In 2016, the LDS Church released, for the first time, the minutes kept in the Council of Fifty. Known as the “kingdom,” the council was created by Joseph Smith in his last few months as a new political order that would return God’s rule to earth. Though the council has been long-known, its minutes have always been deemed confidential and sequestered from researchers. Their publication, then, allowed scholars to reconstruct one of the most audacious moments in Mormon history.
I was fortunate enough to get an early copy of the published volume, which allowed me to write an essay for Religion and Politics that was timed with the book’s release. But then I also got to work on two new scholarly projects. The big project was a book manuscript on Nauvoo’s political history, which should be released early next year by W. W. Norton/Liveright, and directed at a general audience. (More details soon!) The other was an scholarly article that contextualized the council for the academic community.
I’m thrilled to share that the article was just appeared Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, a premier journal in religious history that is published by Oxford University Press and affiliated with the American Society of Church History. Here is the synopsis for the article:
This article contextualizes the origins and development of Joseph Smith’s secretive Council of Fifty, a clandestine assembly whose minutes were sequestered from public access since their creation in 1844 and were only made available in September 2016. Organized by Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only months before his death at the hands of a mob in June 1844, the council was destined to introduce a new form of world governance. Colloquially named the “Council of Fifty,” it blended democratic principles with theocratic rule. More than a significant moment in the development of America’s largest home-grown religion, however, Joseph Smith’s controversial organization and the ideals it represented hint at broader anxieties over the nation’s cultural disunity and democratic excesses in the wake of disestablishment. While many embraced the democratization of religious authority, the Mormons and some of their contemporaries countered that it only introduced cultural and political chaos. Examining how groups such as the Mormons grappled with these implications—through orchestrated electoral participation, appeals to higher laws, and revisions to democratized authoritative structures—sheds light on this dynamic challenge of political self-rule during America’s antebellum period.
Put simply, this article was a way for me to make the dense academic arguments that my larger book mostly sets aside.
If you have institutional access, you can download the article at this link.