The Suppression Of The Expositor

Smith was now to encounter a kind of resistance within the church

that he had never met. In all previous apostasies, where members

had dared to attack his character or question his authority, they

had been summarily silenced, and in most cases driven at once out

of the Mormon community. But there were men at Nauvoo above the

average of the Mormon convert as regards intelligence and wealth,

who refused to follow the prophet in his new doctrine regarding

marriage, and whose opposition took the very practical shape of

the establishment of a newspaper in the Mormon city to expose him

and to defend themselves.

In his testimony in the Higbee trial Smith had accused a

prominent Mormon, Dr. R. D. Foster, of stealing and of gross

insults to women. Dr. Foster, according to current report, had

found Smith at his house, and had received from his wife a

confession that Smith had been persuading her to become one of

his spiritual wives.*

* "At the May, 1844, term of the Hancock Circuit Court two

indictments were found against Smith by the grand jury--one for

adultery and one for perjury. To the surprise of all, on the

Monday following, the Prophet appeared in court and demanded that

he be tried on the last-named indictment. The prosecutor not

being ready, a continuance was entered to the next term."--GREGG,

"History of Hancock County," p. 301.

Among the leading members of the church at Nauvoo at this time

were two brothers, William and Wilson Law. They were Canadians,

and had brought considerable property with them, and in the

"revelation" of January 19, 1841, William Law was among those who

were directed to take stock in Nauvoo House, and was named as one

of the First Presidency, and was made registrar of the

University. Wilson Law was a regent of the University and a major

general of the Legion. General Law had been an especial favorite

of Smith. In writing to him while in hiding from the Missouri

authorities in 1842, Smith says, "I love that soul that is so

nobly established in that clay of yours." * At the conference of

April, 1844, Hyrum Smith said: "I wish to speak about Messrs.

Law's steam mill. There has been a great deal of bickering about

it. The mill has been a great benefit to the city. It has brought

in thousands who would not have come here. The Messrs. Law have

sunk their capital and done a great deal of good. It is out of

character to cast any aspersions on the Messrs. Law."

* Millennial Star, Vol. XX, p. 695.

Dr. Foster, the Laws, and Counsellor Sylvester Emmons became

greatly stirred up about the spiritual wife doctrine, and the

effort of Smith and those in his confidence to teach and enforce

the doctrine of plural wives; and they finally decided to

establish in Nauvoo a newspaper that would openly attack the new

order of things. The name chosen for this newspaper was the

Expositor, and Emmons was its editor.* Its motto was: "The Truth,

the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth," and its prospectus

announced as its purpose, "Unconditional repeal of the city

charter--to correct the abuses of the unit power--to advocate

disobedience to political revelations." Only one number of this

newspaper was ever issued, but that number was almost directly

the cause of the prophet's death.

* Emmons went direct to Beardstown, Illinois, after the

destruction of the paper, and lived there till the day of his

death, a leading citizen. He established the first newspaper

published in Beardstown, and was for sixteen years the mayor of

the city.

The most important feature of the Expositor (which bore date of

June 7, 1844) was a "preamble" and resolutions of "seceders from

the church at Nauvoo," and affidavits by Mr. and Mrs. William Law

and Austin Cowles setting forth that Hyrum Smith had read the

"revelation" concerning polygamy to William Law and to the High

Council, and that Mrs. Law had read it.*

* These were the only affidavits printed in the Expositor. More

than one description of the paper has stated that it contained

many more. Thus, Appleton's "American Encyclopedia," under

"Mormons," says, "In the first number (there was only one) they

printed the affidavits of sixteen women to the effect that Joseph

Smith and Sidney Rigdon and others had endeavored to convert them

to the spiritual wife doctrine."

The "preamble" affirmed the belief of the seceders in the Mormon

Bible and the "Book of Doctrine and Covenants," but declared

their intention to "explode the vicious principles of Joseph

Smith," adding, "We are aware, however, that we are hazarding

every earthly blessing, particularly property, and probably life

itself, in striking this blow at tyranny and oppression." Many of

them, it was explained, had sought a reformation of the church

without any public exposure, but they had been spurned,

"particularly by Joseph, who would state that, if he had been or

was guilty of the charges we would charge him with, he would not

make acknowledgment, but would rather be damned, for it would

detract from his dignity and would consequently prove the

overthrow of the church. We would ask him, on the other hand, if

the overthrow of the church were not inevitable; to which he

often replied that we would all go to hell together and convert

it into a heaven by casting the devil out; and, says he, hell is

by no means the place this world of fools supposes it to be, but,

on the contrary, it is quite an agreeable place."

