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*Phelps From Nauvoo to SLC (Part 8 of 8)

W.W. Phelps was editor of the Times & Seasons in 1844 when Joseph Smith was killed. He not only gave the funeral sermon for Joseph & Hyrum but played a critical role in resolving the Succession Crisis. He embraced polygamy, got excommunicated for it for 2 days, and then helped start up the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Dr. Bruce Van Orden details the last years of his life.

Bruce:  Let me say, though, that in the immediate aftermath of the martyrdom, the apostles were in the east. They didn’t hear of Joseph Smith’s death until a few days after it occurred. The only two apostles left in the Nauvoo to lead the Church were Willard Richards and John Taylor, but John Taylor was nearly killed and ineffective for five or six weeks. Phelps had been in on all the councils leading up to the time when Joseph Smith was killed.

GT:  Was he kind of a 13th apostle?

Bruce:. In many ways, yes he was. Not officially, though. I don’t want to ever give that impression.

GT:  Right.

Bruce:  But he was in on all the Councils, including the Council of Fifty, and the Nauvoo City things, which was a Church/State operation, no question. Anyway, in the immediate aftermath of the martyrdom, the two men who kept peace and kept the Church in harmony, more or less, for five weeks until the apostles arrived back, were Willard Richards, and his good friend, W.W. Phelps and collaborator. Those two pretty much took care of things for five weeks until the apostles began coming back. Someone had to give the funeral sermon for Joseph and Hyrum, and it was W.W. Phelps who gave the funeral sermon, in which he articulated the teachings of Joseph Smith, about the kingdom of God on the earth, including the political part of it. People have wondered why Phelps gave the funeral sermon. It’s because he was one of the leaders of the Church and one of the two who really was around to take care of things in the immediate aftermath. He, of course, continued to put out the Times and Seasons and even though John Taylor was editor, obviously, was near death. He didn’t run the Times and Seasons. So, Phelps, of course, continued. He wrote all of the story of the martyrdom and reported it all. In fact, he used the word martyrdom. Then, he wrote this poem, which is Praise to the Man who Communed with Jehovah, which we sing.  But he wrote that immediately and put it in the Times and Seasons.

GT:  When the Saints were on the way west in Winter Quarters, Phelps was assigned to go get a press, because they needed a new press. He went and got it in Boston. That was the press that was used for all of the publications in Salt Lake, including the Deseret News and the Deseret Almanac. Phelps single-handedly put out the almanac for 15 years in Salt Lake on an annual basis, the Deseret Almanac.

GT:  So that Deseret Almanac was kind of based on something Thomas Jefferson had done.

Bruce:  Well, almanacs had been started in Britain, actually. But Benjamin Franklin had almanacs in America prior to the revolution, even.

Remember, to check out our last conversation with Bruce, you need need to subscribe to our free newsletter at

Bruce details WW Phelps life as he moved from Nauvoo to Salt Lake Valley.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce.

567: Phelps Role in Book of Abraham Civil War

566: Phelps Role at Times & Seasons

565: Danites in Missouri

564: Mormon-Missouri War of 1838

563: Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Phelps Role at Times & Seasons (Part 6 of 8 )

W.W. Phelps was one of the best writers in Mormonism.  It should come as no surprise that he assisted Joseph Smith in the First Vision account.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden gives more details.

Bruce:  Officially, Joseph Smith became the editor [of the TImes & Season] for eight months in 1842. But the problem is Joseph Smith never even went to the printing office, except a few times at night to check on newspapers about what they were saying about him, that it come in from the east. Remember, all newspaper offices got newspapers from all over the country, that was just part of the arrangement in those days. He wanted to check about what they were saying about him. He did not play a role in the day-to-day functioning of the editing of the Times and Seasons.

Bruce:  I came to the conclusion based on internal evidence and writing styles, and some of the historical evidence that comes from the journals, that Phelps was running the day-to-day operations, then, of the printing of the newspaper. John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were involved, but, they didn’t do any of the writing.  Woodruff did entirely the business operations, and John Taylor was sick some of the time and doing other assignments. He wasn’t even there to run the newspaper, although he was kind of the assistant editor under Joseph Smith. This is the shocking thing that I came up with. It shocked me that that Phelps was actually doing the writing for The Times and Seasons, particularly making sure the content was what he wanted, in the Times and Seasons. Around this time, John Wentworth, a major newspaper editor in Chicago, asked Joseph Smith, if he might produce a history of the Latter-day Saints. The title was Church History. In a letter, Joseph Smith supposedly put together this history. It’s multi page. It was not ever published by Wentworth, but it was published in the Times and Seasons at the upstart of Joseph Smith’s editorship, official editorship of the Times and Seasons. The Wentworth letter includes the First Vision story, the first published story in Joseph Smith’s name.  The official 1838 edition had not come out in published form, yet. So, this was the first one.

