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Why William and Jane Law left the LDS Church in 1844.
Why William and Jane Law Left the LDS Church in 1844
Published in John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2012):43-51.
Why William and Jane Law Left the LDS Church in 1844
Published in John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2012):43-51.
William and Jane Law were faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until sometime in 1843. Even as late as June 7, 1844, they affirmed their belief in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants in their founding newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. The Laws' problems were not with the foundational scriptures of the church but rather with the grandiosity and narcissistic behavior of Joseph Smith during the last two years of his life.
William Law is the most credible and important person to have left the hierarchy of the LDS church since Oliver Cowdery. This paper examines three paramount concerns of William and Jane Law that contributed to their leaving the church and Nauvoo in 1844.
William Law was born in Northern Ireland in 1809 and his family migrated to western Pennsylvania about ten years later. William then migrated to Canada, near Toronto, where he met and married his wife Jane. They joined the LDS church in 1836 in Toronto, then moved to Nauvoo in 1839. In January 1841, William was elevated to the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Joseph Smith's second counselor. He served in this capacity until January 1844, and by April, he and Jane were excommunicated from the church. The Law family left Nauvoo in mid-June of 1844, never to return. His last forty years were spent in Apple River, Illinois, and Shullsburg, Wisconsin, where he was a medical doctor. He died in 1892. My research indicates that William had the reputation of being a "good man" during his entire life, although at times he came across as somewhat self-righteous.1
In my opinion, William Law is the most credible and important person to have ever left the First Presidency of the LDS Church. In this paper I examine three paramount concerns of William and Jane Law that contributed to their leaving the church and Nauvoo in 1844.
I. The Laws left because Joseph Smith ordered the death of his enemies
On June 27, 1844, the day Joseph Smith was killed, William Law recorded in his diary: "He [Smith] was unscrupulous; no man's life was safe if he was disposed to hate him. He set the laws of God and men at defiance."2 Law is referring here to both theattempted murder to himself and others.3 For example, the Laws believed that Joseph Smith played a vital role in the attempted assassination of Lilburn W. Boggs.
On May 6, 1842, a gunman shot the ex-governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, through a window at his residence in Independence, Missouri. Two bullets penetrated his head and a third lodged in his body; miraculously, he lived. Almost immediately, suspicion fell upon Joseph Smith being involved. The governor of Illinois, Thomas Carlin, wrote Joseph Smith a letter saying that it was common knowledge that he, "had prophesized that Boggs should die a violent death."4 John C. Bennett, an assistant to the first presidency of the church at the time, also wrote: "In 1841, Jo[s]e[ph] predicted or prophesied in a public congregation in Nauvoo, that Lilburn W. Boggs, ex-Governor of Missouri, should die by violent hands within one year."5 George M. Hinkle, in a June letter to Smith added, "Denying your having prophesied the violent death of Boggs wont do, too many people have heard you[,] myself among the rest."6
Just prior to the attempted assassination of the ex-governor, John C. Bennett said, "I was then on terms of close intimacy with Jo[s]e[ph] Smith, and asked him where [Porter] Rockwell had gone? 'Gone,' said he, 'Gone to fulfill prophecy.'"7 Second counselor in the first presidency of the church, William Law, said Joseph had personally told him that he had sent Rockwell to assassinate Boggs. Law declared: "Let me tell you, that Jo[s]e[ph] Smith told me the fact himself. The words were substantially like this, 'I sent Rockwell to kill Boggs, but he missed him. It was a failure; he wounded him instead of sending him to Hell.'"8 Thus, two members closely associated with Smith in the first presidency of the Church report their first hand conversations with Smith about the Boggs assassination.
