Review: Joseph Smith Papers, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844-January 1846

Last year, Spencer McBride asked me to participate in a blogger event for The Joseph Smith Papers (JSP) that focused on the publication of the volume containing the Council of Fifty Minutes, March 1844-January 1846 (C50). My teaching schedule prevented me from being part of that session, but Spencer graciously sent me a copy of the volume and asked me to review it on my blog.

Well funded and fully staffed, JSP is a model documentary editing project. This volume, which is part of the Administrative Records series,  reflects the comprehensiveness and attention to detail one can expect from the project.

Like all of the volumes produced by JSP, the C50 volume can be used as both a primary and a secondary source. The series and volume introductions provide comprehensive overviews of both. For non-LDS Church members such as myself, these introductions are essential to situate the source material in the context of the Church’s development. The volume also includes a source note describing the physical condition and look of the three C50 minutes books, as well as their provenance.

In terms of the minutes themselves, they focus on an important period in Church history. Of interest to me were the early months of the minutes, when Smith was organizing a presidential campaign. Interested in protecting minority rights, such as those belonging to Church’s members, Smith’s campaign proposed creating a “theodemocracy.” Council chairman pro tem Sidney Rigdon described the Council’s purpose as seeking “to form a Theocracy according to the will of Heaven” (88), which would bring Heaven to Earth using Smith as the vehicle.

Besides articulating the campaign’s motivating purpose, the minutes also show its organization. Smith authorized the commissioning of missionaries, who would “preach and electioneer” (60). Eventually, nearly 400 missionaries carried the Word of God and of Joseph Smith to American voters.

For documentary editors or those interested in the organization of the volume’s contents, a section on editorial method explains the selection, transcription, and annotation policies, which are, unsurprisingly, comprehensive. An additional feature (or features, really) of the JSP volumes is the extra material that accompanies them. Extensive timelines, maps, images, and short biographies provide important context for users. Some of these extras, including an errata page, are already online; the minutes themselves should be available online by the end of 2018.

While it helps to have some acquaintance with LDS Church history to understand the C50 minutes, the editors do everything within their power to give users the resources necessary to understand the source material. I suspect even Church members, no matter their depth of knowledge about their history, will appreciate the detail.

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