Iron Rod 041 – William Law and the Nauvoo Expositor
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The LDS Church teaches that William Law was a disgruntled, excommunicated apostate who wanted to destroy the Church when he published “vicious lies” in the Nauvoo Expositor. Strangely enough, these “vicious lies” are never examined in Church educational material. This episode gives some of the happenings leading up to the publishing of the Nauvoo Expositor and reviews the claims therein and compares them against history and scripture.

D&C 124:91, 97-102, 118-119
D&C 101 (1835):1,4

D&C 24:7-9

D&C 134:9

Lectures on Faith 3:19,26

D&C 102:18-19

D&C 69:2

D&C 104:58-71

Ether 3:19, 24

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10 comments on “Iron Rod 041 – William Law and the Nauvoo Expositor

  1. One question I have is what the influence of John C. Bennett was in all of this. His potential role was not mentioned in this podcast… He was undoubtedly a rabble rouser and out to get Joseph. I have read enough to make it a possibility in my mind that much of what William Law believed of Joseph was possibility fed to him by John Bennett. Likewise, there was clearly a disconnect between Joseph, Hyrum, Sydney and the Twelve (led by Brigham)… Is not not plausible that the Twelve were the “insiders” that were secretly practicing and preaching spiritual wifery, and blamed/framed it on Joseph using the mediums of disgruntled folks like John C. Bennett? Must we believe every word from William Law and assume Joseph was lying? Or can we leave it a possibility in our minds that perhaps William Law was deceived by the rumors spread by Bennett, blamed the actions of the Twelve on Joseph (remember it was the Twelve that held the secret excommunication – which I don’t see the evidence that it was sanctioned by Joseph), and then later embellished his claims that Hyrum had shown him the revelation supporting spiritual wifery (which Hyrum also denied publicly to his dying day)?? Also, why do you refuse to talk about the Cochranite influence on the Twelve in the early years of the church? Could this not be the source of spiritual wifery (not Joseph)?

    • Speaking for myself only, I suspect that Brigham embraced Cochranite practices in the early 1830s, and I suspect that was the reason for Section 101 in 1835 D&C declaring that the church had been reproached with the crime of polygamy. By August of 1835 they were writing that polygamy was already a problem, which is long before Nauvoo. I don’t think I was refusing to talk about it. It just wasn’t central to the Nauvoo Expositor’s allegations that Joseph in 1844 was promoting polygamy. By the time we get to 1843, it seems that Joseph had embraced it. While I agree that the Brighamites corrupted the history to bolster their polygamy position, that doesn’t explain why anti-Brighamites also accused Joseph of polygamy. It strains credulity to believe Marks, Law, and others agreed to go along with Brigham’s conspiracy to blame Joseph while also rabidly opposing Brigham. And those men were much closer to Joseph than Brigham and his cohorts, so they didn’t need to get their info about Joseph from Brigham, they had direct access to Joseph. William Law made it clear in the Nauvoo Expositor his disagreements over polygamy with Joseph and Hyrum were in person, not through third parties.

      There is no way with the historical records we have anyone can reach a definitive conclusion and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. My testimony of Joseph won’t be rocked to the core if irrefutable evidence comes out that he was innocent of practicing polygamy. Can the Joseph-was-innocent crowd say the same thing if irrefutable evidence comes out that he was guilty of it?

      • MD,
        Thank you sincerely for all you do. You are right that many of us Joseph is innocent crowd would be shaken if we found he did practice and preach it. I’m not one of those. I do want to tread cautiously, however, and at least leave room for his innocence and believe him at his publicly stated word. I’d hate to line up with his accusers if he really was innocent. That said, I think there’s a strong possibility he practiced it and was deceived. We read of such ability for the prophet to be deceived in Ezekiel 14, especially if the hearts of the people aren’t right before the Lord… Also, perhaps he was given a seemingly contradictory commandment as an Abrahamic type test… Just as Abraham, who had already fled a people who practiced human sacrifice, was commanded to sacrifice his son through whom he was promised innumerable posterity… imagine Joseph receiving the contradictory commandment to practice polygamy after translating the Book of Mormon which calls polygamy a whoredom three separate places (in Jacob 1&2, Mosiah 11, and Ether 10)… Perhaps Joseph was supposed to humbly accept the commandment, and then be stopped, but then inappropriately out his heart on it… who knows???

