Documents Generated, Reviewed, and Received by the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo

On 11 March 1844, Joseph Smith formally organized an administrative body that became known as the Council of Fifty. The council, so named because it eventually included roughly fifty men, was organized in Nauvoo, Illinois, to establish a new home for the Latter-day Saints in Oregon Territory, California, or the Republic of Texas. Participants viewed the council as distinct from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; whereas the church was to govern in spiritual matters, the Council of Fifty was a civil organization that was to serve as the literal kingdom of God on earth. The council met on eighteen days between March and May 1844 under Joseph Smith. Seven months after Smith’s death, Brigham Young reconvened the Council of Fifty, and the organization played a major role in discussing, planning, and preparing for the Saints’ eventual westward migration. William Clayton, the council’s clerk, recorded the Nauvoo-era minutes of the Council of Fifty in three small notebooks. The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, published in September 2016, contains all of Clayton’s Nauvoo-era minutes and several appendixes, as noted below. These documents, along with their historical introductions and extensive annotation, will be published on this website in 2018.

In addition to the three minute books, the Council of Fifty generated, reviewed, and received a large corpus of documents including minutes, reports, and correspondence. The following is a list of all such documents that can be positively identified and located. All of the Joseph Smith–era Council of Fifty material will be available on this website, while most of the Brigham Young–era Nauvoo documents have been digitized and are available in the Church History Library’s catalog.

 

Council of Fifty Record

Council of Fifty, “Record of the Council of Fifty or Kingdom of God,” March 1844–January 1846, Church History Library, Salt Lake City (hereafter CHL). William Clayton recorded the minutes of the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo and other associated records in three small notebooks.

  • Volume 1 (10 March 1844–1 March 1845)
  • Volume 2 (1 March 1845–6 May 1845)
  • Volume 3 (6 May 1845–13 January 1846)

The entirety of the Council of Fifty minutes within these three volumes can be read in The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846 (hereafter JSP, CFM).

 

Loose Minutes

Council of Fifty, Minutes, 27 February 1845, Historian’s Office, General Church Minutes, CHL. On this date, several members of the Council of Fifty met to discuss business related to the council. Because William Clayton was not present, Thomas Bullock recorded the minutes, which were not copied into the record books. These minutes were published as an appendix in JSP, CFM:527–533.

Council of Fifty, Minutes, 13 January 1846, CHL. This is the only surviving copy of the rough minutes William Clayton used to construct the record books of the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo. The minutes were later copied into the Council of Fifty record book (see JSP, CFM:522–525).

Council of Fifty, Minutes, 18 January 1846, in Brigham Young, Journal, 1844–1846, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. This entry in Brigham Young’s journal appears to incorporate material from nonextant minutes of a meeting of the council. This document was published as an appendix in JSP, CFM:541–543.

Council of Fifty, Minutes, 19 January 1846, Council of Fifty, Papers, 1844–1885, CHL. These are loose minutes of the last meeting of the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo. William Clayton was unable to copy these minutes into the record prior to the Saints’ departure from the city. These minutes were published as an appendix in JSP, CFM:545–550.

 

Routine Documents

List of Members, probably between 25 April and 3 May 1844, Helen Vilate Bourne Fleming Collection, CHL. One of William Clayton’s responsibilities as clerk of the Council of Fifty was to keep track of membership information. Clayton likely created this list of council members between 25 April and 3 May 1844.

Letter from Almon Babbitt, 5 May 1844, Council of Fifty, Papers, CHL. Babbitt wrote to Joseph Smith and the Council of Fifty apologizing for not being able to attend the meeting of the council scheduled for the next day and giving his approval to whatever decisions the council made.

Council of Fifty, Roll, 22 April 1845–27 December 1846, Council of Fifty, Papers, CHL. William Clayton created this roll to track attendance at meetings of the Council of Fifty. This document was published as an appendix in JSP, CFM:535–539.

 

Related Documents from the Joseph Smith Era

Correspondence Related to Lucien Woodworth and the Republic of Texas. On 14 March, Lucien Woodworth was assigned by the Council of Fifty to travel to the Republic of Texas to negotiate with President Samuel Houston for a possible Mormon settlement in Texas.

Recommendation for Lucien Woodworth, 16 March 1844. The council issued Woodworth was issued a letter of recommendation two days after making the assignment.

