Newly Located Hancock County Records Shed Light on 1844 Succession Claims

John Hamer is our latest guest-blogger here at BCC. We are happy to have him with us and look forward to his contributions.

Bill Shepard, President-Elect of the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA) and trustee of Strangite properties in Voree, Wisconsin, has located an important document in the Hancock County Courthouse in Carthage, Illinois: a record of the incorporation of the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints” in the state of Illinois by Joseph Smith. (Bill has given me permission to publish his find on BCC.) Although its contents have long been known (see History of the Church 4:287), the physical document itself seems to have eluded notice.

According to the document, Joseph Smith was elected “Sole Trustee in Trust” for the church at a meeting held in Nauvoo on January 30, 1841. The church’s incorporation was registered with county officials three days later on February 2, in keeping with the provisions of an 1835 Illinois state law. As trustee, Joseph was in control of the church corporation and held the church’s property in trust for the benefit of the institution. The name of the church is written out twice. Both occasions “Latter day” is spelled with a small “d” (as in the LDS church’s current usage), but without a hyphen (as in the RLDS church’s usage). (The capitalization and punctuation of “latter-day-saint” remained inconsistent throughout the Nauvoo period.)

More interesting is a reference the record makes to Joseph’s legal successor. According to Joseph’s sworn statement, “I was elected Sole Trustee for said Church to hold my office during life (my successors to be the first Presidency of said Church).” In other words, in the event of Joseph’s death, his legal successor was the quorum of the First Presidency. When Joseph died three years later on June 27, 1844, the sole surviving member of the First Presidency was Sidney Rigdon. (At the time, President Rigdon was actively campaigning as Joseph’s vice presidential running mate in the 1844 US Presidential election.)

Historians often say, “Joseph left no clear successor” and that “there were a number of competing succession options,” which had equal or nearly equal merit. However, as this document indicates, Joseph did have a legal successor — at least as far as the trusteeship for the church corporation and property was concerned. I think it may be time for us to begin to admit that Joseph did leave an obvious successor: Sidney Rigdon. What Joseph did not leave was an acceptable successor. Because Sidney was opposed to polygamy and because he had become erratic (as he would soon prove as head of his own short-lived church organization), his leadership was unacceptable to an inner core of Nauvoo’s elite.

Although the rivals who emerged to challenge Sidney — Brigham Young, James Strang, William Smith, David Whitmer and ultimately Joseph Smith III — had inferior succession claims, their leadership was viewed by most of the Saints as much more palatable. Poor Sidney.

April_2008_inc

TRANSCRIPTION FOLLOWS

87 City of Nauvoo Hancock Co. Ills

February 2nd A D 1841

To the County Recorder of the County of Hancock

Dear Sir

At a meeting of the “Church

of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints” at this place on Saturday

the 30th day of January A D 1841. I was elected Sole Trustee

for said Church to hold my office during life (my successors

to be the first Presidency of said Church) and vested with

Plenary Powers as Sole Trustee in Trust for the Church of Latter

Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints to receive acquire manage

or convey property real personal or mixed for the sole use

and benefit of said church agreeably to the provisions of ^ an Act entitled “an

act concerning religious Societies” approved February 6th 1835

Joseph Smith [L.S.]

State of Illinois } ss.

Hancock County } This day personally appeared before me [Daniel]

H Wells a Justice of the Peace within and for the County [of Hancock]

aforesaid, Isaac Galland Robert B Thompson and J[ohn C.]

Bennett who being duly sworn depose and say that [the foregoing]

Certificate of Joseph Smith is true.

Isa[ac Galland]

R. B. [Thompson]

John [C. Bennett]

Sworn to and subscribed this third day of February [in the]

year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and f[orty-one]

before me Daniel H W[ells]

Justice of the [Peace]

______________________

JOHN HAMER is a co-editor of Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism. A 7th generation cultural Mormon, John and his partner Mike Karpowicz are executive directors of the John Whitmer Historical Association. When not at JWHA conferences, they spend their time driving around the country, visiting Mormon history sites, local diners and the graves of US Presidents and Vice Presidents.

Comments

  1. Although the rivals who emerged to challenge Sidney — Brigham Young, James Strang, William Smith, David Whitmer and ultimately Joseph Smith III — had inferior succession claims, their leadership was viewed by most of the Saints as much more palatable.

