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LDS Church History

Volume editors describe the last 14 months of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s life as portrayed in his daily journals, maintained by Willard Richards, his private secretary and historian, in four words: “Turbulent and incredibly productive.”

The contents of Joseph Smith’s last four journals are part of “The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Vol. 3, May 1843-June 1844,” which is scheduled to be released Nov. 30.

Although “Journals, Vol. 3” contains more of a corporate record of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and less of a personal record, the 641-page book offers insight into the prophet’s personality and daily activities, said Brent M. Rogers, one of the volume editors.

“If you really want to get to know Joseph Smith, his activities, the church in Nauvoo at the time, this is the way to do it,” Rogers said. “A lot of the entries are terse … but you still get an understanding of everything that Joseph Smith was going through.”

Among several topics discussed in this volume are Joseph Smith’s famous King Follett discourse, which speaks about man’s potential to become like God, the introduction of the Council of Fifty, Joseph’s interactions with Native American peoples, and appendices with accounts of the martyrdom of the prophet and his brother Hyrum Smith, written by Richards and William Clayton. Here are three other compelling features in “Journals, Vol. 3.”

Overall opposition

The overriding theme of the third volume of the Journals series is opposition against Joseph Smith, according to Andrew H. Hedges, a volume editor.

After being arrested on false charges stemming from events that happened years earlier in Missouri, Joseph was released at a habeas corpus hearing in the Nauvoo Municipal Court. His release sparked a hostile backlash, Hedges said, involving calls for anti-Mormon meetings; anti-Mormon editorials in the newspapers; threats of violence; dissension in the church, including among people close to Joseph; and even rumors of a conspiracy to kill Joseph and some of his family members.

“You see in the pages of his journal his mounting concern,” Hedges said in a short video about the volume. “But one of the remarkable things about this with all this chaos and mounting opposition, Joseph is steadily moving the church forward, steadily acting in his role as prophet and president of the church.”

In spite of the obstacles, Joseph Smith gave numerous sermons, revealed temple ordinances to trusted associates and oversaw the continued construction of the Nauvoo Temple despite limited resources, Hedges said.

The Avery kidnapping

Alex D. Smith, another volume editor, was fascinated by one story found among entries in the winter of 1843. These entries tell of a man named Daniel Avery and his son being kidnapped from their home outside Nauvoo, Illinois, and being unjustly incarcerated by Missourians. Eventually, the two were able to return to Nauvoo.

If not for Joseph Smith’s journals, there would be little known about the incident, Alex D. Smith said.

“It includes almost daily entries about the continuing developments in his situation, indicating how it was not only significant in this buildup of tension between the Mormons and their neighbors but also how it was personally significant to the prophet,” he said.

“Journals, Vol. 3” also references occasional horse theft, Porter Rockwell’s imprisonment and other acts of violent aggression by enemies toward the Latter-day Saints.

“He (Joseph) is interested in implementing procedures, policies and law enforcement,” Alex D. Smith said. “Forces that can prevent these things from happening, not just for himself but for his colleagues as well.”

Presidential campaign launched

By 1844, Joseph Smith had been through a “gauntlet” in his efforts to protect his people’s constitutional rights and seek redress from the violence of the Missouri mobs, Rogers said.

The prophet tried every legal option, and nothing worked. He even wrote to five presidential candidates asking if they would help the Mormons, but not one was willing. So the prophet decided to run for president himself, Rogers said.

According to an entry in his journal dated Jan. 29, 1844, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles unanimously approved Joseph Smith’s candidacy for president of the United States. His presidential platform called for reducing the size of the federal government, educating and rehabilitating criminals instead of imprisoning them, and abolishing slavery by paying slaveholders.

On April 9, 1844, in a meeting with about 1,100 elders, the journal records that Brigham Young requested that all in favor of electing Joseph to the presidency raise both hands, prompting those present to commence “clapping their hands” and giving “many loud cheers.” When the opposite vote was called for, “only one hand raised,” Richards wrote in the journal.

For the campaign to have a chance nationally, Rogers said, 400 men were called to go to 25 different states with the purpose of getting the word out about Joseph’s campaign and to talk about his political views, preach the gospel and dispel myths about the LDS Church.

“This is the moment when the campaign becomes real — it’s not an idea anymore,” Rogers said. “It’s the last step he can take to get the message out there, the plight of this people, to address the problems and flaws that he saw in the government as he experienced them.”

To know Joseph

As has been mentioned with the release of previous Joseph Smith Papers volumes, one of the best ways to learn more about the prophet’s life and mission is to study his words.

“To be able to put yourself in the shoes of an individual, see what he is going through every day, gives you a new appreciation for the man, what he was trying to do and what he did do,” Rogers said.

Alex D. Smith agreed.

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“My hope is that readers of ‘Journals, Vol. 3’ will be able to come to know Joseph Smith in a way that they really wouldn’t otherwise be able to, knowing the circumstances in which he lived, his actions in context of the social, economic, political setting he lived in (while in) Hancock County, Illinois,” Alex D. Smith said.

“Journals, Vol. 3” concludes the Journals series and is the 12th volume in the Joseph Smith Papers project, which is planned to include approximately 25 volumes. For more information on the Joseph Smith Papers project, visit josephsmithpapers.org.

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