21. How do we deal with Joseph’s ordering the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor for unmasking his polygamy and, accusing him of, “all manner of abominations practiced under the cloak of religion?”
In the one and only edition of the Nauvoo Expositor, Joseph was accused of treason, unrighteous dominion, and political maneuvering, “We do not believe that God ever raised up a prophet to christianize (sic) a world by political schemes and intrigue.” It also alleged theft and unbridled narcissism on Smith’s part.
To the Marshal of said City, greeting,
You are here 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 libelous handbills found in said establishment; and if resistance be offered to your execution of this order by the owners or others, demolish the house; and if anyone 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 hereon.
By order of the City Council,
Joseph Smith, Mayor
“Joseph Smith, acting as mayor, ordered the city marshall [sic] to destroy the newspaper and press without delay and instructed the major general of the Nauvoo legion to have the militia assist. Shortly after eight o’clock that evening, citizens and legionnaires marched to the ‘Expositor’ office and smashed the press, scattering the type as they did so. This act infuriated the non-Mormons of Hancock County, who saw it as a final act of contempt for their laws. The ‘Quincy Whig’ denounced the ‘high-handed outrage’ and said that if this was a specimen of ‘Mormon attitude toward law and rights it is not surprising that the Missourians were raised to madness and drove them from the state.’…To provide justification for a march on Nauvoo, charges of prompting a riot were made up against Smith and several Mormon leaders, and Constable David Bettisworth was sent to Nauvoo on June 12 to apprehend them…. Emissaries were sent to Governor Ford, charging that Smith had defied the law and asking Ford to bring the state militia…. In the face of an imminent attack on his city, Smith declared Nauvoo under martial law and called out the Legion, a defensive action which later led to treason charges levied against him at Carthage…. he [Governor Ford] wrote the Mormon leader requesting that evidence be shown to justify the actions taken against the ‘Expositor.’ After reviewing this and counter-evidence from anti-Mormons, Ford wrote Smith on the next day, denouncing the city’s proceedings as unlawful and demanding that those involved in the move against the ‘Expositor’ submit to the processes of the law at Carthage.” 2
“… when Joseph Smith ordered the actual destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor printing press he provided his enemies with a clearly legitimate means of arresting him for violation of the law. They seized upon this to inflame the public even more, and this led directly to the assassination. Some people may be disturbed by the suggestion that Joseph Smith acted illegally in this instance, but it is important to understand that under the tense pressure of the times he too, may have made a mistake.” 3
To view the one and only edition of the Expositor
Was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor legal
“It is claimed by one critic of the Church that Joseph “could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king.” Another claimed that “When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination.
The Expositor incident led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, but it was preceded by a long period of non-Mormon distrust of Joseph Smith and attempts to extradite him on a questionable basis.
The destruction of the Expositor issue was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.
Joseph seems to have believed—or, his followers believed after his death—that the decision, while ‘unwise’ for Joseph, may have been in the Saints’ interest to have Joseph killed. For a time, this diffused much of the tension and may have prevented an outbreak of generalized violence against the Saints, as occurred in Missouri.
Joseph did not unilaterally order the action against the Expositor—it was the Nauvoo City Council (which included non-Mormons) which reached the unanimous decision. Having reached that decision, Joseph Smith then issued an order, as mayor, to carry out the Council’s decision.”
The above as described in the Church’s 2011 Priesthood/Relief Society manual
On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, and the Nauvoo city council ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the press on which it was printed.
History of the Church also describes this event:
I [Joseph Smith] immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it [the Nauvoo Expositor] 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.”
“The First Amendment is irrelevant to this discussion. In 1844, the First Amendment only applied to federal law; it had no application to state or local law until the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War.”
A legal opinion which is probably correct, but FairMormon misses the point.
I am reminded of then President-elect Donald Trump’s comment to the New York Times that smacks of a similar statement proffered by another American president who was forced to leave office in disgrace. “If the President does it, it’s legal.”
Joseph Smith had absolute power in Nauvoo. To imply that it was legal because the Nauvoo City Council sanctioned it is disingenuous. Joseph stacked the Council with his cronies who acted more like lapdogs than independent officials.
By the end of Joseph’s life his arrogance was amazing and his ego boundless. Reading the circumstances of the Expositor affair, you don’t have to possess the political shrewdness of Benjamin Disraeli to recognize that Smith ordered the destruction of the press because he held all the cards and thought he could get away with it.
The press and its owners presented a real and present danger to Smith.
Things were already beginning to unravel, and the washing of his very dirty laundry was something he had to stop.
The apologists state that the First Amendment is irrelevant because it only applied to Federal Law at that time.
In a technical, legalistic perspective that is probably true. What the apologist writing this justification fail to recognize however is that at a time when the country was just 68 years old, free and proud Americans knew and cherished their hard-fought freedoms; and they clearly perceived Smith’s outrageous actions as a direct affront to the liberties they believed in.
I am also disappointed that Joseph ran away rather than stood and faced his accusers. Was that not an act of a coward?
1 History of the Church, v. 6, p. 448
2 Carthage Conspiracy, by Oaks and Hill, pp. 15-16
3 BYU Today, March 1976, p. 10