Lucien Woodworth, Nauvoo, IL, to Samuel Houston, 14 July 1844, Willard Richards, Papers, CHL. After Joseph Smith’s death, Woodworth and at least one other member of the Council of Fifty, Willard Richards, drafted a letter to President Samuel Houston seeking a resumption of negotiations for a Mormon settlement in Texas.

Correspondence with Orson Hyde regarding Mission to Washington DC. On 21 March 1844, Joseph Smith nominated Orson Hyde to present a memorial drafted by the Council of Fifty to the U.S. Congress. While in Washington DC, Hyde wrote five letters reporting on his mission to the council. The Council of Fifty discussed and responded to three of these letters prior to Smith’s death.

Letter of Introduction for Orson Hyde, 30 March 1844. On 30 March Hyde received a letter of introduction for this mission. This letter was created by revising a 12 March 1844 letter of introduction for Orson Pratt, issued by the Nauvoo City Council.

Letter from Orson Hyde, 25 April 1844. The Council of Fifty read and responded to this letter on 13 May 1844, and the letter was later copied into the council minutes (see JSP, CFM:172–178).

Letter from Orson Hyde, 26 April 1844. This letter was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes (see JSP, CFM:178–186).

Letter to Orson Hyde, 13 May 1844. This reply to Orson Hyde was copied into the Council of Fifty Minutes (JSP, CFM:163–165). The sent copy is not extant.

Letter from Orson Hyde, 30 April 1844. The Council of Fifty read this letter on 25 May 1844 and assigned Willard Richards to reply (see JSP, CFM:166n527).

Willard Richards, Nauvoo, IL, to Orson Hyde, 25 May 1844, draft, Willard Richards, Papers, CHL. This is a draft of Willard Richard’s response to Hyde’s 30 April 1844 letter.

Letter from Orson Hyde, 9 June 1844. This is a response to the council’s 13 May 1844 letter.

Letter from Orson Hyde, 11 June 1844.

David S. Hollister Correspondence. At a public meeting in Nauvoo in April 1844, Council of Fifty member David S. Hollister was elected to serve as a delegate to the Democratic and Whig national political conventions, which were being held in Baltimore, Maryland. Although this assignment did not come from the Council of Fifty, Hollister reported on his mission to Joseph Smith, whom he called “the Propper Source”—a term used by the Council of Fifty to refer to Smith.

Letter from David S. Hollister, 9 May 1844.

Letter from David S. Hollister, 26 and 28 June 1844.

 

Related Documents from the Brigham Young Era

Under Brigham Young, the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo created, received, or reviewed a large number of documents, some of which were copied into the record but others that exist only in loose manuscript form.

Correspondence Regarding Wisconsin Territory. In January and February 1845, William P. Richards—a non-Mormon from Macomb, Illinois—corresponded with George Miller of the Council of Fifty regarding the possibility of a Mormon reserve in Wisconsin Territory. The council reviewed this proposal in February 1845 and authorized its publication in the Nauvoo Neighbor. The correspondence was also copied into the Council of the Fifty minutes for 4 February 1845 (JSP, CFM: 232–244).

William P. Richards, Macomb, IL, to George Miller, Nauvoo, IL, 14 January 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

George Miller, Nauvoo, IL, to William P. Richards, 28 January 1845, copy, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

William P. Richards, Macomb, IL, to George Miller, Nauvoo, IL, 3 February 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

Orson Spencer, Editorial, circa 14 February 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Orson Spencer was assigned by the Council of Fifty to “write our views” on Richards’s proposal for publication. It was published after the three letters in the 26 February 1845 issue of the Nauvoo Neighbor. (See Council of Fifty, Minutes, 4 Feb. 1845, in JSP, CFM:244.)

Josiah Lamborn, Springfield, IL, to Brigham Young, Nauvoo, IL, 28 January 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. The Council of Fifty read this letter on 4 February 1845 (see JSP, CFM:232).

Almon Babbitt to John Taylor, Nauvoo, IL, 28 January 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. This may be the letter “from brother A. W. Babbit” that the Council of Fifty read on 4 February 1845 (see JSP, CFM:232).

