With his clerks to record his words and thousands of Saints, sinners, gentiles, and dissenters to hear, discuss, and react to his comments, Joseph took the stand at 3:15 P.M., Sunday, 7 April 1844, and delivered the most controversial sermon of his life, unparalleled in Mormonism in historic and doctrinal significance.
Mormonism could never be the same thereafter. The dispersing congregation would alter Joseph’s life and significantly change the course of the Church. As the calendars in Nauvoo were changing from March to April in 1844, Saints from up and down the Mississippi began gathering for the fourteenth anniversary of the organization of the Church. Congregations estimated variously from 8,000 to 25,000 assembled during the five-day conference. Perhaps the prospect of some sort of confrontation was a factor in drawing many to conference. Not only was tension building rapidly between Mormons and non-Mormons, but dissension within the inner circle of Church leaders was escalating toward a climax. Whatever Joseph Smith did seemed only to fan the flames of discord and dissension on both fronts. A large segment of non-Mormons had become alarmed at the rapid growth and influence of the Mormons at Nauvoo. Their major concern was the extent of Joseph Smith’s religious and civil power. Convinced that he was a “knave,” “despot,” “tyrant,” “false prophet,” “fraud,” and “a dangerous and powerful man whose actions should be watched, and closely scrutinized,” they had organized a group calling themselves the “Anti-Mormons” whose purpose was to expose “Smith’s blasphemy, hypocrisy, and political proceedings,” and give “him to understand that his career of usurpation and aggression must be stayed, or otherwise the consequence to himself will be fearful.” The Warsaw Signal alone printed fourteen articles on the Mormons the month preceding this conference criticizing Joseph’s teachings, political views, writings, and actions as mayor and Church leader.