What was the Nauvoo Expositor?
The Nauvoo Expositor was a four-page newspaper that only printed one issue. It reportedly printed so many vicious lies and slander about Joseph Smith that the prophet of the restoration had the printing press destroyed in retaliation or as the church claims to avoid violence. Somewhat ironic that they destroyed a printing press (a rather violent act that arguably violates the first amendment freedom of speech) in order to avoid violence. The decision to destroy the press actually incites violence and is the very act that leads to Joseph Smith being held in Carthage Jail where he was killed.
The newspaper must have printed some pretty mischievous and scandalous lies. What did it say? Who wrote it? The church wants us to simply accept that the press persecuted the saints (as usual right?) They want us to agree that the church has always suffered opposition from the devil and those in his power. They surely don’t want us to read the anti-Mormon lies contained in the newspaper.
Mormons must conclude that Joseph Smith was a prophet, he has good reason to do what he did. God probably told him to do it, right? After all, it’s the same God who told Nephi to decapitate a king and steal his records and then dress up in his bloody cloak, impersonate him, and kidnap his servant into the wilderness. Destroying a printing press is nothing compared to what the Lord has done in the scriptures. Besides, all the lessons say the newspaper was slanderous lies, it fits with the dominant narrative of persecution.
The Nauvoo Expositor the church says was published by dissenters and recently excommunicated apostates. Who specifically you might ask? It was published by nine men, the most prominent of which was recently Joseph’s respected confidant, his Second Counselor in the First Presidency, William Law.
What happened? Joseph approached William’s wife, Jane Law, about becoming a plural wife. Joseph “asked her to give him half her love; she was at liberty to keep the other half for her husband”. Sister Law denied becoming Joseph’s latest polyandrous wife and tells her husband. William, no doubt, had heard the rumors but was astounded when he experienced this side of Joseph first-hand.
William Law electrified and almost stunned his listeners by testifying that the Prophet had made dishonorable proposals to his wife, Mrs. Law, making the request under cover of his asserted “Revelation,” that the Lord had commanded that he should take spiritual wives, to add to his glory. He also stated that Smith made his visit to his wife in the middle of the night, when he knew her husband to be absent. Mrs. Law was present, and her husband called upon her to testify as to whether he had made the statement correctly. She corroborated all that he had said, and added that Joseph had asked her to give him half her love ; she was at liberty to keep the other half for her husband.“Wife no. 19, or, the story of a life in bondage, being a complete exposé of Mormonism and revealing the sorrows, sacrifices and sufferings of women in poligamy” by Ann Eliza Young. Page 60.
What would you do if someone approached your spouse to secretly marry them? What if there were already rumors they had done this type of thing before? William Law confronts Joseph Smith (or in the church’s words, he apostatizes) and in the ensuing argument, he is removed from his calling in the First Presidency. He attempts to find a resolution privately and then within the church, but this involves challenging the authority of the leadership and their revelation, so eventually, William Law is excommunicated. He decides to join with other “dissenters” who are bothered by Joseph’s secret polygamy scandals and publish a newspaper to spread the news publicly. Their goal is to make the secret things known. These dissenters are the following: William Law, his brother Wilson (Brigadier General of the Nauvoo Legion), Charles Ivins, Francis Higbee (Colonel of the Nauvoo Legion), his brother Chauncey Higbee and brothers Robert and Charles Foster along with a non-member editor Sylvester Emmons (who was also a member of the Nauvoo City Council). The dissenters include many who had previously defended Joseph Smith’s name publicly and claimed he did NOT practice polygamy in any way. They discovered they had been deceived by their prophet.
The description of secret and coercive proposals of plural marriage by Joseph Smith given in the Nauvoo Expositor was not in fact a “vicious lie” but rather an amalgamation of accounts given by previously respected members of the community who paid a high price for coming forward with their story. The authors and publishers of the Expositor had very good reason for believing the truthfulness of the tales because they themselves had been unwittingly involved in the coverup of what they now knew was Joseph’s own practice of polygamy. Since they now saw how completely Joseph could deceive everyone around him, they felt it necessary to try to disclose his deceptive dealings with all who would listen by publishing the Expositor.