    I agree with the latter portion of of your assessment (regarding the palatability of Rigdon – too salty); however, I think that the assertion that they all had inferior succession claims is a bit anachronistic. I think you are right that the FP had a better claim in 1841 when this was written, but in the ensuing years things obviously got complicated.

    You have the case of Hyrum, then not only polygamy, but Ehat’s whole spiel about who had what temple rites.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    John, an interesting post and a great document to find — but I’m not sure about the conclusion. It’s not clear to me that a successor named in the incorporating document would have been viewed by Joseph as the clear successor in terms of future Church leadership (it certainly wasn’t clear to the membership as a whole, or to the Twelve). A lot transpired between 1841 and 1844, including changes in the 1st Presidency (although admittedly Sidney was the constant).

    At most I’d be inclined to view this as a sort of a formality for formation of a corporation. I would think it was a legal requirement to name a successor trustee whenever a trustee-in-trust is named. Without more indication as to the intent behind this provision, I don’t know how seriously we can take the claim that Rigdon was somehow intended as a successor to leadership.

  3. I think it is safe to say that Joseph did not see Rigdon as a viable successor, Steve. But your point is interesting, if I read you correctly that Joseph was saying the FP, as a corporate identity, was Joseph’s intended successor. Such an assertion does not have any impact on who is to constitute that presidency.

  4. John Hamer says:

    Jonathan & Steve — I certainly agree that a lot happened in between this incorporation of the church (1841) and Joseph’s death (1844). But as far as I can see, a second document changing the legal succession to the church corporation is not one of those things. (The first new trustees were named that summer after Rigdon lost out in his bid to be made guardian of the church.)

    I don’t think Rigdon was intended to be the legal successor here; I think that the First Presidency was intended. At the time of the incorporation there were several other members of that quorum, including Hyrum Smith and J.C. Bennett William Law. By Joseph’s death these other members were either expelled or dead or (in the case of Amasa Lyman) not yet enrolled, leaving only Rigdon.

  5. By its terms, this document seems to say that the 1st Presidency became Trustee-in-trust for the Church upon Joseph’s demise. If this is how it stood in 1844, and there’s no other legal document out there governing transition, then Sidney Rigdon did in fact become the legal trustee-in-trust for the Church. This says nothing as to leadership per se, although clearly I would think that most churches have their spiritual leaders be the trustees for the organization.

  6. I think that is fair, John. Steve, I guess your observations (#5) highlight the importance of Rigdon’s public excommunication trial. If there is no FP then the document doesn’t have any legal course, right?

    John I think Bennett wasn’t put in until after this, though the same year. William Law, perhaps?

  7. J., that’s correct. If there is no FP, then there’s a lacuna in terms of replacement trustee.

    How does this mesh with Joseph’s declarations about the 12 holding all the keys? I wonder what thought went into choosing the 1st Presidency.

  8. Interesting stuff. Thanks for the write-up, John. I’ll look forward to your future posts at BCC.

  9. Nice post, John. I’m glad that Bill found this document.

  10. Keep in mind that Joseph’s language usage may not have been precisely as it is in the current LDS church. In speaking of priesthood keys, Joseph said that Adam “obtained the first presidency.” That seems to mean that Adam held the highest presiding president’s office in his day, which accords with Mormon doctrine—i.e., the President (or Presidency) of the High Priesthood.

    I would not, therefore, automatically read the “first presidency” in this document as a reference to three men, constituting a quorum known as the First Presidency of the church.

  11. John Hamer says:

    J (#6): It looks like William Law joined the First Presidency a week before the meeting mentioned in the document and Bennett (although signing the document) only joined the presidency a few months later in April. The others on the rolls at the time were Hyrum and Sidney.

  12. I’ve understood that the original copy is stored in the LDS Archives. Oaks and Bentley’s article on the steamboat features a citation to that effect.

  13. California Condor says:

    How do we know this isn’t another Mark Hoffman-style forgery?

  14. Very interesting, John. I wonder if Sidney knew about this document, and if he did, why he did not try to use it to his advantage. This kind of show that succession in the minds of believers was based more on spiritual or religious claims rather than legal.

    Also, it should also be kept in mind that in October ’43 Joseph tried his best to release Sidney from the presidency. Being that there is a (however big or small) chance that Joseph still saw the FP as his legal successor in ’43, could this have been why he wanted Sidney booted?

  15. There is a version of this document in the Joseph Smith Collection in the Church Archives. Whether it is the original or a copy, I’m not sure.

