Smith's Picture Of Himself As Autocrat

Smith's autobiography gives incidentally many interesting

glimpses of the prophet as he exercised his authority of dictator

during the height of his power at Nauvoo. It is fortunate for the

impartial student that these records are at his disposal, because

many of the statements, if made on any other authority, would be

met by the customary Mormon denials, and be considered generally


That Smith's life, aside from the constant danger of extradition

which the Missouri authorities held over him, was not an easy one

at this time may readily be imagined. He had his position to

maintain as sole oracle of the church. He was also mayor, judge,

councillor, and lieutenant-general. There were individual

jealousies to be disposed of among his associates, rivalries of

different parts of the city over wished-for improvements to be

considered, demands of the sellers of church lands for payment to

be met, and the claims of politicians to be attended to. But

Smith rarely showed any indication of compromise, apparently

convinced that his position at all points was now more secure

than it had ever been.

The big building enterprises in which the church was engaged were

a heavy tax on the people, and constant urging was necessary to

keep them up to the requirements. Thus we find an advertisement

in the Wasp dated June 25, 1842, and signed by the "Temple

Recorder," saying, "Brethren, remember that your contracts with

your God are sacred; the labor is wanted immediately." Smith

referred to the discontent of the laborers, and to some other

matters, in a sermon on February 21, 1843. The following

quotations are from his own report of it. "If any man working on

the Nauvoo House is hungry, let him come to me and I will feed

him at my table . . . and then if the man is not satisfied I will

kick his backside . . . . This meeting was got up by the Nauvoo

House committee. The Pagans, Roman Catholics, Methodists and

Baptists shall have place in Nauvoo --only they must be ground in

Joe Smith's mill. I have been in their mill . . . and those who

come here must go through my smut machine, and that is my

tongue."* The difficulty of carrying on these building

enterprises at this time was increased by the financial

disturbance that was convulsing the whole country. It was in

these years that Congress was wrestling with the questions of the

deposits of the public funds, the United States Bank, the

subtreasury scheme, and the falling off of customs and land-sale

revenues, with a threatened deficit in the federal treasury. The

break-down of the Bank of the United States caused a general

failure of the banks of the Western and Southern states, and

money was so scarce at Nauvoo that one Mormon writer records the

fact that "when corn was brought to my door at ten cents a

bushel, and sadly needed, the money could not be raised."

* Millennial Star, Vol. XX, p. 583.

The relations between Smith and Rigdon had been strained ever

since the departure of the Mormons from Missouri. The trouble

between them was finally brought before a special conference at

Nauvoo, on October 7, 1843, at which Smith stated that he had

received no material benefits from Rigdon's labors or counsel

since they had left Missouri. He presented complaints against

Rigdon's management of the post-office, brought up a charge that

Rigdon had been in correspondence with General Bennett and

Governor Carlin, and offered "indirect testimony" that Rigdon had

given the Missourians information of Smith's whereabouts at the

time of his last arrest. Rigdon met these accusations, some with

denials and some with explanations, closing with a pitiful appeal

to the all-powerful head of the church, whose nod would decide

the verdict, reciting their long associations and sufferings, and

signifying his willingness to resign his position as councillor

to the First Presidency, but not concealing the pain and

humiliation that such a step would cause him. Smith became

magnanimous. "He expressed entire willingness to have Elder

Rigdon retain his station, provided he would magnify his office,

and walk and conduct himself in all honesty, righteousness and

integrity; but signified his lack of confidence in his integrity

and steadfastness."* This incident once more furnishes proof of

some great power which Smith held over Rigdon that induced the

latter to associate with the prophet on these terms.

* Times and Seasons, Vol. IV, p. 330. H. C. Kimball stated

afterward at Rigdon's church trial that Smith did not accept him

as an adviser after this, but took Amasa Lyman in his place, and

that it was Hyrum Smith who induced his brother to show some

apparent magnanimity.

Smith's creditors finally pressed him so hard that he attempted

to secure aid from the bankruptcy act. In this he did not

succeed,* and he was very bitter in his denunciation of the law

because it was interpreted against him. It was about this time

that Smith, replying to reports of his wealth, declared that his

assets consisted of one old horse, two pet deer, ten turkeys, an

old cow, one old dog, a wife and child, and a little household

furniture. On March 1, 1843, the Council of the Twelve wrote to

the outlying branches of the church, calling on them "to bring to

our President as many loads of wheat, corn, beef, pork, lard,

tallow, eggs, poultry, venison, and everything eatable, at your

command," in order that he might be relieved of business cares

and have time to attend to their spiritual interests. It was

characteristic of Smith to find him, at a conference held the

following month, lecturing the Twelve on their own idleness,

telling them it was not necessary for them to be abroad all the

time preaching and gathering funds, but that they should spend a

part of their time at home earning a living.

* See chapter on this subject in Bennett's "History of the


At this same conference Smith was compelled to go into the

details of a transaction which showed of how little practical use

to him were his divining and prophetic powers. A man named Remick

had come to him the previous summer and succeeded in getting from

him a loan of $200 by misrepresentation. Afterward Remick offered

to give him a quit-claim deed for all the land bought of Galland,

as well as the notes which Smith had given to Galland, and

one-half of all the land that Remick owned in Illinois and Iowa,

if Smith would use his influence to build up the city of Keokuk,

Iowa. Smith actually agreed to this in writing. At the conference

he had to explain this whole affair. After alleging that Remick

was a swindler, he said: "I am not so much of 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. David

did so, and so did Joshua." *

* Millennial Star, Vol. XX, pp. 758-759.

