The Nauvoo Expositor exposed Joseph Smith’s polygamy and was the lightning rod that led to Joseph Smith’s death. As Mayor of Nauvoo, Smith directed the city council to destroy the Expositor press. While polygamy was an explosive issue, it wasn’t the only reason Joseph wanted the press destroyed. In his book, “Origins of Power,” Dr. Michael Quinn makes the case that polygamy was a relatively minor reason for the destruction of the press. I asked Dr. Derek Sainsbury if he agreed with Quinn, and he did. What else was published in the Expositor that Joseph wanted suppressed?
GT: Well, let me ask you a question about that. I remember reading Michael Quinn. It was a long time ago that I read this, but one of the things that he said–going back to the Nauvoo Expositor, polygamy kind of always grabs the headlines. The Expositor published Joseph Smith’s polygamy. But the bigger issue, according to Quinn, was that Joseph was seeking alliances with England, France, Texas, which would have been considered treasonous. Can you talk about that? I’m assuming that that didn’t really happen in the Council of Fifty minutes or was speculation. Can you talk to that issue?
Derek: So, they sent a delegate to Texas to negotiate. Woodworth is his name. That’s an independent nation. So, the Council of Fifty considered themselves to be the kingdom of God on Earth, the political Kingdom of God that represents it on earth. There’s a reason why when Joseph Smith is headed to Carthage, he tells William Clayton to either burn or bury the minutes because they could be construed as treason. They didn’t consider it to be treason. But it could be construed that way. So yes, they did send a representative to Texas. They did formally call someone to go to Russia and to England. Those ambassadors, if you want to call them that, never left. But it gives you the mindset that they were acting like a government. They were pushing for the United States. They were pushing this idea of Joseph Smith for president. But then if that doesn’t work out, where can we go? So, then you have to start looking at where you go, who are you going to have to work with? If you go to Texas, you got to work with Texas. If you go to Oregon, which is contested property between the United States, Great Britain and Russia, then, of course, you need to be talking with those three countries as well. Does that make sense? The minutes show that these assignments were made. The only one that was made and actually reported back was the Texas one.
Derek: But yeah, the minutes also reveal that on the April 11th meeting, in the new Masonic hall had been built in 1844, they nominate Joseph as a prophet, priest and king over Israel, different from maybe the promises that might be found in an LDS endowment. So, this idea of making him a king over Israel, that ends up being leaked. It’s in the Nauvoo Expositor that he’s made himself [king.] They’re twisting it that he’s made himself King. They’re twisting it and so that’s…
GT: Well, I would think that would be an easy thing to twist because we hate kings, and even the Book of Mormon says it’s better that you do not have a king.
Over the years, few people have believed that Joseph Smith’s run for president was a serious candidacy. Why is that? Dr. Derek Sainsbury answers that question and discusses the role of apostles B.H. Roberts and Reed Smoot in downplaying Joseph’s POTUS run for the presidency.
Derek: When the political manifesto is put out, where we’re told [that] the Church will not tell you which way to vote or be involved in politics that way anymore. We have B.H. Roberts, and then several years later, Reed Smoot both not be seated in Congress because they’re Mormon. Roberts is still polygamist. Smoot is not and eventually Smoot does get seated. But it’s the longest and biggest investigation in senate history, as far as the number of things sent in and the number of things…
Derek: So, when the Smoot hearings are happening is the same time that B.H. Roberts, again, the person who didn’t get seated, who won election to Congress, but was never seated, is commissioned by the First Presidency, to write (how do I put this?) the history of Joseph Smith, what we used to know as the History of the Church to re-edit it and add commentary, which he does. Then he writes his own full-scale commentary of the whole thing. In both of those, which then become the backbone for Latter-day Saint historians, in both of those, he downplays it big time. It’s a footnote. “Oh, they were just trying to have a third way or…” Of course, he’s going to do that. Think of the context of what’s going on. Literally, the President of our Church is sitting in a Senate hearing, being grilled about everything that he said about whether he receives prophecies or whatever. They’re looking at everything we print, and everything they say. Are we really going to print something that says Joseph Smith wanted to be President of the United States? Absolutely not. So, as those electioneers are all dying, so the living memory of it is gone. At the same time, we’re trying to distance ourselves from politics, is when these books are written. And then those books are used for decades as the launching point if you’re talking about Church History. So, of course, the narrative has always been “nothing big, nothing big.” Until some non-Latter-day Saint historians and some–they were called the New Mormon Historians in the 60s and 70s started to pick up that, hey, maybe there was something more here. It’s just kind of continued to flourish.
Did you realize politics played a role in the Church downplaying Joseph Smith’s POTUS run? Were you aware of the reasons Joseph wanted the Expositor destroyed? What are your thoughts?