Introduction to Nauvoo City Council Records

The Nauvoo City Council Records consist of documents created by and for the city council of , Illinois, from 1841 to 1845. These documents were retained and organized by city recorders , , and and were brought to the Salt Lake Valley when the Latter-day Saints migrated from in 1846–1847. Included are minutes, motions, bills, petitions, ordinances, resolutions, and committee reports.
The Nauvoo City Council was formed in February 1841 under authority granted by the December 1840 act incorporating the city of Nauvoo. The council consisted of a mayor, aldermen, councilors, and a recorder. served as mayor of and head of the city council from 3 February 1841 until his resignation on 17 May 1842. JS was a city councilor from 3 February 1841 to 19 May 1842, the day the council elected him mayor. He served in that capacity until his death on 27 June 1844. JS was heavily involved in the council early on, serving on numerous committees and frequently proposing new bills and motions. Once he became mayor, he withdrew from committee work but took an active role in leading the council and performing the other administrative work required of the mayor. Because of the threat of extradition to and his many other responsibilities, JS was less involved in the council in 1842 and 1843, but his participation again became more frequent in May and June 1844. After JS’s death, was elected mayor on 10 August 1844.
The Nauvoo City Council followed traditional parliamentary procedure in its meetings, with the mayor acting as chair of the meeting and a majority of council members needing to be present to convene. enumerated these procedures and the duties of city officers in the “Rules of Order of the City Council of the City of Nauvoo,” which he presented to the city council on 22 January 1842. These rules also laid out the procedures for debate and the process for discussing and reviewing various matters, ensuring a set approach for handling requests from residents (petitions), requests for payment (claims), requests from city council members (motions), and propositions of new laws or ordinances (bills). These written documents were presented to the council and then read and discussed. In the course of the council meeting, the documents might be amended or sent to a specific committee, which would evaluate them and make a report to the council. Committee reports were either written or given verbally. After discussion and, where necessary, committee review, the petition, claim, motion, or bill would be accepted, rejected, or tabled for additional discussion.
If a petition, claim, or motion was accepted, it usually resulted in the council passing a resolution that the mayor then signed. Resolutions did not necessarily mean the council generated a new document; the status of acceptance or rejection might simply be noted on the original petition, claim, or motion. If a bill was accepted, the city council passed an ordinance that the mayor signed. Additional documents, like appointments, went through a similar process of rejection or acceptance. In instances where a motion or bill served as a draft of the resolution or ordinance, the Joseph Smith Papers website presents the document in its original form (i.e., as the motion or bill, not the resolution or ordinance).
Although many city council records were kept, not all of the documents created by the council are extant. The Nauvoo City Council Rough Minute books provide the best indication of the complete process and the persons involved. Where documents are extant, links are included in the rough minute books to the individual documents.
 On the Joseph Smith Papers website, the Nauvoo City Council records are presented in two categories under “Browse the Papers.” The first category, “Nauvoo City Council Minute Books,” includes the council’s various minute books. The second category, “Nauvoo City Council Meetings,” reproduces the minutes of each meeting separately, together with the extant documents generated for each meeting.
For each meeting, the website also provides a calendar of documents listing all documents generated for that meeting, whether extant or not. The calendar lists all versions of each document, with links to those that are extant. The documents are listed in chronological order, which is not necessarily the order they were discussed at the meeting, since some documents such as petitions and claims were written prior to the council meeting at which they were presented. If a document was discussed at more than one meeting, it is listed only on the calendar for the meeting where it was initially discussed. Footnotes in the calendar indicate any further actions the city council took with regard to the document. In addition to consulting the calendar of documents, researchers will benefit from studying the minutes themselves, which include links to documents that were brought up in the meeting.
Documents are included on a calendar only if there is sufficient evidence that an actual document was generated. Though the council professed to be following parliamentary procedure, including the stipulation that all motions, amendments, reports, and so forth be written down, it is unclear how scrupulous their record keeping was in practice. The Joseph Smith Papers Project takes a very conservative approach in determining if documents were actually created. If the only mention of a motion or report is in the minutes, and there is no indication that the document was read at the meeting, the document is not listed on the calendar. For example, if the minutes state that “upon motion it was resolved that . . . ,” the calendar lists the resolution but not the motion, since it is not clear the motion was written down.
The Nauvoo City Council Minute Book started out as a traditional minute book, with copying the rough minutes directly into the minute book and adding the full texts of resolutions and ordinances. Early in 1842, Sloan stopped copying the minutes themselves and only copied the texts of resolutions and ordinances passed. He also copied in the signature of the president of the council (usually the mayor), showing that each document had been authorized. Each copy is therefore included in the calendar as a separate document or version. Not every document Sloan copied was a resolution or ordinance, but because other items (such as “minute entry,” “approval of petition/claim,” or “appointment”) still included the president’s signature, they also appear as separate documents on the calendar.
  1. 1

    “Schedule of Church Records. Nauvoo 1846,” [1], Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL.  

    Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.

  2. 2

    Nauvoo City Council Rough Minute Book, Jan.–Nov. 1842, 28; see also Letters from John C. Bennett and James Sloan, 17 May 1842.  

  3. 3

    See Nauvoo City Council Rough Minute Book, Feb. 1844–Jan. 1845, 44–45.  

  4. 4

    Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, 22 Jan. 1842, 45–51; see also “The Council of Fifty in Nauvoo, Illinois.”  

  5. 5

    See Nauvoo City Council Standing Committees, 1842–1845.  

  6. 6

    Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, 22 Jan. 1842, 45–51. In some instances, the content of the petition meant that the resulting document would be an ordinance rather than a resolution.  

  7. 7

    Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, 22 Jan. 1842, 49.  

  8. 8

    The printed pamphlet of “Laws, Ordinances, and Acts” from 1841 likewise includes signatures on items other than resolutions and ordinances; these items are also included as separate documents on the calendar.