Correspondence Requesting Legal Counsel for Nauvoo. After the repeal of the Nauvoo charter, church leaders wrote a letter seeking legal counsel from three members of Illinois’s congressional delegation, Stephen A. Douglas, John Wentworth, and Joseph P. Hoge; former presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson; and four other prominent lawyers or politicians, William C. Rives, Daniel Webster, John C. Spencer, and Silas Wright. Similar letters were sent to Illinois governor Thomas Ford and to James Arlington Bennet, a prominent friend of the church. Although this letter predated the reorganization of the council under Brigham Young, William Clayton later wrote it had been “sent by order of the council” (see Council of Fifty, Minutes, 15 Apr. 1845, in JSP, CFM:430). With the exception of John Wentworth’s response, all of the replies to this letter were read in council meetings.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, IL, to Stephen A. Douglass, 1 February 1845, copy Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. A notation on the back of this letter indicates that copies were also sent to Rives, Adams, Webster, Hoge, Jackson, Wentworth, Spencer, and Wright. At least one of these sent copies is extant: Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to Daniel Webster, Boston, Massachusetts, 1 February 1845, microfilm, Illinois State Historical Society Papers, CHL.

John Wentworth, Washington DC, to Brigham Young et al., 25 Feb. 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Unlike like the other responses, this letter was apparently not read in council meetings.

James Arlington Bennet, New York, to Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, IL, 27 February 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. The Council of Fifty read this letter on 22 March 1845 (see JSP, CFM:361–362).

John C. Spencer, Albany, NY, to Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, IL, 27 February 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. The Council of Fifty read this reply on 18 March 1845 (see JSP, CFM:333).

James Arlington Bennet, New York, to Brigham Young and Others, 3 March 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. The Council of Fifty read this letter on 22 March 1845 (see JSP, CFM:361–362).

Daniel Webster, Washington DC, to Brigham Young and Others, 3 March 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. A reply to the 1 February 1845 letter. The Council of Fifty read this reply on 22 March 1845 (see JSP, CFM:361–362).

Joseph P. Hoge, Washington DC, to Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, IL, 8 March 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. The Council of Fifty read this letter on 15 April 1845 (see JSP, CFM:430).

Letters to James Emmett Company. On 27 February 1845 several members of the Council of Fifty met to discuss the group of Mormons that had followed James Emmett from Nauvoo and into Iowa Territory without authorization. They drafted two letters to send to the company—one from the Council of Fifty and one from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, IL, to “Beloved Brethren,” 27 February 1845, draft, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Draft of the letter written on behalf of the Council of Fifty. This letter was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 27 February 1845 (see JSP, CFM:248–249).

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, IL, to James Emmett and Others, 27 February 1845, draft, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Draft of the letter written on behalf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and “some other of the authorities of the church.” This letter was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 27 February 1845 (see JSP, CFM:250–251).

Letters to State Governors, March–May 1845. In March 1845 the Council of Fifty drafted a letter to send to all of the governors in the United States, seeking redress for the Saints’ losses. The letter was approved by the Council of Fifty on 11 March 1845. Two draft copies of the letter are housed at the Church History Library, and at least ten sent copies are extant. The letter was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 11 March 1845 (see JSP, CFM:312–317).

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to James K. Polk, 30 April 1845, draft, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Draft copy of the letter to the governors revised for and addressed to the president of the United States.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to Thomas S. Drew, 1 May 1845, draft, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Draft copy of the letter addressed to Governor Drew of Arkansas.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 30 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to Roger S. Baldwin, “Hartford or New Haven,” Connecticut, 30 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to William Owsley, Frankfort, Kentucky, 30 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to Hugh J. Anderson, Augusta, Maine, 25 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to John S. Bary, Detroit, Michigan, 30 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to John H. Steele, Concord, New Hampshire, 24 April 1845, photocopy, CHL. Original in private possession.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to Mordecai Bartley, Columbus, Ohio, 30 April 1845, Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana, Newberry Library, Chicago.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to William A. Graham, Raleigh, North Carolina, 25 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to James Fenner, “Providence or Newport,” Rhode Island, 25 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

Brigham Young and Others, Nauvoo, Illinois, to James McDowell, Richmond, Virginia, 31 April 1845, photocopy, CHL.

“From the Society Islands,” Times and Seasons, 15 March 1845. Includes letters that missionaries Noah Rogers and Benjamin F. Grouard wrote to Eda Hollister Rogers and Philip B. Lewis, from which the Council of Fifty likely read on two occasions (see Council of Fifty, Minutes, 11 and 18 Mar. 1845, in JSP, CFM:333–334).