The "preamble" further set forth the methods employed by Smith to

induce women from other countries, who had joined the Mormons in

Nauvoo, to become his spiritual wives, reciting the arguments

advanced, and thus summing up the general result: "She is

thunderstruck, faints, recovers and refuses. The prophet damns

her if she rejects. She thinks of the great sacrifice, and of the

many thousand miles she has travelled over sea and land that she

might save her soul from pending ruin, and replies, 'God's will

be done and not mine.' The prophet and his devotees in this way

are gratified." Smith's political aspirations were condemned as

preposterous, and the false "doctrine of many gods" was called


Fifteen resolutions followed. They declared against the evils

named, and also condemned the order to the Saints to gather in

haste at Nauvoo, explaining that the purpose of this command was

to enable the men in control of the church to sell property at

exorbitant prices, "and thus the wealth that is brought into the

place is swallowed up by the one great throat, from whence there

is no return." The seceders asserted that, although they had an

intimate acquaintance with the affairs of the church, they did

not know of any property belonging to it except the Temple.

Finally, as speaking for the true church, they ordered all

preachers to cease to teach the doctrine of plural gods, a

plurality of wives, sealing, etc., and directed offenders in this

respect to report and have their licenses renewed. Another

feature of the issue was a column address signed by Francis M.

Higbee, advising the citizens of Hancock County not to send Hyrum

Smith to the legislature, since to support him was to support

Joseph, "a man who contends all governments are to be put down,

and one established upon its ruins."

The appearance of this sheet created the greatest excitement

among the Mormon leaders that they had experienced since leaving

Missouri. They recognized in it immediately a mouthpiece of men

who were better informed than Bennett, and who were ready to

address an audience composed both of their own flock and of their

outlying non-Mormon neighbors, whose antipathy to them was

already manifesting itself aggressively. To permit the continued

publication of this sheet meant one of those surrenders which

Smith had never made.

The prophet therefore took just such action as would have been

expected of him in the circumstances. Calling a meeting of the

City Council, he proceeded to put the Expositor and its editors

on trial, as if that body was of a judicial instead of a

legislative character. The minutes of this trial, which lasted

all of Saturday, June 8, and a part of Monday, June l0, 1844, can

be found in the Neighbor of June 19, of that year, filling six

columns. The prophet-mayor occupied the chair, and the defendants

were absent.

The testimony introduced aimed at the start to break down the

characters of Dr. Foster, Higbee, and the Laws. A mechanic

testified that the Laws had bought "bogus"--(counterfeit) dies of

him. The prophet told how William Law had "pursued" him to

recover $40,000 that Smith owed him. Hyrum Smith alleged that

William Law had offered to give a man $500 if he would kill

Hyrum, and had confessed adultery to him, making a still more

heinous charge against Higbee. Hyrum referred "to the revelation

of the High Council of the church, which has caused so much talk

about a multiplicity of wives," and declared that it "concerned

things which transpired in former days, and had no reference to

the present time." Testimony was also given to show that the Laws

were not liberal to the poor, and that William's motto with his

fellowchurchmen who owed him was, "Punctuality, punctuality."*

This was naturally a serious offence in the eyes of the Smiths.

* The Expositor contained this advertisement: "The subscribers

wish to inform all those who, through sickness or other

misfortunes, are much limited is their means of procuring bread

for their families, that we have allotted Thursday of every week

to grind toll free for them, till grain becomes plentiful after

harvest.--W. & W. Law."

The prophet declared that the conduct of such men, and of such

papers as the Expositor, was calculated to destroy the peace of

the city. He unblushingly asserted that what he had preached

about marriage only showed the order in ancient days, having

nothing to do with the present time. In regard to the alleged

revelation about polygamy he explained that, on inquiring of the

Lord concerning the Scriptural teaching that "they neither marry

nor are given in marriage in heaven," he received a reply to the

effect that men in this life must marry in one of eternity,

otherwise they must remain as angels, or be single in heaven.

