was himself. Let us give what turn we would to the conversation, he would adroitly bring it back to himself... he said: 'The world persecutes me, it has always persecuted me.... When I have proved that I am right, and get all the world subdued under me. I think I shall deserve something (The New York Spectator, September 23, 1843).
Smith Ordained King
Toward the end of his life Joseph Smith seems to have become obsessed with a desire for power and fame. He set up a secret "Council of Fifty" and had himself ordained to be a king. In 1853 William Marks, who had been a member of the Council of Fifty, revealed: "I was also witness of the introduction (secretly) of a kingly form of government, in which Joseph suffered himself to be ordained a king, to reign over the house of Israel forever; which I could not conceive to be in accordance with the laws of the church, but I did not oppose this move, thinking it none of my business" (Zion's Harbinger and Baneemy's Organ, St. Louis, July, 1853, p. 53).
In his master's thesis, Klaus J. Hansen tells that George Miller, who had been a member of the Council of Fifty, admitted that Joseph Smith was ordained to be a king: "Rumors implying that the Prophet assumed royal pretensions are somewhat substantiated by George Miller who stated on one occasion that 'In this council we ordained Joseph Smith as King on earth' " ("The Theory and Practice of the Political Kingdom of God in Mormon History, 1829-1890," master's thesis, BYU, 1959, typed copy, p. 114).
In Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1966, page 104, Mr. Hansen frankly admitted that "Joseph Smith did
start a political kingdom of God and a Council of Fifty; he was made king over that organization...."
When Fawn Brodie stated that Joseph Smith was anointed king, Dr. Nibley claimed that there was not enough evidence to support this accusation. Since that time a great deal of new evidence has come to light, and now many Mormon scholars are willing to concede that Joseph Smith was made king. For instance, Kenneth W. Godfrey, who was director of the LDS Institute at Stanford University, admitted that Joseph Smith was "ordained 'King over the Immediate House of Isreal 'by the Council of Fifty" (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1968, pp. 212-13). Among other things, Dr. Godfrey's footnote refers us to the "Diary of George A. Smith, May 9,1844," which is in the "Library of the Church Historian." In a dissertation written at Brigham Young University, Dr. Godfrey observed:
Davidson states that Joseph Smith had himself annointed King and Priest ... in a revelation dated 1886 given to President John Taylor, mention is made of Joseph Smith being crowned a king in Nauvoo. Not only was he ordained a king but the leading members of the Church were assigned governmental responsibilities. Brigham Young was to be president, John Taylor vice president, members of the Church were assigned to represent different states in the house and senate of the United States, and a full cabinet was appointed ("Causes of Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict in Hancock County, Illinois, 1839-1846," Ph.D. dissertation, BYU, 1967, pp. 63-65).
Joseph Smith for President
In 1844 the Council of Fifty decided to run Joseph Smith for the presidency of the United States. Klaus J. Hansen said that "the Council of Fifty, while seriously contemplating the possibility of emigration, also considered a rather spectacular alternative, namely, to run its leader for the presidency of the United States in the campaign of 1844.... Smith and the Council of Fifty seems to have taken the election quite seriously, much more so, indeed, than both Mormons and anti-Mormons have heretofore suspected" (Quest for Empire, p. 74).
The elders of the church were actually called to electioneer for Joseph Smith. At a special meeting of the elders on April 9, 1844, Brigham Young declared: "It is now time to have a President of the United States. Elders will be sent to preach the Gospel and electioneer" (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 322). At the same meeting Heber C. Kimball affirmed: "... we design to send Elders to all the different States to get up meetings and protracted meetings, and electioneer for Joseph to be the next
President" (Ibid., p. 325). Mormon writer John J. Stewart refers to those who were sent to campaign as a "vast force of political missionaries" (Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, p. 209).
Under the date of January 29, 1844, this statement is attributed to Joseph Smith in the History of the Church, "If you attempt to accomplish this, you must send every man in the city who is able to speak in public throughout the land to electioneer.... There is oratory enough in the Church to carry me into the presidential chair the first slide" (vol. 6, p. 188).
On March 7, 1844, Joseph Smith was reported to have said: "When I get hold of the Eastern papers, and see how popular I am, I am afraid myself that I shall be elected..." (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 243).
The fact that Joseph Smith would allow himself to be crowned king shows that he was driven by the idea of gaining power. It is very possible that Smith seriously believed that he would become president and that he would rule as king over the people of the United States. The attempt by Joseph Smith to become president seems to have been a treasonous plot to bring the United States Government under the rule of the priesthood. Klaus J. Hansen observed: "But what if, through a bold stroke, he could capture the United States for the Kingdom? The Council of Fifty thought there might be a chance and nominated the Mormon prophet for the Presidency of the United States" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p. 67).
