The Council of Fifty

The Council of Fifty

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a record that has been speculated about for decades. Now it’s accessible to anyone who wants to read it.

The newest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers series, “Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844-January 1846,” a record that offers a candid view of how early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints handled temporal affairs, is being released by Church Historian’s Press Monday, Sept. 26.

Joseph Smith organized the Council of Fifty a few months before his death. It consisted mostly of prominent church members and was to be the beginning of a political kingdom of God on earth. These minutes are the records of that organization and cover the period of church history between Joseph’s martyrdom and when the Latter-day Saints arrive in the Salt Lake Valley, said Matthew J. Grow, director of publications with the LDS Church History Department and a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers.

“This provides a really rich and detailed history of an era of church history that we don’t often think a lot about,” Grow said.

The records

William Clayton served as clerk for the Council of Fifty and kept the minutes, which he later neatly copied into three small bound volumes. The minutes came to the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young and were kept by the First Presidency until transferred to the Church History Department in 2010, Grow said.

Grow, along with volume editors Ronald K. Esplin, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Jeffrey D. Mahas and many others, have been preparing the Council of Fifty minutes for the last several years.

“This is an important record that wasn’t available. For decades, Mormon historians have speculated about the contents of the minutes and whether they might ever be released,” Ashurst-McGee said. “When it happened, for me, and I think a lot of other Mormon historians, it was a dream come true. It was very fulfilling to read through the minutes and see how rich they are with great information. Anyone who seriously cares about the history of Nauvoo will readily be able to tell how valuable this record is. It’s not just getting access to this sensational record that no one else has ever seen, it’s the quality of the content.”

Along with the easy-to-read transcript of the minutes, the thick, 700-plus page book has images, maps and a wealth of helpful footnotes, annotations and other reference material, including biographical information and photos of members of the Council of Fifty.

“There might be a perception that this is a difficult book to read, and I may get more excited about it than the average person, but these minutes flow. They are in complete sentences, thoughts, and they are debating interesting issues,” Grow said. “Of course, it’s intended to be a reference book, but I think it could also be read cover-to-cover and people would learn a tremendous amount about this moment in church history.”
Richard L. Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, described the publication of the minutes as a “triumph” as it once again demonstrates the LDS Church’s commitment to transparency in regards to its history.

“The new volume is sure to be celebrated for its annotation and editing, another excellent addition to the papers project,” Bushman wrote. “But the minutes are also a triumph of the new transparency policy of the Church History Department. Over the years, the council minutes attained almost legendary status, as a trove of dark secrets sequestered in the recesses of the First Presidency’s vault. Now the minutes are to be published for all to examine.”

The Council of Fifty

Formally organized on March 11, 1844, the council accomplished three primary objectives. First, it helped to manage Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign.

Second, with growing opposition and persecution, the council discussed practical solutions for matters in Nauvoo, such as the construction of the Nauvoo Temple and how to protect the Mormons when the Nauvoo city charter was revoked by the state of Illinois in 1845.

Third, the council explored the idea of moving the Mormons to Texas, Oregon and upper California before it was ultimately decided they would migrate to the Rocky Mountains and the Salt Lake Valley, Grow said.

Read the full article at the Deseret News

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