Nauvoo Expositor

The Nauvoo Expositor had only one issue printed prior to being destroyed by order of Joseph Smith. The order had been issued after all the Mormons on the Nauvoo City Council declared "that the printing-office from whence issues of the Nauvoo Expositor is a public nuisance and also all of said Nauvoo Expositors which may be or exist in said establishment; and the Mayor is instructed to cause said printing establishment and papers to be removed without delay, in such manner as he shall direct." (History of the Church, vol. 6, page 448) The one dissenting vote on the resolution came from a non-Mormon who "thought it might be considered rather harsh for the Council to declare the paper a nuisance, and proposed giving a few days limitation, and assessing a fine of $3,000 for every libel..."

What was the real reason the press was declared a nuisance? In my opinion, the paper was declared a nuisance because it exposed Joseph Smith's private doctrine and practice of polygamy. You can read the Nauvoo Expositor [pdf-file] and decide for yourself.

The order that Joseph Smith gave certainly went beyond "removing" the nuisance, in my opinion. The order said:

    To the Marshall of said City, greeting.

    You are here commanded to destroy the printing press from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor, and pi the type of said printing establishment; and if any resistance be offered to your execution of this order by the owners or others, demolish the house; and if anyone threatens you or the Mayor or the officers of the city, arrest who threaten you, and fail not to execute this order without delay, and make due return hereon.

    By Order of the City Council,
    Joseph Smith, Mayor (History of the Church, vol. 6, page 448)

Within a couple of hours of Joseph's order the press was destroyed. Accounts of the event indicate that it was attended by a very large number of people and that the press went through the window of the building.

    Vilate Kimball ltr 7 Jun 1844 in Helen Whitney, WE 11 (1882), p.106
    June 11th. Nauvoo was a scene of excitement last night. Some hundreds of the brethren turned out and burned the printing press of the opposite party. This was done by order of the City Council. They had only published one paper (Nauvoo Expositor) which is considered a public nuisance. They have sworn vengeance, and no doubt they will have it."

    Mosiah Hancock Autobiography, typescript, BYU-S, p.25 - p.26
    The newspaper, "The Nauvoo Expositor", was printed and issued by the spawn of Satan. They printed the most abominable lies and misrepresentations. These falsehoods were more than the Prophet and the good Brethren could stand. One night, I had a notice that something was to be done by the despisers of iniquity. I shouldered my rifle and marched along, and I saw the press and type go through the window. I picked up a hat full of type, shouldered a press log, and with my rifle returned home, arriving there about 4 o'clock in the morning. Right or wrong, I thought I was prompted to do it, but from that time on, all the powers of the evil one seemed to be directed against the Prophet. He knew no peace from then until his death. Some may ask why I did it; and as I said, Right or wrong, I think that I was prompted to do it. The heavenly watchers know more about it than I; and the Power of Heaven did the prompting.

The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor printing press was certainly wrong. Although Elder Dallin H. Oaks believes that the destruction of the newspaper was within the law, he admits that destroying the press went beyond the law:

    "In view of the law discussed above, particularly the statement in Blackstone, the combination of these three considerations seems to have been sufficient to give the Nauvoo City Council considerable basis in the law of their day for their action in characterizing the published issues of the Nauvoo Expositor as a nuisance an in summarily abating them by destruction.

    "The characterization of the printing press as a nuisance, and its subsequent destruction, is another matter. The common law authorities on nuisance abatement generally, and especially those on summary abatement, were emphatic in declaring that abatement must be limited by the necessities of the case, and that no wanton or unnecessary destruction of property could be permitted. A party guilty of excess was liable in damages for trespass to the party injured.... there was no legal justification in 1844 for the destruction of the Expositor press as a nuisance. Its libelous, provocative, and perhaps obscene output may well have been a public and a private nuisance, but the evil article was not the press itself but the way in which it was being used. Consequently, those who caused or accomplished its destruction were liable for money damages in an action of trespass." (Utah Law Review, Summer 1965, pages 890-891)

Nauvoo Expositor
Last Updated September 28, 1997
Copyright © 1996, 1997 All Rights Reserved.
Created by James David,