        Really, we will not likely not know the final truth on this. For that reason, I wonder if sometimes (like in this situation) you should consider presenting the evidence for more than one side of the story rather than presenting all the reasons why you believe the way you do… There are reasons to believe Joseph may be innocent, and those reasons at least deserve some exploration…

        • I appreciate the desire to not line up with his accusers – especially since many of the accusers after his death were motivated by the desire to justify their own sins.

          A challenge with Joseph being innocent is that he no longer fits the Biblical profile contained in several different prophecies. We covered these in Episodes 12 and 13.
          Malachi 2 discusses a servant who had the law of truth in his mouth, but later deals treacherously with the wife of his youth.
          2 Samuel 7:12-16 discusses a latter-day man who will establish the kingdom, yet commit iniquity and be punished by men.
          Zechariah 3 could also be alluding to this when discussing the priest with filthy garments, and the Lord removes his iniquity and clothes him in clean garments.

          Moroni said Joseph would be known for good and evil. He didn’t say he would be falsely accused of evil, but that Joseph would be known for evil, just as he would be known for good. If we insist that Joseph was innocent of iniquity, we weaken the claim that he is the who the Lord said he was — the servant who would restore the vineyard and establish the kingdom. If Joseph did not commit iniquity, he isn’t the servant of 2 Samuel 7 and we need to look for someone else to establish the kingdom. But D&C 101 and 103 tell us that is Joseph’s job. The way I interpret the scriptures, we can’t have it both ways. We have to take the good with the evil, but believe 2 Samuel 7 when it says that despite committing iniquity, the Lord will not withdraw his mercy from him.

          If I can speculate, I suspect this relies heavily on Ezekiel 14. I suspect Brigham and others had been doing the polygamy thing for years, and finally started to ask Joseph for a revelation from God condoning it. With his eyes covered, Joseph, just as he had done with Martin Harris, petitioned the Lord repeatedly for approval for polygamy despite having already received multiple revelations against polygamy, and finally received the desires of the peoples heart per Ezekiel 14. At that point Joseph began to dabble with it, preaching it privately while denouncing it publicly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of polygamous wives has been greatly exaggerated, but I don’t think it is zero. Then in May/June 1844 Joseph realizes he has been deceived, begins to put plans in place to clean up the mess, and triggers the conspirators who are willing to kill to maintain their abominations. Then history is rewritten to expand the length and depth of Joseph’s involvement.

          • All great thoughts MD… I appreciate your willingness to be available to questions and comments… It certainly helps flush these things out further. You guys are doing an important work and I thank you for it! What you’ve said very well could be the case. Boy oh boy, what an interesting history we have inherited!

  2. I am not on iTunes but I give this review you get a 10 out of 10 you have been very valuable to me. I heard a man who I thought knew church history well say that William Law was an adultere. This , of course, would throw suspicion on anything he had to say. Have you ever come across this? Thank you, Jim

    • Alexander Neibaur wrote in his journal in May 1844 that he heard a rumor that William Law had committed adultery. After the martyrdom, William Clayton wrote in the minute book of the council of 50 about William Law wanting to be sealed to his wife but Joseph refusing because the Lord told him Law was an adulterer. Again, hearsay, but this time written well after the fact by a hard core Brighamite.

      The Nauvoo City Council minutes for June 8, 1844 (the day after the Nauvoo Expositor was published), the minutes say “referred to the revelation read to the High council.— that it was in answer to a qustion concenig [concerning] things which transpired in former days & had no refene [reference] to the penst [present] time.—— that Wm Law when sick said [​he had been guilty of adultry &​] he was not fit to live or die, had Sinnd again[s]t his own soul &c”

      The part in brackets (about adultery), wasn’t written originally, but was added later in between the original lines of text. You can see it in the Joseph Smith Papers.