“Military and Geographical Surveys West of the Mississippi,” “Cotton in California—The Oregon Settlers,” and “Another Young Republic,” Nauvoo Neighbor, 19 March 1845. On 18 March 1845 William W. Phelps reported that the material gathered by the committee charged with gathering information on the geography of the West would be published in the next edition of the Neighbor (see JSP, CFM:326). The 19 March 1845 issue of the Nauvoo Neighbor included a summary of John C. Frémont’s expedition to the West and several shorter articles reporting on conditions in Oregon and Upper California.

William Weeks, Nauvoo House Architectural Drawings, circa late March 1845, Architect’s Office, Nauvoo House, 1845, CHL. On 22 March 1845 the Council of Fifty charged Lucien Woodworth with furnishing floor plans and an elevation sketch in time for the church’s April 1845 conference (see JSP, CFM:366). Woodworth apparently commissioned William Weeks to create the drawings.

Correspondence regarding Lyman Wight Company. On 22 March 1845, the Council of Fifty read letters reporting on the conditions of Lyman Wight’s company in Wisconsin Territory (see JSP, CFM:362). These were probably letters written by Asher and Effelender Gressmen and Sophia Munroe to friends in Iowa Territory and later given to Willard Richards.

Asher Gressmen and Effelender Gressmen, Valley of Loami, WI, to Levi Moffett, Des Moines Co., IA, 6 November 1844, CHL.

Sophia Munroe, Valley of Loami, WI, to Jane Rigby, Augusta, IA, 26 December 1844 and 13 January 1845, CHL.

Orson Hyde, Statement about Quorum of the Twelve, circa Late March 1845. On 25 March 1845 the Council of Fifty reviewed Hyde’s account of what later became known as Joseph Smith’s “last charge,” which had likely been given a year earlier in the Council of Fifty (see JSP, CFM:62–63, 378–380).

Reports on Nauvoo House Association Stock. On 22 March 1845 the Council of Fifty appointed a committee to review the stock of the Nauvoo House Association. The committee reported to the council on 25 March 1845 (see JSP, CFM:362–363, 381).

“Report of a Committee Appointed to Examine into the Situation of the Stock of the Nauvoo House Association,” between 22 and 25 March 1845, draft, Nauvoo House Association, Records, CHL.

“Report of a Committee Appointed to Examine into the Situation of the Stock of the Nauvoo House Association,” between 22 and 25 March 1845, fair copy, Nauvoo House Association, Records, CHL.

Thomas Ford, Springfield, IL, to Brigham Young, 8 April 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. Governor Ford’s response to a 31 March 1845 letter from Young inquiring about the Nauvoo charter and a possible move west. This letter was read by the Council of Fifty and copied into the minutes for 15 April 1845 (see JSP, CFM:425–429).

“A Voice from Nauvoo,” Nauvoo Neighbor, 7 May 1845. On 6 May 1845 the Council of Fifty proposed publishing an article on behalf of church leaders disavowing recent statements published by the Neighbor (see JSP, CFM:450). The article was drafted by Orson Hyde and published the next day.

Correspondence Related to Trial for Joseph Smith’s Murder. On 6 May 1845 the Council of Fifty assigned Almon Babbitt to write a letter to Illinois governor Thomas Ford and U.S. congressman Joseph P. Hoge expressing their fears that a mob would prevent a fair trail for Joseph Smith’s murder and seeking assistance to keep the peace (see JSP, CFM:449). Babbitt’s letter is not extant, but both Ford and Hoge responded.

Joseph P. Hoge, Galena, IL, to Brigham Young, Nauvoo, IL, 9 May 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

Thomas Ford, Springfield, IL, to Almon Babbitt, Carthage, IL, 15 May 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

Correspondence regarding Mission to Indian Territory. In March and April 1845 the Council of Fifty planned to send a small group of men west to Indian Territory to attend a pan-Indian council and seek allies for their westward migration. The four men chosen by the council—Lewis Dana, Jonathan Dunham, Charles Shumway, and Phineas Young—left on 23 or 24 April 1845 (see Council of Fifty, Minutes, 22 Apr. 1845, in JSP, CFM:436).