Joseph H. Jackson claimed to have been hired by Joseph Smith to finish what Rockwell had failed to do. Jackson came to Nauvoo from Georgia and met Joseph Smith on May 19, 1843. He brought with him a rather sordid past, but Smith gave him a job of selling his building lots on commission.9 According to Jackson, Smith said "that I was just the man he wanted." Jackson then told Smith that he "could release O. P. Rockwell, who at that time was confined in prison in Missouri for his attempt on the life of Gov. Boggs. 'Well' said he, 'if you will release Porter, and kill old Boggs, I will give you three thousand dollars.'"10 Several days later both he and Smith took a ride out on the prairie, "All the way out and back, he pressed me to kill Boggs, and said that he would pay me well for it…All the while, he was urging the killing of Boggs, he insisted that it was the will of God, and in God's name he offered me a reward for his blood. This was all done with an air of sanctimonious gravity, and with a look of innocence, that would make one almost believe that the Prophet really thought that he was acting under the command of Heaven. I was utterly astonished to see this man concoct the most hellish plans for murder and revenge, and yet, with pertinacity insist that it was right in the sight of God."11
Agreeing to the offer, Jackson makes his way to Independence, Missouri, where he tries to visit Rockwell.12 However, he said there were "so many in prison at this time, that I had no opportunity to converse with him." Jackson then went on to the Boggs residence in Independence, then returned to Nauvoo and gave his report to the prophet: "He seemed glad to see me, and taking me by the hand led me into a private room, and commenced his enquiries about Porter Rockwell. He fixed his eyes steadily on me, while I gave an account of my stewardship, and suffered me to proceed about half through without interruption, when he suddenly exclaimed. 'Oh! did you kill old Boggs?' No! said I, he was not at home; and this was the fact, as good luck would have it, and it gave me an excellent excuse. Jo[s]e[ph] seemed to regret this very much; but soon returned to Rockwell's case, and prophesied 'in the name of the Lord that he would after passing through the fiery ordeal of the Missouri tribulation, come safely home'…As he bade me good night, he pronounced the blessing of God on my head, and said that he never loved a stranger as he did me, and that he had trusted me further for a short acquaintance, than he had ever done any man before; but said he 'you must kill old Boggs and I will build you up in the world.'"13
About one month later, on July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith received a revelation that seemingly justified his ordered murder of Boggs. Doctrine & Covenants 132:49 and 19, stated: "Verily I [God] seal upon you [Joseph Smith] your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father." The revelation further declared that only one thing could keep Smith from his throne and "exaltation" with God; he must, "Commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood…[and again] commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood" (see verse 19, emphasis added). Was Smith calm about ordering Jackson to commit a hit murder on Boggs because Boggs was not innocent blood, but rather guilty blood?14 Boggs had driven the saints out of Missouri in 1838-39 thus, perhaps with a clear conscience, Smith ordered his death because there would be no eternal consequence for Smith according to this revelation.15
II. The Laws left because of Joseph Smith's immoral proposals
It is well documented that Joseph Smith took at least thirty-three plural wives between 1841 and 1843.16 By June 23, 1843, Joseph Smith had already married twenty-one women, including a number of married women and several young teen wives. Because of these activities Emma Smith was not happy in her marriage with Joseph. William Clayton, Smith's personal secretary, recorded a conversation in his journal on this date that Joseph Smith had with his wife: "He [Joseph Smith] knew she [Emma] was disposed to be revenged on him [Smith] for some things. She [Emma] thought that if he [Joseph] would indulge himself she [Emma] would too."17 Joseph Jackson supported William Clayton's private entry. Jackson said that Joseph told him: "Emma wanted [William] Law for a spiritual husband, and she urged as a reason that as he had so many spiritual wives, she thought it but fair that she should at least have one man…and that she wanted Law, because he was such a 'sweet little man.'"18
Between June 23 and July 11, 1843, Joseph Smith receives a commandment that is mentioned in a July 12, 1843 revelation: "A commandment I give unto my handmaiden, Emma Smith…which I commanded you [Joseph] to offer unto her" (D&C 132: 51). William Law, Smith's counselor in the first presidency, described the content of this "offer"-revelation that Smith used to appease Emma. Law wrote: "Joseph offered to furnish his wife, Emma, with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in her [mansion] house and to be well treated, etc."19
While Joseph and Emma Smith agreed to this sexual offer, William and Jane Law did not. Jackson, continuing with his narrative said that "He [Joseph] and Emma had both tried to persuade her [Jane Law] of the correctness of the doctrine, but that she would not believe it to be of God."20 With the Laws having rejected the offer, Joseph Smith received D&C 132, on July 12, 1843. Verses 51-52, 54, now instruct Emma:
William Law recorded Joseph and Emma's comments on these verses: "He [Joseph] thought the revelation would cause her [Emma] to submit peacefully, as it threatened her removal if she did not." Emma confided to Law that the revelation, which she did not believe in, was a "threat against her life," if she did not comply.21 Law said that Emma, "Spoke repeatedly about that pretended revelation…[and] says[,] 'I must submit or be destroyed. Well, I guess I have to submit.'"22 Emma submitted to Joseph's instruction, but Joseph continued his proposals to single and married women until December of 1843, including Jane Law.
Several months after this sexual "substitute" for Joseph incident, probably during November-December, Joseph Smith made a play for the "attractive" thirty-year-old Jane Law.23 William wrote in his diary on May 13, 1844, that, "He [Smith] had lately endeavored to seduce my wife, and had found her a virtuous woman."24 Alexander Neibaur, a close friend of Joseph Smith, recorded: "When Mr[.] Law came home [one evening,] he Inquired who had been in his Absence. she said no one but Br Joseph. he then demanded what had pass[ed.] Mrs[.] L[aw] then told [him] that Joseph wanted her to be Married to him."25
Joseph Jackson said much the same when he wrote, that it was "Shortly after the…(15th of Jan, 1844) that Jo[s]e[ph] informed me in conversation, that he had been endeavoring for some two months, to get Mrs. William Law for a spiritual [polygamist] wife. He said that he had used every argument in his power to convince her of the correctness of his doctrine, but could not succeed."26 Smith shared this information, according to Jackson, because Smith wanted Law "removed." Jackson said that shortly after January 15th:
By January 1, 1844, it is clear from William's diary that the Laws have rejected Smith's proposal.28 On January 8th, Law is dropped as a counselor in the first presidency and on April 18th, the Laws were excommunicated from the church.