GT:  Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Bruce:  It came out later in the Times and Seasons, as part of the official history as Phelps put together, Joseph Smith’s History. He called it that in the Times and Seasons, but this was the first published version by Joseph Smith. However, preceding this version, were printed accounts of the First Vision by both Orson Pratt in Scotland and Orson Hyde in continental Europe, where they described what happened in the First Vision. It’s obvious that some of the same language used by Pratt and Hyde was used in the Wentworth letter account, 1842 account. It’s very obvious to me and it even comes out in the Joseph Smith papers project, that Phelps was Joseph Smith’s assistant in putting together this Wentworth letter. It’s a lengthy history of the Church for those 12 years, including all of the problems in Missouri. It’s obvious that Phelps wrote that part, because he was part of what happened in Jackson County and Clay County and Far West. Joseph wasn’t part of any of that, and it’s in Phelps’ language, his rhetorical style.

We’ll also talk about the elevation of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1841, that superseded the role of the High Council.

Bruce:  But, when he arrived in Nauvoo, and Don Carlos Smith, had passed away and the editorship of the Times and Seasons fell into the hands of Ebenezer Robinson, who had been a Danite with Sidney Rigdon back in Missouri. He [Ebenezer] now was doing some things that were not pleasing to Joseph Smith and the Twelve.  By this time, the Twelve had come back from their mission in Britain and had been instated as leadership over the entire Church by mid-1841. The Twelve were under the First Presidency, over the whole Church.  That did happen.

GT:  Okay, There was still a High Council, though.

Bruce: A high council, but it was a stake. It was a stake high council, in Nauvoo.  There were other stakes. There were several stakes of Zion at that stage of the game.

GT:  So essentially, the apostles did take up supremacy over the High Council.

Bruce:  Yes. Now, some people argue that William Marks, the president of the high council in Nauvoo had equal authority to the Twelve. He maybe thought he did, but in the succession crisis, he played a role, that’s true. But we now can see that Joseph Smith had placed the Twelve Apostles under the First Presidency and used them in authoritative ways for the rest of his life, from 1841 through 1844, for three years.  The Twelve did play a huge role.

We also talk about Phelps role in the Succession Crisis.  Check out our conversation….

Phelps was ghost-editor of Times & Seasons.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce!

565: Danites in Missouri

564: Mormon-Missouri War of 1838

563: Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Why Joseph Destroyed Expositor (Part 7 of 8)

The Nauvoo Expositor exposed Joseph Smith’s polygamy and was the lightning rod that led to Joseph Smith’s death.  As Mayor of Nauvoo, Smith directed the city council to destroy the Expositor press.  While polygamy was an explosive issue, it wasn’t the only reason Joseph wanted the press destroyed.  In his book, “Origins of Power,” Dr. Michael Quinn makes the case that polygamy was a relatively minor reason for the destruction of the press.  I asked Dr. Derek Sainsbury if he agreed with Quinn, and he did.  What else was published in the Expositor that Joseph wanted suppressed?

GT:  Well, let me ask you a question about that. I remember reading Michael Quinn. It was a long time ago that I read this, but one of the things that he said–going back to the Nauvoo Expositor, polygamy kind of always grabs the headlines. The Expositor published Joseph Smith’s polygamy. But the bigger issue, according to Quinn, was that Joseph was seeking alliances with England, France, Texas, which would have been considered treasonous. Can you talk about that? I’m assuming that that didn’t really happen in the Council of Fifty minutes or was speculation.  Can you talk to that issue?

Derek:  So, they sent a delegate to Texas to negotiate.  Woodworth is his name.  That’s an independent nation. So, the Council of Fifty considered themselves to be the kingdom of God on Earth, the political Kingdom of God that represents it on earth. There’s a reason why when Joseph Smith is headed to Carthage, he tells William Clayton to either burn or bury the minutes because they could be construed as treason. They didn’t consider it to be treason. But it could be construed that way. So yes, they did send a representative to Texas. They did formally call someone to go to Russia and to England.  Those ambassadors, if you want to call them that, never left. But it gives you the mindset that they were acting like a government. They were pushing for the United States. They were pushing this idea of Joseph Smith for president. But then if that doesn’t work out, where can we go? So, then you have to start looking at where you go, who are you going to have to work with? If you go to Texas, you got to work with Texas. If you go to Oregon, which is contested property between the United States, Great Britain and Russia, then, of course, you need to be talking with those three countries as well. Does that make sense? The minutes show that these assignments were made.  The only one that was made and actually reported back was the Texas one.

Derek:  But yeah, the minutes also reveal that on the April 11th meeting, in the new Masonic hall had been built in 1844, they nominate Joseph as a prophet, priest and king over Israel, different from maybe the promises that might be found in an LDS endowment. So, this idea of making him a king over Israel, that ends up being leaked.  It’s in the Nauvoo Expositor that he’s made himself [king.] They’re twisting it that he’s made himself King. They’re twisting it and so that’s…

GT:  Well, I would think that would be an easy thing to twist because we hate kings, and even the Book of Mormon says it’s better that you do not have a king.

Were you aware of these reasons?  What are your thoughts?

Check out our conversation….

Dr Derek Sainsbury says polygamy was a minor irritation of the Nauvoo Expositor. There were other reasons Joseph wanted the paper destroyed.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Sainsbury.

423:  Theo-democracy in Deseret (Sainsbury)

422:  Anti-Slavery Missionaries in the South (Sainsbury)

421: Bobby Kennedy-Joseph Smith (Sainsbury)

420:  Electioneer Missionaries (Sainsbury)

419:  Mormons: The Original Swing Voters! (Sainsbury)