William Law: Biographical Essay, Nauvoo Diary, Correspondence, Interview

I have long admired Lyndon Cook’s persistent, painstaking efforts in writing enlightening historical-biographical commentaries and editing important historical documents crucial to the study of Joseph Smith and early Mormon history. His most recent contribution, William Law, principally a primary source monograph, surveys the thoughts and actions of this apostate, who was a member of the First Presidency during the final year of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s life. The reader of this book will gain a deeper understanding of the tensions and emotions of this turbulent period of Mormon history. Cook is to be commended for researching and documenting the early faith and later struggles of William Law; modern students of Mormon history now have a closer, more personal, glimpse of this controversial Church leader’s life.

William Law (1809–1892), assisted by his older brother Wilson, along with the Foster and Higbee brothers and several other active Nauvoo dissenters, published the first and only issue of the antagonistic Nauvoo Expositor, which included among other things a scandalous and hostile exposé of Joseph Smith’s polygamous activities. Law’s Expositor fanned the already hot flames of conflict between him and leading Mormon elders. Through the auspices of the Nauvoo City Council, Joseph Smith, acting as mayor, condemned the Expositor press as a public nuisance and ordered it destroyed. When Nauvoo citizens acted on the Prophet’s request, he and his brother Hyrum were arrested for promoting a riot, incarcerated at Carthage, Illinois, and killed by a vigilante mob who stormed the jail. That tragedy was the capstone of an emotionally tempestuous religious conflict that had existed for at least half a year between the Mormon prophet-leader and his second counselor. In William Law’s view, their differences were monumental; from late 1843 until early 1844, Joseph Smith’s hopes for reconciliation with his counselor in the First Presidency dimmed while the animosity between them deepened.

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