The old Kirtland business troubles came up to annoy Smith from

time to time, but he always found a way to meet them. While his

writ of habeas corpus was under argument out of the city in 1841,

a man presented to him a five-dollar bill of the Kirtland Bank,

and threatened to sue him on it. As the easiest way to dispose of

this matter, Smith handed the man $5.

Smith's Ohio experience did not lessen his estimation of himself

as an authority on finance. We find him, at the meeting of the

Nauvoo City Council on February 25, 1843, denouncing the state

law of Illinois making property a legal tender for the payment of

debts; asserting that their city charter gave them authority to

enact such local currency laws as did not conflict with the

federal and state constitutions, and continuing:--

"Shall we be such fools as to be governed by their [Illinois]

laws which are unconstitutional? No. We will make a law for gold

and silver; then their law ceases, and we can collect our debts.

Powers not delegated to the states, or reserved from the states,

are constitutional. The constitution acknowledges that the people

have all power not reserved to itself. 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 and other big


*Ibid., p. 616.

Smith had his way, as usual, and on March 4, the Council passed

unanimously an ordinance making gold and silver the only legal

tender in payment of debts and fines in Nauvoo, and fixing a

punishment for the circulation of counterfeit money. Perhaps this

Council never took a broader view of its legislative authority

than in this instance.

Smith never laid aside his natural inclination for good

fellowship, nor took himself too seriously while posing as a

mouthpiece of the Lord. Along with the entries recording his

predictions he notes such matters as these: "Played ball with the

brethren." "Cut wood all day." A visitor at Nauvoo, in 1843,

describes him as "a jolly fellow, and one of the last persons

whom he would have supposed God would have raised up as a

Prophet."* Josiah Quincy said that Smith seemed to him to have a

keen sense of the humorous aspects of his position. "It seems to

me, General," Quincy said to him, "that you have too much power

to be safely trusted in one man." "In your hands or that of any

other person," was his reply, "so much power would no doubt be

dangerous. I am the only man in the world whom it would be safe

to trust with it. Remember, I am a prophet." "The last five

words," says Quincy, "were spoken in a rich comical aside, as if

in hearty recognition of the ridiculous sound they might have in

the ears of a Gentile."**

* This same idea is presented by a writer in the Millennial Star,

Vol. XVII, p. 820: "When the fact of Smith's divine character

shall burst upon the nations, they will be struck dumb with

wonder and astonishment at the Lord's choice,--the last

individual in the whole world whom they would have chosen."

** "Figures of the Past;" p. 397.

Smith makes this entry on February 20, 1843: "While the

[Municipal] Court was in session, I saw two boys fighting in the

street. I left the business of the court, ran over immediately,

caught one of the boys and then the other, and after giving them

proper instruction, I gave the bystanders a lecture for not

interfering in such cases. I returned to the court, and told them

nobody was allowed to fight in Nauvoo but myself."

In January, 1842, Smith once more became a "storekeeper." Writing

to an absent brother on January 5, 1842, he described his

building, with a salesroom fitted up with shelves and drawers, a

private office, etc. He added that he had a fair stock, "although

some individuals have succeeded in detaining goods to a

considerable amount. I have stood behind the counter all day," he

continued, "dealing out goods as steadily as any clerk you ever


* Millennial Star, Vol. XIX, p. 21.

The following entry is found under date of June 1, 1842: "Sent

Dr. Richards to Carthage on business. On his return, old Charley,

while on a gallop, struck his knees and breast instead of his

feet, fell in the street and rolled over in an instant, and the

doctor narrowly escaped with his life. It was a trick of the

devil to kill my clerk. Similar attacks have been made upon

myself of late, and Satan is seeking our destruction on every


Smith practically gave up "revealing" during his life in Nauvoo.

At Rigdon's church trial, after Smith's death, President Marks

said, "Brother Joseph told us that he, for the future, whenever

there was a revelation to be presented to the church, would first

present it to the Quorum, and then, if it passed the Quorum, it

should be presented to the church." Strong pressure must have

been exerted upon the prophet to persuade him to consent to such

a restriction, and it is the only instance of the kind that is

recorded during his career. But if he did not "reveal," he could

not be prevented from uttering oral prophecies and giving his

interpretation of the Scriptures. That he had become possessed

with the idea of a speedy ending of this world seems altogether

probable. All through his autobiography he notes reports of

earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, etc., and he gives special

emphasis to accounts that reached him of "showers of flesh and

blood." Under date of February 18, 1843, he notes, "While at

dinner I remarked to my family and friends present that, when the

earth was sanctified and became like a sea of glass, it would be

one great Urim and Thummim, and the Saints could look in it and

see as they are seen." Another of his wise sayings is thus

recorded, "The battle of Gog and Magog will be after the


In some remarks, on April 2, 1843, Smith made the one prediction

that came true, and one which has always given the greatest

satisfaction to the Saints. This was: "I prophesy in the name of

the Lord God that the commencement of the difficulties which will

cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of man

will be in South Carolina. It may probably arise through the

slave trade." This prediction was afterward amplified so as to

declare that the war between the Northern and Southern states

would involve other nations in Europe, and that the slaves would

rise up against their masters. It would have been better for his

fame had he left the announcement in its original shape.

Such is the picture of Smith the prophet as drawn by himself. Of

the rumors about the Mormons, current in all the counties near

Nauvoo, which cannot be proved by Mormon testimony there were


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