Freedom of the press: Printed word significant factor in Church growth

In the first half-century after the Bill of Rights was ratified, Latter-day Saints must have wondered if it bore any benefits for them.

Except for the successful printing of the first edition of the Book of Mormon, every major Latter-day Saint publication in the pre-Utah period was destroyed by lawless mobsters.Press freedom had been assured by the government of the United States, but in the hands of frontier villains free expression was hardly available to the struggling saints in Missouri, Ohio or Illinois.

The first real newspaper published by the Church was The Evening and Morning Star. It was begun in June of 1832 by William W. Phelps in Independence, Mo. Phelps was well-educated for the time, and had edited a partisan newspaper in New York befor joining the Church.

Under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Phelps obtained a printing press and type fonts in Cincinnati, Ohio, and took them to Missouri to begin the newspaper. He printed the Star in a two-story brick building that is said to have been further west by 120 miles than any other printing office in the country.

But the Star lasted only a year. In the summer of 1833 mobsters broke into Phelps' printing shop, smashed the press and scattered the fonts of type. Though Missouri had been a sovereign state for 12 years at that time, no law enforcement officers came to the aid of the Church to help guarantee press freedom.

The Star was followed in 1834 by the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate in Kirtland, Ohio, which suffered a similar fate. Then came The Elders Journal in October 1837, which lasted only a month in Kirtland. In November enemies set fire to the printing shop. Later, one more issue of the Journal was printed in Far West, Mo., but again persecutors of the Church in lawless ways closed down the publication. The type fonts used for the Journal were buried in Far West and later dug up and taken to Nauvoo,