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Newly published Joseph Smith Papers are a 'treasure trove of information' online

SALT LAKE CITY — The Council of Fifty Minutes, once unavailable for public inspection, are now freely accessible online.

First published in print as part of the Joseph Smith Papers in 2016, the Council of Fifty minutes are the records of an organization that Joseph Smith created in March 1844 with about 50 of his closest associates to become what they believed would be the governing core of the literal kingdom of God on earth.

The minutes, including images of those records and some new content, were uploaded Thursday on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

The Nauvoo-era minutes of the Council of Fifty are a treasure trove of information for the last two years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Illinois, said Jeffrey D. Mahas, a historian and volume editor with the Joseph Smith Papers.

Under Joseph Smith’s leadership, the council debated proper forms of government, petitioned the United States Congress, planned Joseph’s presidential campaign, and contemplated establishing a government of its own in western North America. One of the main themes of the council under Joseph’s leadership is the importance of religious liberty, Mahas said.

The Joseph Smith Papers feature the minutes from the Council of Fifty meetings held in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. The minutes were compiled in three small bound volumes by William Clayton, who was appointed clerk of the Council of Fifty at its first meeting in Nauvoo.
The Joseph Smith Papers feature the minutes from the Council of Fifty meetings held in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. The minutes were compiled in three small bound volumes by William Clayton, who was appointed clerk of the Council of Fifty at its first meeting in Nauvoo. Photo: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

"In the minutes, church leaders come alive with emotion as they discuss their frustration and anger with the United States, which they believed had failed them, as well as with their hope and faith that the Lord would guide them," Mahas said.

Along with the previously published minutes, more than 125 documents from March, April and May 1844, including letters, discourses, deeds and other Nauvoo City Council business, are now online. Among the new documents is a letter to presidential candidate Henry Clay and a discourse about the spirit of Elias, Elijah and the Messiah.

William Clayton was instructed to keep the records. When Joseph Smith was sent to Carthage, Illinois, in June 1844 Clayton elected to bury the records. He found them damaged after Joseph's death and began copying the records into the small minute books and continued to do so after Brigham Young reorganized the council in 1845, Mahas said.

"These documents were either created for or at the direction of the Council of Fifty, or were directly connected to council business. These include letters of recommendation, correspondence regarding lobbying work in Washington, D.C., or Joseph’s presidential campaign," Mahas said.

The Joseph Smith Papers feature the minutes from the Council of Fifty meetings held in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. The minutes were compiled in three small bound volumes by William Clayton, who was appointed clerk of the Council of Fifty at its first meeting in Nauvoo.
The Joseph Smith Papers feature the minutes from the Council of Fifty meetings held in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. The minutes were compiled in three small bound volumes by William Clayton, who was appointed clerk of the Council of Fifty at its first meeting in Nauvoo. Photo: Welden C. Andersen, Provided by Joseph Smith Papers

Under Brigham Young's leadership the council helped plan the exodus from Nauvoo. After the establishment of Utah Territory, the importance of the Council of Fifty diminished. The last recorded meeting of the council was in 1885, Mahas said.

The Joseph Smith Papers published the entire set of the Nauvoo records in 2016, "Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846." For more information on the Council of Fifty minutes, visit JosephSmithPapers.org.

Additional background on the Council of the Fifty is also available in this article from the Deseret News.