    Regardless, why are we getting so excited about this? The content has been known for, well, a long time. It’s not like this has any new information that isn’t in the HC or the T&S (Robin Jensen also informs me that it was published in Strang’s paper).

    The position of Trustee-in-Trust was solely for the holding of property, and it is apparent that after JS’s death, there was not a sense that this had to pass to a member of the FP. IIRC, William Clayton and Almon Babbitt, two individuals that had no hierarchical standing, held the position. I assume that BY eventually held the position, but I’m not sure when that happened.

  16. California Condor, I would think the provenance would exclude a forgery.

    I was remembering Ehat’s fairly lengthy treatment of the Trustee-in-trust. He introduces this document as follows:

    When Joseph Smith filed with the Hancock County Recorder a petition dated 1 February 1841 as “sole Trustee in Trust for the Church” he said he would “Hold [this] office during life (my successors to be the First Presidency of said Church).”(25 – citing the HC) This legal instrument was recorded in the county records at Carthage; those in Nauvoo could have pointed to the fact that none of the surviving members of the First Presidency were within hundreds of miles of Nauvoo and thus creditors would have had to await the return of these authorities or, the establishment of a new First Presidency, before their business could be settled. However, no one in Nauvoo relied on this precedent. Those who dealt head on with the question of succession raised issues fundamental to the way succession occurred by what they did rather than what they could have done.(26)

    (26) There seems no reason to believe that this legal instrument was purposefully overlooked. The two immediate contenders for the leadership of the Church following the Martyrdom did not then seek to reestablish a First Presidency. Sidney Rigdon sought to be “guardian to the Church” and as such serve as the leader of the Church without counselors. Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles did not reconstitute the First Presidency until 1847.

    The potential Trustees floated were President Marks or William Clayton; but when the twelve came back it was the the Bishops that got the gig.

  17. Wonderful document. And great to find this copy of it. There is a contemporary copy of the document in box 4 of the Joseph Smith collection at the LDS Church History Library. It is a complete version with no missing text. I am not sure which document was created first.

    This notice names JS’s successor as trustee in trust for the church. I see no relation to the question of his naming a successor as President of the Church. That was not the position to which he is being appointed by this document.

  18. On a distantly related note, remember that Warren Jeffs resigned his position as President of the Corporation of the President, but his status as Prophet of the FLDS Church has, to my knowledge, not been challenged.

  19. According to Flanders, Joseph Coolidge, Joseph Heywood, Almon Babbitt, and John Fullmer functioned as trustees-in-trust from 1844 to 1846 (293).

    According to Arrington, BY was elected trust-in-trust in 1848 (GBK, 133).

  20. Now, hang on a sec. I’ve been doing research on Mark Hofmann for a school paper, and if memory serves one of his “finds” was a collection of a few hundred Hancock County court records ranging from the 1830s to the 1860s, only a few of which actually mentioned Joseph Smith. The Church apparently turned the ones mentioning JS over to the FBI and returned the rest to Hancock County. See Church News, 20 Apr 1986, 3.

    Are we sure this isn’t an overlooked Hofmann document?

  21. Jim, as the original post indicates, this document was published in the HC, which you may or may not know was written during the 1840s and 1850s, published in the Deseret News and Millennial Star (I’ll let Justin dig up that citation) and then compiled, edited, and printed by B.H. Roberts at the turn of the century. While Hofmann was a talented forger, I doubt he had the talent to get this document in a book printed long before he was alive.

  22. David G.–

    Point taken (thanks for the info, by the way). But I think there’s still a question as to whether this is THE document – especially since (if my recollection of the Church News article is correct) it is a given that some of the documents in the courthouse passed through Hofmann’s hands.

  23. Searle is, I think, the easiest place to go for HC historiography. His dissy is good, but his BYU Studies paper is free (PDF) and has a lot of great info and some cool tables (including what volumes were written when and when the and where the “History of Joseph Smith” was published).

  24. Jim, that is a good question. The Hancock County Circuit Court documents are a mess, there’s no doubt about that, with some of them still being housed in Carthage, others being in private possession, and others being thrown away. The security in these court houses, at least the security that is supposed to protect rare historical documents, is attrocious. Mormon rare documents dealers have been picking over these public repositories for years, and have been able to take with little trouble what they’ve wanted.
    I’m glad that we have talented provenance folks working on the Joseph Smith Papers that will be able to determine if that is the case or not.

