by Reed C. Durham 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 Saints 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. They held secret meetings, made plans, and took oaths to topple the Church and kill Joseph Smith. The publication of the newspaper was crucial to their stratagem.
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. 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). 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.
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, 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).
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., “Nauvoo Expositor,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992]