I was giddy when Matt Grow, Rick Turley, and Ron Esplin gave the first public details regarding the Nauvoo Council of Fifty minutes. I remained so the entire time, though blended with waves of confusion, and surprise. It all makes sense really; the minutes could hardly have lived up to expectation. While the minutes remained in the archives of the First Presidency there appears to have been little effort to explore them. In their absence, scholars used what was available (enough to get us in trouble it would seem) to synthesize narratives and descriptions of the Council, its activities and designs. The best work has generally been recognized to be by Andrew F. Ehat and D. Michael Quinn [fn 1]. That is all now deprecated.
Come to find out, there isn’t anything in the minutes on the “last charge.” Nothing on polygamy. There is nothing indicating the anointing of Joseph Smith as King by the Council. The original revelation on the name of the council isn’t even dated to 1842. There will surely be a lot of interesting details to be learned. It appears, however, that there isn’t really anything sensational. I might even argue several decades from now, that it was the Manuscript Revelation Book 1 that was the single most important newly available document.
I sat next to one of the editors of the Minutes, and he was reliably tight lipped. I appreciate that. I know he was wearied by the questions. The document will be available soon enough. My initial questions, and the ones that have multiplied and magnified since that session ended revolve around John Taylor. He was, if anything, fidelis textus. He was not beyond innovation, but he sought the authentic experience, whether by reading the canonical texts or by the memories of those who lived with Joseph Smith. And I imagine that this is far beyond the realm of the JSPP.
Perhaps the most enlightening anecdotes related to the uncertainty and mystery that arose among the minutes’ caretakers, simply with the lack of context. The unknown can be destabilizing. This time, however, it appears that it is the sensational that is destabilized.
- Quinn, D. M., “The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945,” BYU Studies 20, no. 2 (1980).
- Ehat, A. F., “‘It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth': Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God,” BYU Studies 20 no. 3 (1980).
- Ehat, A. F., “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Succession Question” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982).
- Quinn, D. M. (1994) The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1994).