George Miller, who had been a member of the Council of Fifty, recorded in a letter dated June 28, 1855:
It was further determined in Council that all the elders should set out on missions to all the States to get up an electorial [sic] ticket, and do everything in our power to have Joseph elected president. If we succeeded in making a majority of the voters converts to our faith, and elected Joseph president, in such an event the dominion of the Kingdom would be forever established in the United States; and if not successful, we could fall back on Texas, and be a kingdom notwithstanding (Letter by George Miller, as quoted in Joseph Smith and World Government, by Hyrum Andrus, 1963, p. 54).
Instead of going to Texas the Mormons settled in the Great Salt Lake valley. Hyrum Andrus admits that Smith had even "considered the alternative of establishing the Saints in the capacity of an independent nation, should all other alternatives fail" (Ibid., p. 60).
Before the election Joseph Smith was assassinated. Thus he was unable to establish the kingdom he had planned.
A photograph of the History of the Church, vol. 6, page 409. Joseph Smith boasted that "no man ever did such a work as I."
Greater than Jesus?
The History of the Church contains some statements which show that Joseph Smith felt he was almost equal with God:
I am a lawyer; I am a big lawyer and comprehend heaven, earth and hell, to bring forth knowledge that shall cover up all lawyers, doctors arid other big bodies (vol. 5, p. 289).
Don't employ lawyers, or pay them for their knowledge, for I have learned that they don't know anything. I know more than they all (vol. 5, p. 467).
I combat the errors of ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the gordian knot of powers, and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth-diamond truth; and God is my "right hand man" (vol. 6, p. 78).
If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster: I shall always beat them.... I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as 1, The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet (vol. 6, pp. 408-9).
Destruction of Expositor
One of the most important factors leading to Joseph Smith's death was his interference in politics. On July 15, 1842, this statement appeared in the Sangamo Journal, published at Springfield, Illinois: "We received the Mormons into this state as we did every other sect. Disclosures have shown that the head of that church acts not under the influence of that pure religion which Jesus Christ established upon the earth; and that his vaulting ambition would secure to himself the control of our State elections" (Sangamo Journal, July 15, 1842).
Thomas Ford, governor of Illinois from 1842-1846, similarly explained:
But the great cause of popular fury was, that the Mormons at several preceding elections had cast their vote as a unit, thereby making the fact apparent that no one could aspire to the honors or offices of the country, within the sphere of their influence, without their approbation and votes.... It is indeed unfortunate for their peace that they do not divide in elections, according to their individual preferences or political principles, like other people.
This one principle and practice of theirs arrayed against them in deadly hostility all aspirants for office who were not sure of their support, all who have been unsuccessful in elections, and all who were too proud to court their influence, with all their friends and connections (History of Illinois, as quoted in History of the Church, vol. 7, pp. 2-3).
Joseph Smith admitted that the Mormons were united in their politics but claimed they "were driven to union in their elections by persecution" (History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 232). Although it is true that the Mormons were persecuted, evidence shows that much of this persecution was the result of Joseph Smith's intemperate speech and actions (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 256).
Anti-Mormons accused Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum of mixing politics and revelation. That there was a great deal of truth to this charge is verified by the History of the Church. Under the date of August 6, 1843, these words are attributed to Joseph Smith: "Brother Hyrum tells me this morning that he has had a testimony to the effect it would be better for the people to vote for Hoge; and I never knew Hyrum to say he ever had a revelation and it failed. Let God speak and all men hold their peace" (History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 526).
Mormon writer Kenneth W. Godfrey in discussing factors that stirred the conflict in Illinois wrote:
Antagonism toward the Mormon Prophet was further incited when it was correctly rumored, that he had been ordained 'King over the Immediate House of Israel' by the Council of Fifty... newspapers and tracts repeatedly charged that the Prophet conducted himself like a dictator and that his actions were not only treasonable but a violation of the constitutional principle that church and state should be disassociated. Thus, his kingly ordination only incensed the populace, and his untimely death became even more inevitable.
The Prophet's mayoral order, with the consent of the city council, to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor became the immediate excuse to stamp out his life....
Perhaps in retrospect both Mormons and Gentiles were partly to blame for conflict which developed between them (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1968, pp. 212-14).
