Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Durham, Reed C., Jr.
The Nauvoo Expositor was the newspaper voice of apostates determined to destroy the Prophet Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints1 in the spring of 1844. During the last few months of Joseph Smith’s life, an opposition party of disgruntled members, apostates, and excommunicants coalesced into a dissenting church. The principals claimed to believe in the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel, but rejected what they termed Nauvoo innovations, notably plural marriage. Claiming that Joseph was a fallen prophet, the dissenters set out, through the Expositor, to expose the Prophet’s supposed false teachings and abominations.2 They held secret meetings,3 made plans,4 and took oaths to topple the Church and kill Joseph Smith.5 The publication of the newspaper was crucial to their stratagem.6
When the press for the Expositor arrived in Nauvoo on May 7, 1844, it stirred great excitement among Mormons and non-Mormons alike, but there was no immediate interference. Within three days the owners, all leaders of the opposition movement, issued a broadside prospectus for their newspaper. One month later, on June 7, the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor appeared and caused an immediate furor in the community. Nauvoo residents were incensed at what they saw as its sensational, yellow-journalistic claims about Nauvoo religion, politics, and morality.7 They were also struck with sharp foreboding. Francis Higbee, one of the proprietors of the newspaper, set an ominous tone when he described Joseph Smith as “the biggest villain that goes unhung.”
The literary quality of the paper was inferior. A contemporary non-Mormon critic described it as “dull or laughable,” with “lame grammar and turgid rhetoric” (Oaks, p. 868).8 But the Expositor ‘s polemics against the Church and Joseph Smith were threatening and polarizing. The anti-Mormons were exultant about the Expositor, but Church members demanded that something be done.9
As mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith summoned the city council. Following fourteen hours of deliberation in three different sessions, the council resolved on Monday, June 10, about 6:30 p.m., that the newspaper and its printing office were “a public nuisance” and instructed the mayor “to remove it…without delay.” Joseph Smith promptly ordered the city marshal to destroy the press and burn all copies of the paper. At 8:00 p.m. the marshal carried out the mayor’s orders (HC 6:432-49). That action, justified or not,10 played into the hands of the opposition. It riled anti-Mormon sentiment throughout Hancock County and provided substance for the charges used by the opposition to hold Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail, where he was murdered on June 27, 1844 (see Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith).
Faulring, Scott H. Review of William Law: Biographical Essay, Nauvoo Diary, Correspondence, Interview, by Lyndon W. Cook. BYU Studies 34:4 (1994-1995):193-198.
Godfrey, Kenneth W. “Causes of Mormon/Non-Mormon Conflict in Hancock County, Illinois, 1839-1846.” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1967.
Oaks, Dallin H. “The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor.” Utah Law Review 9 (Winter 1965):862-903.
Oaks, Dallin H., and Marvin S. Hill. Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith. Urbana, Ill., 1979.
REED C. DURHAM, JR.
1. “Apostates”? It says in the Expositor they were believers in the original church and since no church approved doctrines on polygamy or the plurality of gods existed, they could not be considered “apostates” for standing with the original church. back
2. “Supposed”? In fact Joseph did confirm what those “apostates” knew – Joseph was acting contrary to both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon when he married other women, whether they were “virgins” or not including 14 year olds and women already married to faithful men. back
3. All were invited to their meetings, in fact they distributed a flyer letting all know their intentions which were likewise published in adjacent town newspapers. back
4. “Plans” are the fruit of an organized group and the Laws were and had been successful businessmen and knew how to execute a plan, saw mill or newspaper. back
5. An unsubstantiated report by a dissenter of the original church, or Joseph sympathizer. back
6. The original church adherents sought a platform at church conference but were refused. back
7. Does not contain a single lie. back
8. The paper was edited by a famous editor who was not part of the Reformed Mormons. Other reviewers and modern-day readers acknowledge how thorough and clear the paper reads. back
9. The war cry came from Joseph & Hyrum, no one else those who they excited. back
10. Dallin Oaks already concluded the destruction of property was NOT justified and was illegally done – particularly the inciting of a riot to carry it out by “hundreds” of the citizenry. back
The Destruction of the “Nauvoo Expositor”–Proceedings of the Nauvoo City Council And Mayor.
Monday, June 10, 1844.–I was in the City Council from 10 a. m., to 1:20 p. m., and from 2:20 p. m. to 6:30 p. m. investigating the merits of the Nauvoo Expositor, and also the conduct of the Laws, Higbees, Fosters, and others, who have formed a conspiracy 1 for the purpose of destroying my life,2 and scattering the Saints3 or driving them from the state.4
An ordinance was passed concerning libels. The Council passed an ordinance declaring the Nauvoo Expositor a nuisance, and also issued an order to me5 to abate the said nuisance. I immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it without delay, and at the same time issued an order to Jonathan Dunham, acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, to assist the Marshal with the Legion, if called upon so to do.
About 8 p. m., the Marshal returned and reported that he had removed the press, type, printed paper, and fixtures into the street, and destroyed them. This was done because of the libelous and slanderous character of the paper, its avowed intention being to destroy the municipality6 and drive the Saints from the city.7
The posse accompanied by some hundreds of the citizens,8 returned with the Marshal to the front of the Mansion, when I gave them a short address, and told them they had done right and that not a hair of their heads should be hurt for it; that they had executed the orders which were given me by the City Council;9 that I would never submit to have another libelous publication established in the city; that I did not care how many papers were printed in the city, if they would print the truth:10 but would submit to no libels or slanders from them. I then blessed them in the name of the Lord.11 This speech was loudly greeted by the assembly with three-times-three cheers. The posse and assembly then dispersed all in good order. Francis M. Higbee and others made some threats.12
[History of the Church, Vol.6, Ch.21, p.432]