III. The Laws left because Smith set up a political Kingdom within the U.S. government
Five weeks before Jane and William Law left the church, Joseph Smith established a secret organization on March 11, 1844, called the Council of Fifty. Other designations identifying the group were Council of the Kingdom, and the The Living Constitution. This theocratic-political kingdom or body of men met a number of times in Nauvoo and later in Utah until the 1880s. Joseph Smith was anointed their first king in 1844, Brigham Young in 1847, and John Taylor in 1885.29 The goal of this theocracy was world government. They believed they would govern and rule the earth during the millennial reign of Christ.30
This theocratic-political body, The Living Constitution, headed by King Joseph Smith, also believed they were currently receiving God's "law" for the whole earth. On January 1, 1845, William Clayton summarized the goals and accomplishments of this Council during 1844:
With the divine government established, this group soon revealed their confidence and ambitious goals of empire by sending on April 6, 1845, a bold proclamation, addressed: "To all the Kings of the World; To the President of the United States of America; To the Governors of the several States; And to the Rulers and Peoples of all Nations." The decree went on to warn world leaders: "You cannot…stand as idle and disinterested spectators of the scenes and events which are calculated in their very nature to reduce all nations and creeds to one political and religious standard, and thus put an end to Babel forms and names, and to strife and war."32
When William Clayton, a member of the Council of Fifty wrote in his journal on April 11, 1844, that: "Pres[iden]t J was voted our P[rophet]. P[riest]. & K[ing]. with loud Hosannas," the Laws and others were thunderstruck.33 William Law wrote in his diary four days later: "Conference is over, and some of the most blasphemous doctrines have been taught by J[oseph] Smith & others ever heard of. Such as…That J[oseph]. Smith is a god to this generation, that secret meetings are all legal and right and that the Kingdom must be set up after the manner of a Kingdom (and of course have a King) &c. &c.34
On May 10, 1844, William Law wrote in a "Prospectus" prior to his publishing the Nauvoo Expositor, that it is "A sacred duty…to advocate unmitigated DISOBEDIENCE TO POLITICAL REVELATIONS, and to censure and decry gross moral imperfections wherever found, either in the plebeian, patrician or SELF-CONSTITUTED MONARCH."35 When the first and only issue of the Expositor was published June 7, 1844, Law strongly voiced his distain for uniting church and state, of allowing the church temporal control over his life. He declared, "We will not acknowledge any man as king or law-giver to the church; for Christ is our only king and law-giver."36
The Laws also learned from this April 11, 1844, meeting that Joseph Smith was not only anointed a king over the earth but that he was, "A god to this generation." Brigham Young also taught that Smith is our "Prophet Seer Revelator & God."37 Young delineated some of Smith's responsibilities as a god, and declared that if you:
The Laws' final testimony of Joseph Smith and Mormonism
During the last two years of Joseph Smith's life, William and Jane Law said they had first hand experience of Joseph Smith breaking at least six of the Ten Commandments and many of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Law wrote:
Thus the Laws indicted Joseph Smith with: blasphemy or using God's name in vain, committing murder, committing adultery, stealing and robbing from the gentiles, bearing false witness, and coveting the wives of other men (Ex. 20:3-17).41 In William's final diary entry, he wrote that Smith, "Was one of the false prophets spoken of by Christ who would come in sheep's clothing but inwardly be a ravelling [ravening] wolf. His works proved it [Matt. 7: 15-16].... He claimed to be a god, whereas he was only a servant of the Devil, and as such met his fate."42
Forty three years later, his views on Joseph Smith and Mormonism had not softened. He wrote, "The great mistake of my [life was my] having anything to do with Mormonism. I feel [it to] be a deep disgrace and never speak of it when I can avoid it; for over forty years I have been almost entirely silent on the subject."43
1 Lyndon W. Cook, "William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter," BYU Studies 22 (Winter 1982): 47-72; also, Lyndon W. Cook, "'Brother Joseph Is Truly a Wonderful Man, He Is All We Could Wish a Prophet to Be': Pre-1844 Letters of William Law," BYU Studies 20 (Winter 1980): 1-12.
3 Law said that after being excommunicated from the church on April 18, 1844, "They [Joseph and Hyrum] tried to get rid of me in different ways. One was by poisoning." Interview of William Law, March 30, 1887, Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 31, 1887; Chauncey L. Higbee, in an affidavit testified that Joseph H. Jackson said "that Joseph Smith of Nauvoo, had tried to hire him to murder…William Law." Warsaw [Illinois] Signal, May 8, 1844; and by June 1, 1844, Law wrote, "Our lives are threatened and our steps watched by night and day." Law Nauvoo Diary, 1 June 1844, in Cook, William Law: Biographical Essay, 55.
13 Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures, 7-9.
19 Letter by William Law, on 7 January 1887, Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 3, 1887, emphasis retained.
26 Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures, 19, emphasis added.
31 William Clayton Journal, 1 January 1845, D. Michael Quinn Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, emphasis added.
35 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 6:443, emphasis retained.
40 William Law correspondence of August 1844 with The Upper Mississippian, in Cook, William Law: Biographical Essay, 91.