Council of Fifty Minutes

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.


  1. Quinn, D. M., “The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945,” BYU Studies 20, no. 2 (1980).
  2. 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).
  3. Ehat, A. F., “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Succession Question” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982).
  4. Quinn, D. M. (1994) The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1994).


  1. Question One: so why keep it all so tightly under wraps for so long?

  2. J. Stapley says:

    They opened it up for questions, and that was one of the first. I alluded to the reply in my post. When the people that know about a thing pass away, and there is no way to learn about it, there is a sense of mystery that grows. Mystery results in trepidation, and the result is essentially a tradition to keep it close to the vest.

  3. Matt W. says:

    Question- The whole Woodruff/Houston meeting was new to me. Was that new to others as well. It does explain Houston’s later sympathy.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Matt, it was sort of difficult to hear because the names were so similar, but it was actually Woodworth that went down there. It is pretty well known. I would imagine that Van Wagenen’s book would probably be a good place to go for that.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    …USU Press has put up Polygamy on the Pedernales for free and it has the material as well.

  6. I should publicly apologize to Matt Grow for practically accosting him after the session and grilling him with questions. It has to get tiring for these editors. But it was a great session, and the info about the non-existent April 7, 1842 revelation was stunning.

  7. I’m simultaneously thrilled and disappointed. Can’t wait to read the minutes myself!

  8. P Bradford says:

    I’m hoping more details will be provided.

  9. Reading between the lines it sounds like this was a combination of 2A-discussion taboo coupled with mystery that grew over time (perhaps with the ethos of the Council intact–the confidential preparations for the Apocalypse never was terribly interested in press conferences). Happy to be corrected on this. Thanks for the posts from Texas on the topic.

  10. Matt W. says:

    I own a copy of Polygamy on the Pedernales, guess I should read it…

  11. Brother Stapley, this post is confusing because it assumes that we all know what the hell you’re all talking about. For those of us who are not historians and were not in attendance at the meetings but are nevertheless interested in the contents of the minutes can you please provide some background about what happened and what is anticipated? Much thanks.

  12. It was a fun business and the mystery around the doc will be partly explained in the seeming grandiose schemes and themes it reveals. Context is key here. And I think that the C of 50 has more to do with the Filibusters than the Second Coming in the near term. Nauvoo was all about concrete realization. What I really look forward to is the excellent annotation we will surely get from the volume editors. Hurrah for the JSP. Porter, search BCC for Council of Fifty. J. Has a nice intro right here on the blog.

  13. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, wvs. Porter, as wvs gas said, search around and you can find a lot of stuff. At the MHA annual conference that last week, the JSP crew gave the first public details about the minutes which are to be published in a couple of years.

  14. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    There is no way that the Council of Fifty minutes could live up to (some of) the sensationalism that has been built up around them. Expect to see more along these lines, especially right when the volume first comes out. And of course there will be others who say the minutes are earth-shattering or game-changing or something like that. All of this is just punditry and dust in the wind. After it blows away, historians who are serious about Nauvoo Mormonism will readily recognize their value use them in their work.

  15. When my kids were little and I wanted to introduce a new vegetable to their diet, I would eat it in front of them several times and tell them they couldn’t have it yet, that they weren’t quite big enough to try it. It usually made them eager to try whatever it was, but sometimes they found the taste didn’t quite live up to the hype.

    So the minutes are basically broccoli–they’re nutritious and tasty when well-prepared, but maybe not as exotic as everyone anticipated :)