  3. It really is amazing how many blatant lies we were taught in Sunday School. I still remember when I first came home from my mission and began researching in detail what really happened in church history, and I decided to read the Nauvoo Expositor. I think Rock Waterman, or some other blog mentioned it, and I was like sure I guess I’ll read what the apostates had to say, and I was blown away by their writing. Their testimony of the truth of the BOM and the modern revelations, and calling Joseph and others to repentance was powerful. Also you guys mentioned that the new history finally admits a lot of the truth, my best friend is still active and actually works at the church history library and helped prepare the book, I’ve even been given a vip tour there 🙂 And the impression I got from talking with him was that the overwhelming number of employees there really want to release as honest of a history as they are allowed to, and they really admire Leonard J. Arrington. So, hopefully they will be allowed to continue work on the Joseph Smith papers and bringing forth other records.

  4. Ranae Sep 18, 2019

    After reading the Expositor, I get the feeling that Francis M. Higbee really hated Joseph Smith, that Robert Foster was a lawyer (with whatever warnings that might give you) who collected affidavits, and that Austin Cowle and Mr. & Mrs. Law each had direct contact with the document that was passed around in various circles by Hyrum Smith. I do not know who wrote the resolutions that formed the portion of the paper you referred to. I do get the feeling that there were a variety of reasons that people were trying to take down Joseph Smith, not the least of which was politics.

    Here is the dilemma, which is easily illustrated by current events. Freedom of the press does not mean what is printed is true. We have just spent the last 2 1/2 years in our country trying to decide the innocence and guilt of people based on news accounts. We are also learning how the intelligence agencies have used fake information, leaked to the newspapers, to provide themselves with “evidence” to prosecute and spy on otherwise innocent people. We have the advantage of recording devices, the internet archives, and the benefit of investigating living witnesses to the facts (which are also relatively current events) to decide who is telling the truth. And still you can find people who adamantly believe opposing sides of the issue. None of these investigative advantages exist in determining the relative guilt or innocence of the participants in the Nauvoo polygamy drama.

    I have no reason to believe that William Law is a liar. I do not know (apart from the signed affidavit) which parts of the Expositor were the work of William Law, or how much personal involvement he had with the events described there. I also have no reason to believe that Joseph Smith was a liar. If he were, he would not make a credible witness to the events of the restoration. I do think that it is possible that Joseph was giving the members of the church a leader after their own hearts. He had warned them they were putting too much faith in him, and what better way to see how far the lemmings would follow than to secretly give the commandment to jump off a cliff? Those who had adulterous hearts were convinced the commandment was right, and were wiling to obey. Those who did not were forced to choose between the scriptures and their conscience, or following the prophet.

    I believe the value in this discussion is what it can teach us today. We still have a culture of “follow the prophet, even if he is wrong, but don’t worry, he will never lead you astray” that seems to go back to the days of Nauvoo. We can see the moral power and courage of those early leaders who knew their scriptures well and used them as a firm foundation to stand, even in the face of immense pressure and even excommunication and ostracism. How many of the people you have identified as Servants fit this description? That sounds exactly like the kind of men we need to return and set things in order and gather the lost sheep.

    • Ranae,
      Thanks for this comment. There are so many variables to this story, and you just gave me a new one here. If those living at the time weren’t able to distinguish what did and didn’t come from Joseph, then why should we think we can close the case…. We should explore the evidence, measure the doctrine, and then keep an open mind and not set down stakes. As I said in the comments above, there are other explanations that point towards Joseph’s innocence. Even if they are “less likely”, they still should be considered as plausible… It would be a shame if Joseph, a marred Servant in our generation, were indeed innocent of these charges, guilty of conspiracy, and then we are found among his accusers. Let’s at least present the alternate sides of the story, which have been put out there recently by multiple authors at this point….