Thomas Hendrick to Benjamin Fields, 18 May 1845, Lewis Dana, Correspondence, CHL. Hendrick, a chief of the Stockbridge Indians, wrote a letter of introduction to a Cherokee acquaintance for the missionaries.

Jonathan Dunham, Fort Gibson, to Brigham Young, Nauvoo, IL, 31 May 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL. In this letter, Dunham reported on the missionaries’ lack of success.

Lewis Dana, “Webbers Falls, Cherokee Nation,” to John Brown, “Cherokee Nation, Near Webbers Falls, Arkansas River,” 5 July 1845, Lewis Dana, Correspondence, CHL. Here Dana wrote to a Cherokee leader, seeking his assistance. This letter was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 9 September 1845 (see JSP, CFM: 469–470).

John Brown, “Webber’s Falls, Cherokee Nation,” to Lewis Dana, 5 July 1845, Lewis Dana, Correspondence, CHL. Brown’s response to Dana’s letter. This letter was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes (see JSP, CFM:470–471).

Letters of Introduction for Nauvoo Visitors. In fall 1845, two letters of introduction were addressed to Brigham Young on behalf of two non-Mormon who wished to visit Nauvoo. Both letters were copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 4 October 1845 (see JSP, CFM:486–487).

John J. Hardin, Carthage, IL, to Brigham Young, Nauvoo, IL, 3 October 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

Jacob B. Backenstos, Carthage, IL, to Brigham Young, 3 October 1845, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL.

John J. Hardin and Others, Carthage, IL, to “the First President & High Council of the Church of Latter Day Saints,” 3 October 1845. This is a letter from the peace commissioners sent by Illinois governor Thomas Ford to church leaders. The original copy of this letter is apparently not extant. The letter was later published twice by the Warsaw Signal—first as a broadside and again in the 15 October issue—as well as by the Nauvoo Neighbor on 29 October 1845. It was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 4 October 1845 (see JSP, CFM:488–490).

To the Anti-Mormon Citizens of Hancock and the Surrounding Counties [Warsaw, IL: October 1845]. Microfilm copy at CHL.

John J. Hardin and Others, “Camp Carthage,” IL, to “the President and High Council,” 3 October 1845, in Warsaw Signal, 15 October 1845, [1].

John J. Hardin and Others, “Camp Carthage,” IL, to “the President and High Council,” 3 October 1845, in Nauvoo Neighbor, 29 October 1845.

“Copy of a Part of a Dispatch from the Governor,” Nauvoo Neighbor, 29 October 1845. This dispatch, written around late September 1845, was read in the Council of Fifty and also copied into the council minutes for 4 October 1845 (see JSP, CFM:490–491). The original copy is apparently not extant.

Resolutions, in “The Troubles in Hancock,” Quincy [IL] Whig, 1 October 1845, [2]. In October 1845 the Council of Fifty reviewed a list of resolutions prepared at a public meeting in Quincy, Illinois, accepting the Saints’ offer to leave the state. This list was also copied into the Council of Fifty minutes for 4 October 1845 (see JSP, CFM:491–494).

Committee Report, circa 4 October 1845, Council of Fifty, Papers, 1844–1885, CHL. A list of supplies for each family to take on the journey west. The list was prepared by the Council of Fifty in October 1845 and was also copied into the council minutes for 4 October 1845 (see JSP, CFM:499–502). After the Council of Fifty approved this report, it was adapted for publication in “Bill of Particulars,” Nauvoo Neighbor, 29 October 1845, [3].

Emigration Company Reports. Between 11 and 19 January 1846, the Council of Fifty instructed captains of emigrating companies to ascertain what companies and families were ready to depart Nauvoo. Some reports were received during the council’s meetings on 13 and 19 January; Clayton recorded receiving additional reports on 25 January (JSP, CFM:523, 546; Clayton, Journal, 25 Jan. 1846). A handful of the reports, below, were likely gathered through this effort and are found in Camp of Israel Schedules and Reports, 1845–1849, CHL.

Charles C. Rich Company List, circa January 1846.

Company Number 5 Property List, circa January 1846.

“Bill of Chandler Roger’s Family and Property,” circa January 1846.

“A List of Names & Property in Samuel H Rogers Company of Ten,” circa January 1846.

“Report of the Third Company of the First Fifty,” circa January 1846.

“Noah Rogers Family and Property Also His Co of 10,” circa January 1846.