There may still be people who would come to the defense of Joseph by claiming that all we have are the accounts of these three women – they could all be lying. These three witnesses paint a cohesive picture of secret proposals that were taken under oath and carried the threat of ruined character were they to be made public. There are other ancillary witnesses to the surrounding events, such as George W. Robinson and Sidney Rigdon. It is true that people may still find reason not to believe the account. Consider this, however – Joseph Smith’s account of the first vision in the sacred grove is given by only one source – himself. His various accounts over the years contradict in significant details. There are no contemporaneous witnesses to any of the persecution he reported or documentation confirming that he shared his story with anyone else – even his family at the time. In spite of the lack of any and all corroborating evidence of this event – Believing Mormons still maintain the truthfulness of it.
If you allow the same standard of evidence in the accounts of Martha Brotherton, Sara Pratt and Nancy Rigdon, as depicted in the Nauvoo Expositor – then you actually have a stronger case for belief than you do in the First Vision account. In view of this, it is a remarkable feat of mental acrobatics to call the account in the Expositor a “vicious lie” and yet believe the first vision, which carries less evidence for it’s reality.http://thoughtsonthingsandstuff.com/defending-the-expositor-indecent-proposals-pt2/
The Church’s Narrative
What’s the other side of the story? The church will say a different story than this. Here’s what they currently say. Following are a few quotes from the church’s official claims:
The dissenters, several of whom had been recently excommunicated, published the Expositor to stir up controversy over practices and teachings with which they strongly disagreed. Using inflammatory language, they voiced their discontent with the practice of plural marriage, Joseph Smith’s teachings on the nature of God from his recent King Follett sermon, and his mixing of religious and civic authority in Nauvoo.Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844;
Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith
(Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1979), xi–xiii.
They omit the story of how these “dissenters” became disillusioned. They omit to say that Joseph was still publicly denying the practice of plural marriage. They don’t mention that the way it was found out was because a woman stood up to the prophet. She said no to his proposition. The prophet came to her house at night when she was alone, he said God told him to come make her his spiritual wife, and give Joseph half her love. Her husband was not home, but she was strong enough to say no and then told on the prophet. Her husband comes home to a wild story about his spiritual leader doing something unimaginable. Does he dismiss his wife as crazy? Who does he believe, his wife or his prophet?
Note that this section in the church history study topic is quoting an article written by Dallin H Oaks. The same Oaks concludes that while under contemporaneous law it would have been legally permissible for city officials to destroy, or “abate,” the actual printed newspapers, the destruction of the printing press itself was probably outside of the council’s legal authority, and its owners could have sued for damages. Oaks, Dallin H. “The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor.” Utah Law Review 9 (Winter 1965):862-903.
On Saturday, June 8, and the following Monday, June 10, the Nauvoo City Council convened to determine a course of action. There were multiple reasons the council felt the need to act. Most significantly, the Saints had experienced violence in Missouri and Ohio and, with tension mounting in Illinois, the council members were concerned about the Expositor’s potential to incite further violence against both the Saints and the owners of the press.Joseph Smith, “Proclamation, June 11, 1844,” josephsmithpapers.org; Nauvoo Neighbor, June 12, 1844, 2–3.
The church likes to point to enforce the narrative that the City Council is who decided to destroy the press. While this is true, it was following the lead of the City Mayor and spiritual leader of most on the council. It was Joseph’s command to destroy the press, the council simply approved his command. The church does this to distance Joseph from the decision and destruction. also wants to soften the blow and use apologetics to excuse Joseph Smith’s behavior here, they want to mention an irrelevant tidbit that it was a social norm. The church also likes to debate the legality of destroying the press, but they also claim to be living a higher law. Why not debate if destroying the press was righteous?
Additionally, in the honor culture of 19th-century America, men were expected to respond to public attacks on their character, a social norm that made it difficult to let offenses pass.See Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).
