One interesting highlight of the article transcribing the talk that Welch spotlights is Taylor’s comments in that sermon about the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor:
Welch further reflects on the legal and practical implications of this situation for the assassination of Joseph Smith:
Taylor also spoke about the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, published by enemies of Joseph and very critical of him. Declaring it a nuisance that “was calculated to injure, destroy [the] community,” the Nauvoo City Council ordered the sheriff to legally abate it. Taylor testifies, “I was on that council and I believe made perhaps the first move toward the destruction of it” (45). He rightly points out that Blackstone’s legal commentary gave substantive legal authority for a government to act upon a public nuisance, and the city charter of Nauvoo “gave unto us power to declare what was a nuisance and remove it” (46). Taylor went on to explain that he did not see this merely as a matter of hanging onto a legal technicality and that the action of the City Council would be justified as a general principle of social order: “There is a difference between freedom and abuse of it. . . . There is no country I can go to that will allow me to interfere with the rights of citizens in that country” (46-47). And on this point, he reports a remarkable conversation he subsequently had with Governor Thomas Ford, who said, “‘Mr. Taylor, I was sorry you destroyed that;’ [Taylor] ‘yet,’ says I, ‘it was legal.’ [Ford] ‘That is nothing but it comes in contact with the prejudice of the people.’ . . . [Taylor] ‘What were we to do then?’ [Ford] ‘I would have got up a mob to destroy it and that would have cleared the city council'” (47)!! Thus, any assertion that Joseph caused his own death by acting illegally in connection with the destruction of the Expositor is disregarding the fact that the Nauvoo Council acted legally in declaring the paper a public nuisance, as Ford himself seems to have conceded.
Of course, with hindsight one might wonder what else the Council might have tried, or if it might have used better judgment. It could have issued a warning, or demanded the right to publish a rebuttal in that newspaper, or just pied the type and required the press to move out of town. But the Council did not act in haste; it debated and deliberated for many hours, and in the end, besides demolishing the printing press itself, only paper and office furniture was burned, and no one was injured or arrested. Yet the revenge of Joseph’s enemies was calculated, legally unjustifiable, and flagrantly excessive, as Taylor reports: “[They] fabricated every kind of falsehood in order to inflame and irritate the public mind, and they succeeded in great measure in doing it” (47).
Carruth’s transcription should make an important contribution to the historical record relating to the assassination of Joseph Smith, as witnessed by John Taylor, who was incarcerated together with Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Willard Richards.