  25. Thanks, J. Stapley and Dave.

  26. This discussion apparently doesn’t recognize that this issue was known at the time of the succession crisis. the 12 publicly argued that the FP had been dissolved for lack of a quorum, that Sidney could not stand without Hyrum and Joseph. if i recall, they even argued that the FP quorum was in heaven since both Hyrum and JSJ had died, so, in their logic, Sidney would have to stand alone against the missing quorum. this is part of why the sentiment that became the Mantle miracle was so crucial–it proved that the undead FP quorum had spoken. As for how to repopulate the quorum of the FP, that was not established and could as easily be done by the 12 as by the sole remaining member.

  27. oh, and when i was at the carthage county courthouse back in the mid-90s, the clerk there took me back to see the Hofmann documents, which he had stuck in a safe, bemused, because the Church had sent them to him with a formal letter. Very funny. Mostly the stolen documents were fairly minor–he was using them as raw material for the forgeries, if memory serves, versus just being a little kleptomanic.

  28. Maybe my read of the history is simplistic, but my sense is that trying to treat the Trustee-in-trust question as separate from the succession of spiritual leadership is a bit anachronistic. Questions of property management and ownership figured centrally in the conflicts over who would succeed Smith, and Emma’s distrust of Young was rooted in something more than a belief that someone else was a more appropriate spiritual heir to her late husband’s prophetic mantle.

    This document foregrounds the fact that their was no publicly accessible mechanism in place for determining succession in the event that the events necessitating succession also resulted in the dissolution of the quorum of the FP. The death of Hyrum was a loss to the Church that exerted an influence on its subsequent course that is almost impossible to overstate.

    This document (while admittedly not new, but nevertheless, good to revisit now) also raises the question of why Joseph kept Rigdon in the FP and had him campaigning as his VP candidate. The majority of Q12 members, at the time of the Prophet’s death, were on missions campaigning not just for Joseph but for Sidney.

  29. Thanks much for highlighting this find, John.

  30. Does this document at least demonstrate that Joseph did not believe that the First Presidency is automatically dissolved upon the death of the President, which is inconsistent with our current teachings?

  31. Thanks for this. #3’s comment regarding Joseph’s view of Sidney is well documented. From the Oct 1843 general conference in which the congregation sustained Rigdon over Joseph’s objections:

    “I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. You may carry him, but I will not.” [1]

    I’m not sure what to think of that concept however, of a counselor being sustained despite the President (who is supposed to choose their own counselors) objecting.

    [1] History of the Church, vol. VI, p. 49

  32. I’ve been doing research on Mark Hofmann for a school paper, and if memory serves one of his “finds” was a collection of a few hundred Hancock County court records ranging from the 1830s to the 1860s, only a few of which actually mentioned Joseph Smith. The Church apparently turned the ones mentioning JS over to the FBI and returned the rest to Hancock County. See Church News, 20 Apr 1986, 3.

    Are we sure this isn’t an overlooked Hofmann document?

    FWIW, I looked through the catalog of Hofmann-related documents (i.e., documents that passed through his hands) in R. Turley’s Victims. I didn’t see a listing for this particular document.

  33. Here are links to transcripts of the document as published in:

    History of the Church (4:287)

    Millennial Star 18:373 (June 14, 1856)

  34. California Condor says:

    You know what would be gnarly? A guest post on BCC or Times and Seasons by Mark Hofmann. He could write it in jail.

    It would be the raddest, baddest post ever in the Bloggernacle.

  35. John Hamer says:

    Hey folks, thanks for all the great feedback. As David G. points out (#15), the contents of this copy of the incorporation are not new. What got me excited was to see the document in the context of incorporating the church. It’s more often brought up in relation to charges that Joseph abused the bankruptcy law to escape his creditors. Bill Shepard will argue that the Illinois law makes it clear that this document records the church’s incorporation in Illinois.

    Did the trusteeship only relate to the church’s property in Joseph’s era? That’s certainly how members in Nauvoo interpreted the role after Joseph’s death when the trusteeship was given to the presiding general church bishops. But there was a presiding general church bishop in 1841, as well (Newell K Whitney). If the trusteeship related only to temporal affairs, why wasn’t he made trustee-in-trust instead of Joseph?