Smith then proposed that the Council make some provision for

putting down the Expositor, declaring its allegations to be

"treasonable against all chartered rights and privileges." He

read from the federal and state constitutions to define his idea

of the rights of the press, and quoted Blackstone on private

wrongs. Hyrum openly advocated smashing the press and pieing the

type. One councillor alone raised his voice for moderation,

proposing to give the offenders a few days' notice, and to assess

a fine of $300 for every libel. W. W. Phelps (who was back in the

fold again) held that the city charter gave them power to declare

the newspaper a nuisance, and cited the spilling of the tea in

Boston harbor as a precedent for an attack on the Expositor

office. Finally, on June 10, this resolution was passed


"Resolved by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo that the

printing office from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor is a

public nuisance, and also all of said Nauvoo Expositors which may

be or exist in said establishment; and the mayor is instructed to

cause said printing establishment and papers to be removed

without delay, in such manner as he shall direct."

Smith, of course, made very prompt use of this authority, issuing

the following order to the city marshal:--

"You are hereby commanded to destroy the printing press from

whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor, and pi the type of said

printing establishment in the street, and burn all the Expositors

and libellous hand bills found in said establishment; and if

resistance be offered to the execution of this order, by the

owners or others, destroy the house; and if any one threatens you

or the Mayor or the officers of the city, arrest those who

threaten you; and fail not to execute this order without delay,

and make due return thereon.


To meet any armed opposition which might arise, the acting major

general of the Legion was thus directed:--

"You are hereby commanded to hold the Nauvoo Legion in readiness

forthwith to execute the city ordinances, and especially to

remove the printing establishment of the Nauvoo Expositor ; and

this you are required to do at sight, under the penalty of the

laws, provided the marshal shall require it and need your



"Lieutenant General Nauvoo Legion."

The story of the compliance with the mayor's order is thus

concisely told in the "marshal's return," "The within-named press

and type is destroyed and pied according to order on this loth

day of June, 1844, at about eight o'clock P.m." The work was

accomplished without any serious opposition. The marshal appeared

at the newspaper office, accompanied by an escort from the

Legion, and forced his way into the building. The press and type

were carried into the street, where the press was broken up with

hammers, and all that was combustible was burned.

Dr. Foster and the Laws fled at once to Carthage, Illinois, under

the belief that their lives were in danger. The story of their

flight and of the destruction of their newspaper plant by order

of the Nauvoo authorities spread quickly all over the state, and

in the neighboring counties the anti-Mormon feeling, that had for

some time been growing more intense, was now fanned to fury. This

feeling the Mormon leaders seemed determined to increase still


The owners of the Expositor sued out at Carthage a writ for the

removal to that place of Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo counsellors

on a charge of a riot in connection with the destruction of their

plant. This writ, when presented, was at once set aside by a writ

of habeas corpus issued by the Nauvoo Municipal Court, but the

case was heard before a Mormon justice of the peace on June 17,

and he discharged the accused. As if this was not a sufficient

defiance of public opinion, Smith, as mayor, published a

"proclamation" in the Neighbor of June 19, reciting the events in

connection with the attack on the Expositor, and closing thus:

"Our city is infested with a set of blacklegs, counterfeiters and

debauchees, and that the proprietors of this press were of that

class, the minutes of the Municipal Court fully testify, and in

ridding our young and flourishing city of such characters, we are

abused by not only villanous demagogues, but by some who, from

their station and influence in society, ought rather to raise

than depress the standard of human excellence. We have no

disturbance or excitement among us, save what is made by the

thousand and one idle rumors afloat in the country. Every one is

protected in his person and property, and but few cities of a

population of twenty thousand people, in the United States, hath

less of dissipation or vice of any kind than the city of Nauvoo.

"Of the correctness of our conduct in this affair, we appeal to

every high court in the state, and to its ordeal we are willing

to appear at any time that His Excellency, Governor Ford, shall

please to call us before it. I, therefore, in behalf of the

Municipal Court of Nauvoo, warn the lawless not to be precipitate

in any interference in our affairs, for as sure as there is a God

in Israel we shall ride triumphant over all oppression."


The Spaulding Manuscript The Territorial Government - Judge Brocchus's Experience facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail