In his essay “Understanding the Council of Fifty and Its Minutes,” on the previous pages in this issue, Ronald K. Esplin overviews the history of the Council of Fifty and the three books in which William Clayton recorded its minutes. He tells what these minutes add to our understanding of Church leaders’ concerns about outreach to American Indians, Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign, and the desire to claim religious liberty. The text presented and annotated below is excerpted from The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846.
Thursday April 11th. 1844 2 o clock P.M. Council met pursuant to adjournment and opened by singing two Hymns
The chairman made some remarks on the absence of brother Edward Bonney the cause of absence, and his good feelings towards the council &c
He then went on to say that for the benifit of mankind and succeeding generations he wished it to be recorded that there are men admitted members of this honorable council, who are not members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, neither profess any creed or religious sentiment whatever,to show that in the organization of this [p. ] kingdom men are not consulted as to their religious opinions or notions in any shape or form whatever and that we act upon the broad and liberal principal that all men have equal rights, and ought to be respected, and that every man has a privilege in this organization of choosing for himself voluntarily his God, and what he pleases for his religion, inasmuch as there is no danger but that every man will embrace the greatest light. God cannot save or damn a man only on the principle that every man acts, chooses and worships for himself; hence the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intollerance towards [p. ] a mans religious sentiments, that spirit which has drenched the earth with blood—When a man feels the least temptation to such intollerance he ought to spurn it from him. It becomes our duty on account of this intollerance and corruption—the inalienable right of man being to think as he pleases—worship as he pleases &c being the first law of every thing that is sacred—to guard every ground all the days of our lives. I will appeal to every man in this council beginning at the youngest that when he arrives to the years of Hoary age he will have to say that the principles of intollerance and bigotry never had a place in this [p. ] kingdom, nor in my breast, and that he is even then ready to die rather than yeild to such things. Nothing can reclaim the human mind from its ignorance, bigotry, superstition &c but those grand and sublime principles of equal rights and universal freedom to all men. We must not despise a man on account of infirmity. We ought to love a man more for his infirmity. Nothing is more congenial to my feelings and principles, than the principles of universal freedom and has been from the beginning. If I can know that a man is susceptible of good feelings & integrity and will stand by his friends, he is my friend. The only thing I am afraid of is, that I will not live long [p. ] enough to enjoy the society of these my friends as long as I want to. Let us from henceforth drive from us every species of intollerance. When a man is free from it he is capable of being a critic. When I have used every means in my power to exalt a mans mind, and have taught him righteous principles to no effect—he is still inclined in his darkness, yet the same principles of liberty and charity would ever be manifested by me as though he embraced it. Hence in all governments or political transactions a mans religious opinions should never be called in question. A man should be judged by the law independant of religious prejudice, hence we want in our [p. ] constitution those laws which would require all its officers to administer justice without any regard to his religious opinions, or thrust him from his office. There is only two or three things lacking in the constitution of the United States. If they had said all men
allborn equal, and not only that but they shall have their rights, they shall be free, or the armies of the government should be compelled to enforce those principles of liberty. And the President or Governor who does not do this, and who does not enforce those principles he shall lose his head. When a man is thus bound by a constitution he cannot refuse to protect his subjects, he dare not do it. And when a Governor [p. ] or president will not protect his subjects he ought to be put away from his office.
I can cloth the old skeleton (referring to a figure used by Er [Reynolds] Cahoon to shew his views of the present constitution)although it was an old dead horses head, but it is not necessary for it only requires two or three sentences in a constitution to govern the world. Only cloth the officers of government with the power of free tolerance and compel them to exercise and enforce those principles and we have what we want. Give our Marshal the power of free tolerance and see if he would not exercise it. Only think! When a man can enjoy his liberties and has the power of [p. ] civil officers to protect him, how happy he is”.
While the president was speaking on these subjects he felt animated and used a 24 inch gauge or rulepretty freely till finally he broke it in two in the middle.
Er B. Young said, that as the rule was broken in the hands of our chairman so might every tyrannical government be broken before us.
Mr Uriah Brown arose to thank the chair for the explanation given concerning himself and the two other gentlemen, who are admitted members of this council and are not members of the Church. He is not connected with any religious body. He has sought after [p. ] virtue and truth, but has seen mens practices so contrary to their preaching that he had turned his attention another way. He is most happy to day to see the liberality displayed by this body. He related an anecdote of an old Indian who visited Washington, when at supper the landlord had nothing but skunk to eat—it was skunk upon skunk and nothing but skunk—and he considered it was just so with the sectarian religion it was skunk upon skunk & nothing else. He concluded by illustrating his views of the situation of our government by relating an anecdote of a sick woman.
Er A[masa] Lyman said, “whilst he had been listening to the remarks made [p. ] he had been led to reflect whether he had ever heard of any thing in religion that was calculated to make a man happy except the principles enjoyed here. This is the happiest time he ever saw. He never has been very unhappy. At this time there are those things that create in him feelings of which he has only enjoyed a very small taste, and he now begins to feel the inconvenience of not having capacity to enjoy more. There is a spirit in it which demonstrates an eternal progress. It is like a fire in his bones,and he feels full and
wantsto enjoy more. he must know more. If he were to go according to his feelings he should be perfectly rediculous. The feelings originate in his being pleased. [p. ] and as this thing pleases him better than anything else he ever knew before he feels more happy. He looks for a full and perfect emancipation of the whole human race, that the sound of oppression should be buried in eternal oblivion. The paltry considerations of earthly gain and glory falls into insignificance before the glories we now realize. The object we have in view is not to save a man alone or a nation, but to call down the power of God and let all be blessed, protected, saved and made happy—burst of the chains of oppression. This is a kingdom worth having. The political principals of this kingdom comes down from heaven and reaches down to the prisons of the dead. What we want of it is just [p. ] enough to protect a man in his rights. but we never read of a government that would do that. Reference had been made to the government of Enock, but it went away. It was so like God and so unlike man that they could not bear it. He referred to the kingdom spoken of by Daniel as a stone cut out of the mountain without hands which rolled untill it filled the whole earth. A stone does not roll up hill, but down. This stone was to roll, and expand, gather strength and gather force all the while, so the kingdom of God will begin to roll and continue to roll, and attract to itself all the purity, virtue and goodness out of every nation and kingdom wherever it exists. It is like the magnet, it will [p. ] attract every thing of similar properties to itself. This is the kind of a kingdom that pleases him. He is glad to live in this age, and is glad that he did not live sooner. He wants to live to see the rolling of the kingdom. The assurance of the everlasting and eternal duration of the kingdom will cap the climax of our happiness and joy. If God has appointed a man to rise to immortal glory he will rise with him, for he will hold on to the skirts of his garments. He has not reflected on the sacrifice we may have to make, for he does not think any sacrifice to great to make for the glories of this kingdom, even if it requires us to leave father, mother, wives & children. He that will not leave thatthese, cannot enjoy the kingdom, because he cannot [p. ] attend to it. He referred to the excuses made at the marriage supper spoken of in a parable by the Saviour. It proves to us, that there is nothing so dear, no ties so great that we cannot part with for the kingdom even if the ties be as strong as existed in the bosom of Abraham towards Isaac. If a man will not sacrifice, the principle of a God is not in him. When a man is tried in every point, then nothing is left but the will of God, and he will then be clothed with the power of God, and it brings him peace and eternal happiness.
Er Rigdon arose to give some reasons for the course he had taken [p. ] in relation to this last kingdom—this last order of Heaven—this last order of Government &c that will ever take place. He is well aware that there are some things necessary to enable any man, however competent, to realize the importance of this subject. There are certain things necessary to be observed to uphold any reflecting mind in this thing. He can see that according to the highest light and evidence that we have, one question is settled, that is, that the earth is fast approaching its dissolution. There were things in relation to this world that must approximate to the crisis now approaching. There never has been an organization, no odds by whom or[p. ]ganized, of a government whether monarchial, aristocratic or Republic that was adapted to the wants of the community at large. If there ever had been such it would have been on the earth at this day. The organization of this government is an anomaly, brought into existence to accomplish a something which no other government ever did. He understood the great Jehovah to be the God of the whole earth,its founder & author &c, and he never would rest untill he had accomplished his purposes in relation to it. God looked down upon the nations of the earth as a father looks upon his children. He saw one of his children trying to rule another, [p. ] inventing systems of religious government &c., trying to gain power and ascendency over one another, but he had decreed that he would put an end to such an order, because he loved them, and establish a government so exalted in its principles as not to permit of corruption. However the world may have looked upon us, they will view us in a very different light. They will view us as the only persons in possession of the pure principles of wisdom and intelligence God designed that we should give our assent to the appointment of a King in the last days; and our religious, civil and political salvation depends on that thing. [p. ]
The nations of the
areearth are very fast approximating to an utter ruin and overthrow. All the efforts the nations are making will only tend to hasten on the final doom of the world and bring it to its final issue. All the various inventions and specimens of the ingenuity of man, although calculated to increase the happiness of man, will tend to hasten on the approaching dissolution of the earth.
God looked through the vista of unborn time, and saw the history of unborn nations from the beginning” The speaker then glanced at the character of the various nations and kingdoms of the earth from Moses to Nebuchadnezar.He said “It is arts and sciences [p. ] that makes a nation terrible in war, Antiquity shows us that those nations never ceased their civilizations and overthrows of each other. Civilization was a curse, and the efforts men made was only preparing them for destruction. The nations now have no better understanding, nor are they better calculated to govern than they were then. Death and desolation will come next. Wars the most terrible. The destruction of Jerusalem was but a small circumstance compared to that which will follow the work of the last days. Well might the great father say, that he will cut the work short in righteousness. He looks at the present state of things. He contemplates [p. ] the approaching dissolution when men will be ruined by their own inventions He referred to the blessings God would bestow upon his people when he had established his kingdom. The toil of man and the sweat of his brow would cease. Every thing would be fruitful and happy.—
Er Orson Spencer said he felt like a person who enters a vineyard where there is an abundance of every good thing but is careful which to touch. He refferred to the glorious instructions and intelligence which had dropped from the lips of the preceeding speakers. He said the principle of free toleration is noble and endearing. It is only the guilty mind that is intolerant: they are afraid of Exposure. [p. ] He felt that we are certain of success in the accomplishment of our purposes, viewing the union which exists in our midst. He referred to the contrast between this council and the situations of the nations of the earth. He concluded his remarks by expressing his grateful feelings for the principles inculcated by the members of this council.
Er G. J. Adams spoke of some things he had thought of during the day. He would like to have a king to reign in righteousness, and inasmuch as our president is proclaimed prophet, priest and king. He is ready when the time comes to go and tell the news to 10000 people. The people will be for war when [p. ] we have grown, yet they will say let us not go to war against Zion for the inhabitants thereof are terrible.He referred to the remarks made by Catlin [Catiline] to the Roman Senate and compared them to our governors and statesmen.
Er D[avid] D. Yearsley expressed his satisfaction for the principles of liberality so nobly displayed during the day. He then referred to the principles afloat in the world, especially those of infidelity. He spakeon the constitution of the U.S. its liberality &c He referred especially to the liberal (Ironical) principle which requires a foreigner to serve seven years before he can become a government officer. He also referred to the situation [p. ] of the sectarian world, showing that their progress had been by bloodshed and oppression, and to the principle of slavery being cherished in the United States. He hinted at an expression in Volneys ruins of Empires. He thought if Volney had lived he would have been a Mormon. He wished the day would soon come when he could have the privilege of proclaiming to the heads at Washington that the kingdom of God was set up.
Er R. Cahoon thinks that although much has been said there are many things which have not been hinted at. He was comforted at the sound of the word liberty, but never felt as though he fully realised it. He expressed his gratification for the privilege of being [p. ] a member of this council, and his delight at the displays of the principles of freedom and liberality as they exist amongst us. He looked back to the expressions of his father, and related a dream which his father dreamed before he died.He considered that whatever we can get that is good and benificial for ourselves, it is good for our neighbors. He spake of the kingdom of God in the last days, and did not expect that it would ever be thrown down, but that the standard would be exalted and all nations flow unto it. He considers that his life is but a trifle compared with the glory which surrounds us. He feels much interested for the salvation of his family. He feels grateful for the power [p. ] and blessings which God has poured on him. He realizes the glory of it. He referred to the persecution in Missouri. that there was no patriot to take their part. Also that they had appealed to Congress for redress but they would do nothing for us. He signified his determination to use his endeavors to carry on this work if it took all he had. He referred to the time when every man would sit under his own vine and fig tree and there would be none to make them afraid
A motion to adjourn was heard from several members.
Er John M. Bernhisel wished before adjournment to make a few remarks on the presentprospects of Texas being annexed as stated in the public papers. [p. ] He thinks there is no doubt but it will be annexed if it is not already done.
The chairman said we need have no apprehensions on the subject inasmuch as God has the matter in his own hands.
The motion to adjourn was renewed whereupon the council adjourned till next thursday at 9 o clock to meet in the council Room.—— [6 lines blank] [p. ]