Panel: The Council of Fifty Minutes
September 8, 2016
UVA Law School, Caplin Pavilion
In conjunction with our 2016 Joseph Smith Lecture, a panel entitled “’We, the people of the Kingdom of God,’ the Mormon Alternative Political Order” provided legal, historical and religious studies perspectives on the Council of Fifty Minutes, the first volume in the Joseph Smith Administrative Papers.
The panel comprised:
- Richard E. Turley, Jr., former LDS Assistant Church Historian and Recorder
- Matthew J. Grow, Director of Publications, LDS Church History Department, and chief editor of the “Minutes”
- Nathan B. Oman, Tazewell Taylor Research Professor of Law, William and Mary School of Law
- Kathleen Flake, Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies, UVA
- Richard Bushman chaired the panel and served as commentator during the audience conversation
The Council of Fifty was created by Joseph Smith in 1842 and, as described at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website, it was:
“An organization intended to establish the political kingdom of God on the earth.1 An 1842 editorial in the church newspaper stated that the “design of Jehovah” was to “take the reigns of government into his own hand.”2 On 10 and 11 March 1844, JS and several prominent elders met to discuss letters proposing a new gathering center for Mormon settlement in the Republic of Texas.3 On 11 March, they formally organized as a council, as William Clayton recounted, to “establish a Theocracy” somewhere in western North America.4 A 14 March 1844 revelation stated that the name of the council should be “The Kingdom of God and his Laws, with the keys and power thereof, and judgment in the hands of his servants. Ahman Christ.”5 The members, however, generally referred to it as the “Kingdom of God” or the “Council of the Kingdom,” or more simply as the “Kingdom” or the “Council.”6 Seniority and voting order in the council were based on age, though JS presided over it as the standing chairman.7 On 11 April 1844, the council voted to receive JS as “our Prophet, Priest & King.”8 When the council reached fifty members, including three men who were not Latter-day Saints, JS declared “the council was full.”9 Though the council sometimes had more or fewer than fifty members, it became known as the “Council of Fifty.”10 JS taught that there was “a distinction between the church of God and the kingdom of God” and that the laws of the kingdom were “not designed to effect our salvation hereafter.”11Rather, the council’s purpose was to protect the Saints “in their religious rights and worship.”12On 25 April 1844, a JS revelation stated that the council itself was the constitution of the kingdom of God and that its members were God’s “spokesmen” in civil matters.13 In March and April 1844, the council discussed principles of proper government, petitioned the U.S. government on behalf of the Saints, sought information on potential gathering places in the West, and planned missionary work among American Indians.14 In May 1844, most of the members left Nauvoo to campaign for JS as U.S. president.15 After JS’s death, the Council of Fifty reassembled on 4 February 1845 and voted to sustain Brigham Young as standing chairman and JS’s successor.16 Under Young’s leadership, the council helped supervise the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo and establish civil government in Utah.17 It met infrequently thereafter until its final meetings in the 1880s.18”
The numbered hyperlinks provide additional information, as well as source documentation.