  36. John Hamer says:

    Re (#13, #20): I agree with J. Stapley (#16) that it seems unlikely that this is a Hoffman document. The portion I reproduce above is from a large book and the entries above and below it are all in the same hand, including the signatures. I’m not a documents expert, but to me this looks like this is the Justice’s copy. If there’s another copy in the LDS archives, that’s probably the original and this is Justice Daniel H. Wells’s copy for the county records.

    (Also, it matches the known contents exactly as published in the History of the Church. It’s not guaranteed, but Hoffman liked to throw uncomfortable stuff in, as if it had been deliberated omitted from the History of the Church, e.g., changing this to read “my successors in the office of President of said Church to be the First Presidency of said Church” or something like that.)

    That said, this really was just a very early sneak peek that Bill was willing to let me share. He is going to do a lot more work on it and get the opinions of people who are documents experts and write up an article to put it into context.

  37. John, I was a little surprised with your statement that there was a presiding bishop in 1841, and I went back through to make sure. Presiding Bishops didn’t really exist in 1841. Further, and quite interestingly, Quinn in his discussion of the Presiding Bishopric makes the following comment:

    A conference on 30 January 1841 elected Smith as sole trustee-in-trust for the church “to receive, acquire, manage or convey property, real, personal, or mixed, for the sole use and benefit of said Church.” The following August the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was given responsibility to assist the president in that financial role. [citing the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles minutes, 31 Aug. 1841]

  38. John Hamer says:

    J (#37): The word “presiding” may not have been attached to the first bishops yet (any more than it was attached to the first patriarch), but Edward Partridge and Newell K. Whitney functioned as presiding bishops for the church’s two nuclei (Kirtland and Zion/Missouri) from 1831-37. When the church lost a nucleus (Kirtland), both the bishop and the High Council of Far West took on sole de facto “presiding” roles. Newell K. Whitney’s role didn’t come up because he didn’t make it to Far West prior to the expulsion. Then in 1840, Partridge died leaving Whitney the sole bishop at the new headquarters of Nauvoo. Later, when additional bishops, patriarchs and high councils were created they were subordinated to the headquarters bishop, patriarch and high council. For example, the High Council of Nauvoo heard appeals from other stake high councils, making it a de facto “presiding” high council.

  39. Sorry about the digression. I think “presiding” has too much later attachment to be functionally descriptive during this period. But you are right that they were general (in the sense that that they were not constrained to a ward). There was also George Miller and Vincent Knight. Newell just had the longest tenure in his position.

  40. John Hamer says:

    J. (#39): Point taken — I’ll say “general bishopric” at church HQ.

    Sam (#26) and Brad (#28): As part of their bid to assume the leadership of the church, the Twelve forwarded the argument that the FP dissolved with Joseph’s death. You can certainly argue that (and that does happen in the Utah church today). You can also make the counter argument that the FP didn’t dissolve (as it doesn’t in the Community of Christ today).

    However, I think the idea that the Twelve could fill vacancies in the FP was unprecedented. The nearest precedent was the experience in Missouri, when Joseph and the FP were imprisoned. On that occasion, the general High Council at church HQ took over as the ruling authority. The High Council went so far as to fill vacancies in the Twelve, illustrating not only the High Council’s authority to lead the church in the absense of the FP, but also to reconstitute quorums, including establishing the precedent that the Twelve was a subordinate quorum, not even competent to fill its own vacancies. See the Far West Record December 19, 1838 (pp. 223-24 in Cannon and Cook’s edition). In the 1840s, there were additional precedents that elevated the Twelve’s status vis-a-vis the general High Council, but I don’t see how those imply that the Twelve had the authority to fill vacancies in the FP.

    Ben (#14) I’m not arguing that Sidney was the spiritual successor of Joseph. That’s a question for the spirit to answer for each individual believer. I was arguing that as sole remaining member of the First Presidency he was the legal successor to the church corporation. Personal conflicts he had with Joseph in 1843 don’t bear on that question, since Joseph indicates that he was not able to get the members to vote Sidney out of the FP.

  41. I’m surprised that my comment at #10 was entirely ignored above. I’d point out further that this document appoints Joseph, specifically, as the trustee-in-trust, and not the entire (Quorum of the) First Presidency of his time. What would be the convincing logic that Joseph intended the trustee role to pass from him as an individual to an entire quorum? For that matter, I wonder whether a quorum of individuals could even legally act as a “trustee” at that time. The more I consider this document and its implications, the more inclined I am to believe that the document was simply intended to appoint the successive President of the LDS Church, individually, as trustee-in-trust.