The Nauvoo Expositor, spoken of by Kenneth Godfrey, was to be printed in Nauvoo by a number of people who opposed Joseph Smith's political ambitions and the practice of polygamy. Mormon writer John J. Stewart summarized the problem: "They attempted to set up their own church with
William Law as President. They bought a press and published a newspaper entitled the Nauvoo Expositor,... Joseph Smith as mayor ordered the Expositor press destroyed" (Brigham Young and His Wives, p. 34).
Mormon writers often refer to the Nauvoo Expositor as a scandalous and vile publication, but in reality it advocated high morals and obedience to the law. This newspaper was strongly opposed to Joseph Smith's "political schemes." The thing that really disturbed the Mormon leaders, however, was that the Nauvoo Expositor exposed Joseph Smith's secret teaching on polygamy. In an affidavit published in the Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844, Austin Cowles charged:
In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet;... according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines; 1st, the sealing up of persons to eternal life, against all sins, save that of shedding innocent blood or of consenting thereto; 2nd, the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that "David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not save in the matter of Uriah."
The Mormon leaders claimed that Austin Cowles had lied, but eight years after Joseph Smith's death they published the revelation on polygamy. This revelation proves beyond all doubt that the statements in the Expositor were true. Thus it is clear that the Expositor was condemned on the basis of false testimony given by Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.
In a synopsis of the proceedings of the Nauvoo City Council we find the following:
Mayor [Joseph Smith] said, if he had a City Council who felt as he did, the establishment (referring to the Nauvoo Expositor) would be declared a nuisance before night....
Councilor Stiles said ... he would go in for suppressing all further publications of the kind.
Councilor Hyrum Smith believed the best way was to smash the press and pi the type (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 441,445).
The Nauvoo City Council ordered the press to be destroyed. The following is recorded in Joseph Smith's history under the date of June 10, 1844: "The Council passed an ordinance declaring the Nauvoo Expositor a nuisance, and also issued an order to me to abate the said nuisance. I immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it without delay.... About 8 p.m., the Marshal returned and reported that he had removed the press,
type, printed paper, and fixtures into the street, and destroyed them" (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 432).
Mormon historian B. H. Roberts concedes concerning the destruction of the Expositor that, "the legality of the action of the Mayor and City Council was, of course, questionable, though some sought to defend it on legal grounds; but it must be conceded that neither proof nor argument for legality are convincing. On the grounds of expediency or necessity the action is more defensible" (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. xxxviii).
Mormon writer John J. Stewart reports that after the Expositor was destroyed, "The apostate publishers dashed away to Carthage, squealing like stuck pigs, and before justice of the Peace Thomas Morrison, a notorious Mormon hater, sued out a writ for the arrest of Joseph and seventeen other Church and city officials, on a charge of riot" (Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, p. 220).
Charles A. Foster, one of the publishers of the Expositor, wrote the following in a letter dated June 11, 1844:
... a company consisting of some 200 men, armed and equipped, with muskets, swords, pistols, bowie knives, sledge-hammers, &c, assisted by a crowd of several hundred minions, who volunteered their services on the occasion, marched to the building, and breaking open the doors with a sledge-hammer, commenced the work of destruction....
They tumbled the press and materials into the street, and set fire to them, and demolished the machinery with a sledge hammer, and injured the building very materially (Warsaw Signal, June 12,1844).
Charles A. Foster's description of the destruction of the Expositor sounds more like a mob scene than a legal act. Vilate Kimball, the wife of Heber C. Kimball and a faithful Mormon, in her description wrote: "June 11th. Nauvoo was a scene of excit[e]ment last night. Some hundreds of the brethren turned out and burned the press of the opposite party (Letter by Vilate Kimball, as published in Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 350).
Mormon author William E. Berrett said:
The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor June 10, 1844, proved to be the spark which ignited all the smoldering fires of opposition into one great flame. It offered the occasion for which the apostates from the Church were waiting, a legal excuse to get the Prophet and other leaders into their hands. The cry that the "freedom of the press" was being violated, united the factions seeking the overthrow of the Saints as perhaps nothing else would have done (The Restored Church, p. 255).
Like a Lamb?
Edward Bonney spoke of the excitement in his book, Banditti of the Prairies:
This outrage upon the public press helped to fan the flame already kindled ... and plainly foreshadowed the storm that was to burst with startling fury.
The dissenting Mormons at once united with those opposed to that sect, and various meetings were called, and all parties urged to arm and prepare themselves to resist any further aggression: ... Warrants were issued against the Smiths, and other leaders, in the destruction of the printing office of the Expositor, and though served by the proper officers, they refused to obey the mandates of the law, and laughed at its power!
