Nauvoo City Council Minutes

By: Mormon Heretic
December 19, 2011

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 today 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?

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23 Responses to Nauvoo City Council Minutes

  1. GBSmith on December 19, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    “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?”

    I think it would have eventually dwindled like most of the other churches of the restorationist period. Moving into isolation with all the hardships and trials that entailed caused it to survive and morph into what it is today.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    GBS I have to agree with you.

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  3. Bob on December 19, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    I don’t think we will ever know what happened in Nauvoo until there is a full non-Mormon study done.
    Was Joseph Smith running two different Projects? Just what were the goals of some of these Councils vs the Q12? Was Nauvoo being built as a Zion__or a City State?

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  4. Mormon Heretic on December 19, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    Bob, so all Mormon scholars (such as Richard Bushman and Michael Quinn) are not credible in your opinion?

    I don’t understand your questions–can you provide a little more info?

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  5. FireTag on December 19, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    I don’t think that having a church 1 and 2/3rds of a century later that comprised less than 2% of the US population was what Joseph had in mind as successful Zion-building.

    It is easy to grow comfortable with failure and forget what you once dreamed.

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  6. Bob on December 19, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    #4: MH,
    It’s not me, but the Church that questions the scholarship of Michael Quinn.
    I challenge the Church’s scholarship or teaching on Nauvoo worked.

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  7. mh on December 19, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    so bob, who do you recommend?

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  8. Bob on December 19, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    #7: mh,
    David McCullough.

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  9. Mormon Heretic on December 19, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    Has he ever written about any religion, or does he limit himself to political topics like Harry Truman, and John Adams (or Seabiscuit)?

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  10. Bob on December 20, 2011 at 2:00 AM

    David McCullough on Religion__not much. On non-political topics: The Building of the Brooklyn Brige, The Johnsotown Flood, Mornings on Houseback.
    But, as I stated, Nauvoo is as much about Political Topics as Religion. As is your
    OP on Nauvoo City Council Minutes.

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  11. mh on December 20, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    well bob, send him an email and tell him to write about nauvoo.

    until then, I guess we will have to settle for historians that are actually interested in mormon history.

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  12. Bob on December 20, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    #11: mh,
    Well, if I can only pick a non-Mormon writer who’s interested in Nauvoo history, than I will have to go with Dan Brown.

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  13. mh on December 20, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    so you prefer a fiction writer, rather than a real historian? I see, you really don’t have anything to add but just want to muck up the conversation with unreasonable remarks.

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  14. Bob on December 20, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    #13: mh,
    I’m not trying to “muck up” anything. \My picks within Church historians would be:
    B.H. Roberts
    Michael Quinn
    Fawn Brodie
    Vardis Fisher
    IF available.
    It is known Dan Brown worked on/thought about a book on Mormonism and the Masons.
    I will now end my comments to your post.

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  15. Tom on December 20, 2011 at 12:47 PM


    I thought you did a fine job presenting some of the highlights of the Nauvoo city council. As for a full study of Nauvoo, there have been some fine books written or edited by Mormons on the topic. Bob Flander’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi may well be the best overall study to date still.

    As of recent there have been quite a few others that touch on the topic. Glen Leonard’s Nauvoo book is really good from a places and things standpoint. Signature has done several studies recently that cover Nauvoo, see:

    Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History, Gary James Bergera and Devery Scott Anderson, editors

    Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History, Gary James Bergera and Devery Scott Anderson, editors

    The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000, Devery Scott Anderson, editor
    Nauvoo Polygamy: “but we called it celestial marriage …,” George D. Smith

    Nauvoo Sealings, Adoptions, and Anointings: A Comprehensive Register of Persons Receiving LDS Temple Ordinances, 1841-1846, Lisle Brown, editor

    There have also been quite a few biographies and diaries published over the years that cover the period. The bigger issues that presents itself now is that after the city and high council minutes are now readily available, there is now a large body of primary sources that was not readily available to researchers. Will someone take this new data and present a new full history of the city? Will it be a Non-Mormon or will it be home grown?

    As for Dan Brown and his Mormons and Masons book. Yeah, that books came out, it had very little Mormon content, and it was crap. Just sayin. Roberts, Brodie and Fisher are dead. Not holding my breath for Quinn. Maybe we can get Devery Anderson to do it after he gets Willard Richards done!

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  16. Morris on December 20, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    Of course, B.H. Roberts has already written “The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo.” I found it a fascinating read when I was on my mission in the 60s, but it is “old Mormon history,” and tells a rather one-sided story. The books Tom mentions are better places to begin today.

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  17. MH on December 20, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    Morris, glad to see you stopped by! I enjoyed your introduction to the book–helped me understand habeus corpus quite a bit!!!

    Tom, I agree those are excellent books. I read the Dan Brown book hoping to find out about Mormons and Masons and was severely disappointed in the glancing coverage in the book, as I discussed in my review 2 years ago.

    Bob, you limited yourself in comment #3 to “a full non-Mormon study.” I am glad to see a little respect to the Mormon scholars. Of course Vardis Fisher, Fawn Brodie, and BH Roberts are dead, so they won’t be contributing anything new. Then you dissed Quinn in 6 and now you’re recommending him in 14–so which is it? What’s wrong with Bushman? How did he get omitted from your list?

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  18. Bob on December 20, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    #17: mh,
    I have read both Mormon and non-Mormon books.
    I like Quinn__I never ‘dissed’ him. It’s the Church that doesn’t like him.
    I like Bushman__but he admits being a spokeperson for the Church.
    Brown stopped his writing on Masons and Mormons, and went with another plot.
    The Church did what it could to silence the voices of Bodie, Roberts, Brooks, Palmer, Fisher, etc.

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  19. Tom on December 20, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    Nice catch Morris. That should have been mine!! ha!

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  20. timewasters on December 20, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    serious waste of time. Such hateful anti-mormons in the crowd here. FOcus that energy into useful pursuits. Like getting on disability for the rest of your life. Oh too late. Already frauded the gov’t out of that one.

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  21. MH on December 20, 2011 at 10:57 PM


    Regarding your comment about 2% of the U.S. population–any idea what percent of the Roman Empire was Christian in the days leading up to Constantine’s rule?

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  22. GBSmith on December 22, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    There’s been an interesting discussion of this topic on It seems the thread here got a bit sidetracked. My sense is that the law of unintended consequences reared it’s ugly head with the decision the council made. Had they not ordered the destruction of the press, JS could have ended up in the west and then the gold fields of california, the church in Texas, and polygamy a faded brief foot note.

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  23. Bushman on December 30, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    @ Bob – That anyone would consider Fawn Brodie a credible author for, or student of Mormon history is laughable. Furthermore, Richard Bushman makes it very clear that he is NOT a spokesman of the LDS Church, in fact, if you read his published journals leading up to the release of “Rough Stone Rolling”, he indicates his fear that some in the church may find his book to be too unbiased, and therefore might dismiss the actual history.

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