{A&E} 5 Insights Gained from New Joseph Smith Papers Volume

The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Vol. 2 (1841-1843) is the second in the best-selling Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers Project. The volume covers daily entries in Joseph Smith’s journals during much of the Nauvoo period, from December 1841 to April 1843, an exciting yet tumultuous time in the prophet’s life. And although this is not your normal bedtime reading (most journals would not qualify as a page-turner, particularly journals from this time period), elements of this volume are both fascinating and inspiring. Following are five insights gleaned from this important volume:

1. Joseph as a Dynamic Civic Leader
In addition to his role as prophet of the growing group of Church members, Joseph served as general of the Nauvoo Legion, as well as mayor and chief justice for the city of Nauvoo. Journal entries reference items handled in city council and other civic meetings, which provide a unique look into Joseph’s leadership and management style. One such entry describes an event that took place during a court proceeding, with Joseph presiding as chief justice. During the proceeding, Joseph noticed through the window two boys fighting across the street. He immediately excused himself and walked out of the courthouse and across the street to the two boys. After rebuking the bystanders for not intervening earlier, Joseph separates the two fighting boys, and says, according to the journal entry “Nobody is allowed to fight in this city but me.” 

2. A Historic Moment: The Establishment of the Relief Society
Joseph Smith not only established the Relief Society in his own red brick store on March 17, 1842, but he was also actively involved in many of their meetings. The journal recounts him giving talks and teaching the sisters on a variety of gospel principles, including the priesthood, spiritual gifts, and how to live a virtuous life. I don’t know if he could see that this little group of twenty Relief Society sisters would someday number over six million, but the journal accounts show that he invested substantial time and effort in nurturing this new organization.

3. Joseph’s Hope for a New Year
The entry of 6 January 1842, shortly after the start of Joseph's Nauvoo journal, contains the heading "The New Year." The entry, possibly one of the few journal entries in the last years of the prophet's life to be dictated by him, is a particularly moving and hope-filled reflection at the start of a new year. One emphasis of the entry regards the importance of building the Nauvoo temple: 
 "The New Year has been ushered in and continued thus far under the most favorable auspices, and the Saints seem to be influenced by a kind and indulgent Providence in their disposition & means; to rear the Temple of the most High God, anxiously looking forth to the completion thereof, as an event of the greatest importance to the Church & the world, Making the Saints in Zion to rejoice . . ."

4. Emma Hale Smith–Truly an Elect Lady
Included in this journal are three letters from Joseph’s wife Emma Hale Smith, which show great insight into her intelligence, character, and loyalty to the prophet. One letter, written in defense of Joseph as he is being sought for extradition on false charges of murder, shows how Emma utilizes elements of constitutional law to reason with authorities against unlawful extradition. 

5. A Scribe Can Help When Keeping a Journal
Although Joseph took seriously the command to “keep a record,” history shows that it was a challenge for Joseph to keep it up on a regular basis. (Who can’t relate to this?) Over the years, Joseph employed several different scribes to keep his personal journals, each with varying results. One of his most consistent scribes was Willard Richards, who served as the single scribe for this volume, citing almost daily entries during the time from December 1841 through April 1843.

This new volume has several features that make its reading all the more valuable. In addition to a wonderful introduction to the Nauvoo period, this volume is chock full of reference materials that allow the reader to dig in to the details of life in Nauvoo. Biographical directories, geographical directories, maps, pedigree charts, a glossary . . . there’s even a set of ecclesiastical organizational charts to see who held what position.

Click here to learn more about the volume and see several videos with background informtion.

Patrick Dunshee is the manager of marketing and communications at Church Historian’s Press. Through his involvement with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, he has learned a lot about the prophet.
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