If you’re a fan of Mormon history, you’re going to love this book. If you have never heard of the Council of Fifty, they were a confidential group started by Joseph Smith three months before his death that he believed would protect the Latter-day Saints in their political rights and one day serve as the government of the kingdom of God. The minutes of the Nauvoo-era Council of Fifty was put out to the public back on September 26, 2016 as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The problem is that for most members (myself included), the source documents and minutes are just hard to follow without proper context. Not to mention that there are over 800 pages of these documents.
Well that’s where this book, “The Council of Fifty” comes in. It helps us non-history buff types understand the context and minutes of that council.
One of the things that stuck out to me was how similar some of their discussion are to topics we are running into as a church today. One such example of this is in the book it describes how the council back then, deliberated on the best way to secure the religious freedom of not just members of the church but also those of other religions as well. Hmmm…sound familiar?
Richard Bushman talked about the council and the minutes that were taken. He stated:
“Over the years, the council minutes attained almost legendary status, as a trove of dark secrets sequestered in the recesses of the First Presidency’s vault.” Because of the unknown and somewhat secretive nature of the documents, there have been rampant speculation and ideas as to what would be written in the minutes.
However Paul Reeve followed up later on page 182:
“Some students of the Mormon past might be disappointed in the Council of Fifty minutes because they do not contain salacious evidence that might bring Mormonism to its knees”
The book talks about some of the insights that were gained through reading through the minutes especially during the last days during the Nauvoo years. We all understand how upsetting it must have been for the Saints to go through what they did but it’s an entirely different perspective to see how the Council of Fifty minutes “reveal how desperate and angry the leaders were and how far they were willing to go” to deal with the persecutions that they faced. (Think Joseph Smith running for President or the Saints writing a new constitution).
If you want to learn more about what the mindset of the saint were during the early days of the church, The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History is a great resource and a great addition to any LDS Library.