Honor culture? This is quoting a book about the “Old South”. Joseph Smith was not a southern boy. He was from upstate New York. This was not in the south, this was in Illinois, the frontier. This is a stretch to include here. The church is trying to soften the issue. This is like they want to mention that marrying teenage girls was common in those days. They avoid mentioning that the couple is usually both young (not just the husband), and that the age gap is rarely what we saw with the early church leaders. Also, these common marriages were not polygamous. So, did other leaders of the time destroy a printing press when it published true statements about them? This paper was published in 1844. Consider all the things published about a contemporary president, namely Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s? He led the country through a civil war while emancipating slaves. https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1425/abraham-lincoln
George Laub, a resident of Nauvoo, noted a speech in his journal where Joseph Smith explains that the reason he was able to convince the city council to destroy the printing press
Fosters, Laws, & Higbeys apostatised from the Church and caused much trouble. They went So far even as to Establish a printing press in the city to Excite the minds of the people, our enemys, and the City Council or our city charter granted us the prevaledg to remove all Nucens [nuisances] out of the city, as was called or declared a nuicence by the City Council. So the printing publication was declared as such and was destroyd Emediately. This caused a mob to collect in the Sorounding County & some of the brethren murmerd. They thought it was wrong. But Bro Joseph called a meeting at his own house and told the people or us that God showed him in an open vision in daylight that if he did not destroy that press, Printing press, it would cause the Blood of the Saints to flow in the Streets & by this wise that Evil destroy. And I write what I know and seen & heard for myself.George Laub’s Nauvoo Journal
Edited by Eugene England BYU Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2
Taking this account as truth, we can see that Joseph resorts to his spiritual credibility and claims a vision that if the press wasn’t destroyed, the blood of the saints would flow in the streets of Nauvoo. So, he uses his prophetic calling to achieve his designs. Very similar to how he entangles women to marry him. He claims it’s what God wants and that if they don’t listen to him, they will be faced with destruction!
Consequences of the Nauvoo Expositor
Let’s remember that this newspaper and the subsequent act of destroying the press is the direct catalyst that puts Joseph in Carthage Jail and his death. Joseph along with fifteen others was first arrested on charges of inciting a riot, then released on bail. Then later he was re-arrested on charges of treason against Illinois and taken to Carthage Jail where he was killed by a mob.
So either, George Laub was incorrect in his journal, Joseph’s vision was incomplete, or things would have been much worse had the press not been destroyed. It seems clear enough to at least say, had the press not been destroyed, Joseph would not have been killed (or at least not when he was killed).
What lies did the Nauvoo Expositor actually say?
Was anything in the Nauvoo Expositor untrue? Go read the Nauvoo Expositor text on wikisource or copies of the paper on the archive. What does it say? Go read the full print, but we’ll examine a few sections below.
The expositor first includes a poem and a short story. Then an introduction detailing the issues they have with the church, followed by some resolutions they want to take, and some affidavits (legal testimonies). Then some discussion around Joseph’s bid for President (of the United States)
The authors still all believe the church to be true and of God.
They feel that Joseph has fallen and describes his “pretensions of righteousness” because he practices plural marriage which is “taught secretly, and denied openly”. They call him to repentance.
They basically want the story to go viral so everyone knows the hypocritical nature of the professed church president.
They state that they tried to reform the church from within but were unsuccessful.
They tell of Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriages and condemn him for it. They are basically telling Joseph’s secrets for him. The secrets he’s been keeping for a long time, ever since his secret, “dirty, nasty, filthy” affair with Fanny Alger in 1838. A parallel story with William Law as with Oliver Cowdery in April 1838 when church leaders excommunicated Cowdery because he had “seemed to insinuate” that Smith was guilty of adultery.
The authors of the Expositor also come up with things to fix the problems which they call resolutions. There are 15 resolutions, which they propose the church adopt for reformation, much like the 95 Thesis of Martin Luther in 1516.
The authors also present affidavits which are written statements confirmed by oath or affirmation to be used as evidence in court. They state that there is a secret plural marriage doctrine of the church. They don’t point out though, that Joseph isn’t even living the revelation properly, since it only allows multiple wives of virgins and fails to mention any sort of polyandry. This is still in the mormon scriptures in D&C 132 and lessons.
They discuss the abuse of power in Joseph being the church president as well as the mayor and even running for President of the United States. They claim Joseph is essentially untouchable. Isn’t destroying the press more evidence confirming that claim? This is still a position the church holds, as we are still told today not to criticize church leaders, even if the criticism is true.
Was it anything untrue? Many of the alleged lies are now found in the gospel topic essay about Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo! This is another example of the church excommunicating someone for saying true things that the church later comes out admits to being true.