Brothers lived great, died great

June 27, 1993, marks 149 years since the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were killed at Carthage Jail. This is the first of a two-part article that describes the martyrdom and surrounding events.

It was a little past five on a hot, sultry day in Carthage, Ill., when the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred by an unruly mob June 27, 1844. This ended the short but remarkable life of the prophet of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thus began yet another chapter in the history of the Church without its founding Prophet but with divine principles so firmly in place that succeeding prophets would carry the Church from those early beginnings to the present day, from here on to the future millennium.Said John Taylor of Joseph and the martyrdom: "He lived great and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord's anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!" (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3.)

Today there are two locations where one can go to gain a first-hand knowledge of the events surrounding the martyrdom. One is the Carthage block itself, owned by the Church, in Carthage. In 1989, as part of the commemoration of the founding of nearby Nauvoo 150 years earlier, the Carthage block was completely renovated. Carthage Jail was restored as near as possible to 1844 standards. A new visitors' center was constructed, and a film on the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith was produced and shown at the center. There is a statue of Joseph and Hyrum, with the jail as a background. They appear not in formal dress but as they would have appeared when they went to Carthage during those fateful days.

The block is landscaped, and there is also a parking lot at one end. As one approaches the jail, he or she passes six monuments which include quotes from the Prophet's life. Carthage, however, was never meant to be a shrine. Such would be contrary to our religion. It is only the Father and the Son whom the Saints worship, although we revere Joseph Smith as the founding Prophet of this great work.

On the next-to-the-last monument, approaching the jail, are these words from the Prophet Joseph: "When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth's sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do His will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering and that he has not, nor will not seek His face in vain." (Joseph Smith Jr., Lectures on Faith, pp. 58-60.)

It is at the small family cemetery next to the homestead in Nauvoo where Joseph and Hyrum are buried. Although the Church has more than 20 restored sites in Nauvoo, the Smith Family Cemetery belongs to the RLDS Church, but all are welcome.

Every member of the Church who can conveniently do so should visit Nauvoo and Carthage.

The other prominent location having to do with the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph is the Museum of Church History and Art, just west of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. It is here that a number of the artifacts associated with the martyrdom can be found, including the death masks of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum. Here again the emphasis is on the Prophet's life and his contribution and not just his death. The whole museum, with its exhibits, is a tribute to the accomplishments of the divinely restored Church which had its beginnings with the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Under the direction of the First Presidency and Twelve, the Church Historical Department and Museum, which is one of its divisions, is in many ways a keeper of the heritage of the members of the Church.

A number of events led up to the martyrdom, but in preparation for this was an unusual experience that took place in a morning session of the Church conference in Nauvoo on Aug. 16, 1841. The Prophet Joseph sent Brigham Young to the conference with the instruction that he should conduct the meeting. This created no small stir among the local members and leaders, since up to that time the Twelve's authority had been limited to building up the Church through proselyting.

Reflecting the uneasiness of Brigham Young in that morning session, the minutes of the meeting stated that he had been in the vineyard so long "he had become attached to foreign missions, and nothing could induce him to retire therefrom and attend to the affairs of the Church at home" unless it was the will of the Lord, which he would always submit himself to. The brethren of the Twelve who were present responded in the same manner. (History of the Church, 4:403.)

The matter was cleared up in the afternoon session with the minutes of the conference recording Joseph making an important announcement: "President Joseph Smith proceeded to state to the conference at considerable length the object of their present meeting and in addition to what President Young had stated in the morning said that the time had come when the Twelve should be called upon to stand in their place next to the First Presidency and attend to the settling of emigrants and the business of the Church at the stakes and assist to bear off the kingdom victoriously to the nations." (History of the Church 4:403.) As if in preparation for what was soon to happen, the role of the Twelve and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve was being defined.

For the most part, the events surrounding the martyrdom had to do with the activities of apostates of the Church. Men who at one time were close to the Prophet Joseph and for one reason or another became disaffiliated but could not let it go and eventually found themselves trying to destroy the Prophet.

John C. Bennett was one of these. In July 1842 he published the first in a series of letters in the Sangamo Journal in Springfield, Ill., bitterly attacking the Prophet Joseph and the Church.

Another matter that fanned the flames of prejudice was when former Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs, who in 1838 issued the infamous extermination order against the Saints, was shot and wounded on May 6, 1842. Based on John C. Bennett's lies, Missouri's then-Gov. Thomas Reynolds tried to extradite Joseph to Missouri. The matter forced the Prophet to go into hiding for four months, which happened to be the time when he turned himself to the subject of vicarious work for the dead, which is now Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants. He later was cleared of the charge by an Illinois court. A later effort to extradite the Prophet to Missouri failed as well.

Joseph's candidacy for President of the United States also contributed to the unrest that eventually led to the martyrdom. The Prophet made the decision to run for President early in 1844. He did this, in part, to draw the attention of the nation to the plight of the Saints.

Missionaries were sent to all the states of the Union at that time to advance the campaign for the Prophet's candidacy and to also preach the gospel. This caused quite a number of the Brethren to be absent from Nauvoo. Forty-nine missionaries were campaigning in the state of New York alone.

The Prophet's platform was as follows:

A decrease in the size of Congress and a decrease in their salary.

Prison reform, with an emphasis on rehabilitation.

Abolition of slavery, to be accomplished by the purchase of the slaves from the owners.

Development of a national banking system.

Annexation of Texas, Mexico, Oregon, and Canada.

Vesting power in the president to suppress mobs and to intervene in state affairs to protect civil liberties.

The most damaging event leading up to the martyrdom, however, was the publication of The Expositor newspaper. At the time, there were enemies of the Prophet led by William Law, who was the Prophet's counselor; his brother Wilson Law; Chauncy Higbee; and Robert D. Foster. Their avowed goal was to bring the downfall of the Prophet.

Rumors were started which were put down by the Prophet in a public meeting, and on April 18, 1844, the Law brothers, William Law's wife, and Robert D. Foster, were excommunicated.

After this, dissidents announced plans to publish a newspaper in Nauvoo called The Expositor. At this same time, William Law organized a church which he called The Reformed Church. Only one issue of The Expositor was published June 7, 1844. It characterized the Prophet Joseph in the vilest of terms, and it was then the Prophet went before the Nauvoo city council and sought to obtain an ordinance to abate the paper as a public nuisance.

There evidently was some common law authority to support such an ordinance. The city council acted, and within an hour and a half, the press was destroyed and the type was scattered. Immediately the newspapers in Quincy, Springfield, and Warsaw, having already declared themselves in opposition to the Church and to Joseph Smith, began to fan the flames of controversy with the bitterest of editorials.

These are the events that inevitably led to the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum.

At the time of the martyrdom there was also general unrest in the United States. Irish Catholics began to come to the United States in the mid-1800s in such numbers they became a voting bloc. This prompted what was referred to as the "Native American" movement, which was organized in opposition to the Irish Catholic influence. This movement was particularly active in Philadelphia and the larger cities in the United States.

Because of these two opposing forces, there were severe riots taking place in the major cities. It was in this time of mob activity that the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum took place.

The conclusion of this article is scheduled for the June 26 issue of Church News.

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