As in all former cases, the writ of habeas corpus was resorted to, and all the arrested at once set at liberty ... defeating the ends of justice, and compelling the officer to return to Carthage without a single prisioner!
This mock administration of law, added new fuel to the flame. The public ... became enraged, and determined to rise in their might and enforce the law, even though it should be at the point of the bayonet or sabre....
The city of Nauvoo was declared under martial law, and all necessary preparations were made to sustain the edicts of the Prophet ... Gov. Ford, instructing the officer having the writs from which the Mormons had discharged themselves, to proceed to Nauvoo and demand the surrender of the Smiths and others....
Morning came, and the hour of their departure arrived, but the Prophet could not be found, having crossed the Mississippi River during the night with his brother Hiram and secreted themselves in Iowa....
During the day, several dispatches crossed the river to and from the Prophet, some advising him to seek safety in flight, and others urging him to return and save the city. Thus urged, the Prophet and his companion in flight, recrossed the river about sunset, and on the following morning started for Carthage....
On arriving there, the prisoners were examined on the charge of riot in destroying the printing press, and held to bail for their appearance at the next term of the Hancock Circuit Court. Joseph and Hiram Smith were arrested on charge of treason, and committed to await examination.
All being tranquil, and Governor Ford thinking an armed force no longer necessary, disbanded his troops on the morning of the
27th, leaving but a small force to guard the jail, and proceeded with his suite to Nauvoo....
After the troops were disbanded, the most hostile of them believing the Smiths eventually would be acquitted on the charge of treason,... continued to fan the flame of revenge that had heretofore been burning but too brightly. Urged on by the Mormon dissenters, who were thirsting for blood, they collected, to the number of about 140, armed and disguised, and proceeded to the jail about five o'clock in the afternoon of the 27th. Having dispersed the guard, they attacked the jail, and Joseph and Hiram Smith in an effort to escape were both shot dead. Four balls pierced each of them, and any one of the wounds would have proved fatal. Having accomplished this cold-blooded murder (for surely no other name will apply to it) and glutted their appetite for blood, the mob instantly dispersed (Banditti of the Prairies [Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963] pp. 20-24).
It is interesting to compare the death of Joseph Smith with that of Jesus. In Isaiah 53:7 we read: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." In the New Testament it is claimed that Christ fulfilled this prophecy (see Acts 8:32). He died without resistance. In 1 Peter 2:23 we read: "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously."
When Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword, Jesus told him to "put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).
It is claimed that before Joseph Smith was murdered in the Carthage jail he stated: "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter"... (Doctrine and Covenants, 135:4).
Most Mormons believe that Joseph Smith died without putting up a struggle, but the actual truth is that he died in a gunfight. In the History of the Church the following account is given concerning Joseph Smith's death:
Immediately there was a little rustling at the outer door of the jail, and a cry of surrender, and also a discharge of three or four firearms followed instantly... Joseph sprang to his coat for his six-shooter, Hyrum for his single barrel....
When Hyrum fell, Joseph exclaimed, "Oh dear, brother Hyrum!" and opening the door a few inches he discharged his six shooter in the stairway (as stated before), two or three barrels of which missed fire.
Joseph, seeing there was no safety in the room, and no doubt
thinking that it would save the lives of his brethren in the room if he could get out, turned calmly from the door, dropped his pistol on the floor, and sprang into the window ... and he fell outward into the hands of his murderers... (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 617-18).
In the introduction to volume 6 of the History of the Church, page XLI, Joseph Smith is praised for his part in the gunfight: "... the Prophet turned from the prostrate form of his murdered brother to face death-dealing guns and bravely returned the fire of his assailants, 'bringing his man down everytime,' and compelling even John Hay, who but reluctantly accords the Prophet any quality of virtue, to confess that he 'made a handsome fight.'..."
John Taylor, who became the third president of the church, testified concerning the death of Joseph Smith:
He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Whellock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed died (History of the Church, vol. 7, pp. 102-3).
From the preceding information it can be seen that the death of Joseph Smith can in no way be compared to the death of Jesus. Jesus did go like a "lamb to the slaughter," but Joseph Smith died like a raging lion.
Today the Joseph Smith of Mormon adoration is a highly romanticized version of the real Joseph Smith. While possessing natural abilities and talents, his personal character was far from the saintly image his followers mold him into. His strong egotism and drive for power, together with his deceptive practices led ultimately to his destruction.