  42. That’s a good point, Nick.

  43. John Hamer says:

    Nick (#10, 41): I think the possibility this refers to a first Presidency instead of the First Presidency is an unlikely stretch. I can see the phrase “Adam held the first Presidency” as meaning “Adam held the Presidency first.” But in this context, “my successors to be the first Presidency of said Church,” first can’t mean earliest. And if it means highest, we’re back to the quorum of the First Presidency again.

    The History of the Church corrects the capitalization to “First Presidency”, indicating that Joseph’s editors thought this phrase refered to the FP. Also contemporarily James J. Strang clearly agreed (Voree Herald 1:9, Sept. 1846 [p. 38]) — although his argument is self-serving. (He says, “James J. Strang is the successor in the Presidency and no body else holds that office or pretends to hold it”.)

    The Illinois law in question allowed anywhere between 1 and 10 trustees to be named per church corporation. We would have to look to see if contemporary churches always kept on record the individuals named to be their trustees, or if they were able to cite a general church council or officer (e.g. a presbytery or the church’s deacon).

  44. Ben (#14) I’m not arguing that Sidney was the spiritual successor of Joseph.

    Don’t worry, John, I did not mean to say that you were. I was just trying to see how the Saints viewed it when this document is figured in. I agree that “spiritual decisions” are individual things and cannot be proven.

  45. There’s more to the argument than the typical FP dissolution is the problem. The key death in this regard was not JSJ, but Hyrum. Had Hyrum survived, i doubt they would have dissolved the FP. For a group that were trying to argue for continuity before and after death, particularly of their founder and his family, it made a certain sense that if the one they didn’t like is the only one left, they would reject the FP as then constituted or dissolved.

    not a great legal argument on their part, but fits well with their broader views.

  46. I think lawyers then and (more especially) now could have a field day with the phrase “my successors to be the first Presidency of said Church”. More specifically, it does not read “my successors will be the surviving members of the current First Presidency of said Church” but only that the future trustee-in-trust(s) are to be members of the First Presidency.

    Therefore every post-Feb 1841 development in the relationship between the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the Seventy, the high coucils iin the stakes of Zion and the high council of the stake in Zion (cf. D&C 107) have to be considered.

    It seems clear from early on that the structure of governing councils was intended to do exactly what it did in 1844: govern the Church. The Church in solemn assembly considered individual and group claims to revelation and tested them. They, the governing councils of the Church and then the Church body as a whole, rejected Sidney Rigdon’s claims (which weren’t even that he was the First Presidency or even President of the high priesthood) and accepted the leadership of the Council of the Twelve.

    It seems that neither Rigdon nor any other body could define the First Presidency for the Church without the common consent of the Church. Even if every single member of the Church on 8 Aug 1844 thought the 1841 document was the only binding declaration of succession, the question still would have been how to define that quorum and who had the right to do it.

  47. John, in response to your #36, it may or may not be helpful, and I’m sure Bill will examine the documents himself, but I would classify also classify the document in box 4 of the JS Collection at the LDS Archives as a “copy.” My knowledge of legal processes of the time is poor, but I am not convinced there needed to be a copy that was any more official than either of these. I think it plausible that the retained copy in the archives in Salt Lake was the finished product which was then taken before Wells, but both “copies” may be viewed as original and even official. I am no archivist or document expert, but that’s my take on the document.

    Regarding your number 35, my view to your question “Did the trusteeship only relate to the church’s property in Joseph’s era?” would be that this was how JS understood the position. His own references to the title invariably refer to temporal matters of the church–specifically his need to be involved in, and aware of, the financial actions of the various Church committees. A quote from the 28 November 1842 entry in his journal: “He likewise showed the brethren that he was responsible to the State for a faithful performance of his office as Sole Trustee in Trust &c”. Responsible to the state seems a far cry from responsible to the church members. Finally, and this is my opinion only, I would be wary of determining heirarchy of governing church bodies in the Nauvoo years based on filling of vacancies, pronouncements of directions, etc. Right on topic with our Trustee conversation, Joseph himself was given direction as the Trustee-in-Trust by a conference of the church in Nauvoo on 20 January 1842 on how to proceed with his responsibilities in that capacity. I am confident we would still agree that he was in the highest religious leadership position, while still subject to being “instructed” in his actions as Trustee.

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