Sermons and Instructions of Joseph Smith During the Year 1844

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Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob at Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844. In the first part of the year, he felt further threatened by Missouri. The federal government had rebuffed his claims to damages from Missouri and Church leaders had decided that the only way to obtain notice of their plight sufficient to sway public opinion in their favor was to create a positive public relations campaign. The plan was to have Joseph Smith run for president of the United States. A platform statement was prepared by W. W. Phelps and Joseph Smith spent some considerable energy in moving the Saints to political action. Campaigners were sent out to the rest of the country with Joseph Smith's message that a strong federal government was the best way to guarantee the liberty of all.

Unfortunately, some influential Church members had once again turned against the Prophet, most notably the Laws and Higbee's together with (apparently) the Nauvoo stake president and some members of the high council, calling him a "fallen prophet" in public or at least to themselves. Emma Smith had used the Female Relief Society to hunt down plural wives in Nauvoo and was depressed and uncomfortable about developments in and around the city. The bad old days of Kirtland and Missouri seemed to be coming back only this time she vowed to see that her children were protected from the events beginning to swirl around the Saints. A deep schism existed between Joseph and Sidney Rigdon who had left the city. Some Hancock County politicians were prodding Governor Ford to get rid of the Mormons while trying to light the fires of mob action and conspiracy. Some in Illinois were becoming nervous about the powers granted to Nauvoo in its city charter.

Amid all this the Prophet found himself talking less religion and more politics and self-defense. Hence a number of his public remarks center on topics other than Church doctrine and practice. The number of speeches we have included is relatively small, since our focus is the religious teaching of Joseph Smith. The other happenings in and around Nauvoo are more properly the domain of a biography/history.

However, it is during this period of stress and upheaval that Joseph Smith gives his most famous sermon, the "King Follett Discourse." Historically, this sermon was viewed in isolation as a provocative and sometimes suspect statement. But in fact it represents a nexus of several doctrinal themes Joseph had been preaching consistently since at least 1839. It is fortuitous that this sermon received fairly detailed attention from diarists and recorders at the event (see notes at 7Apr44). Several other important addresses were delivered during this year as well. Many of the remarks are at least related to the Book of Abraham if not based on it (though often introduced by NT texts).

Reports of the sermons come from Thomas Bullock, William Clayton and Willard Richards, while several other diarists contributed accounts of sermons. All these accounts and others not included here have been published in WJS.

A new feature we are testing is floating headers for long documents. Since the April 7 discourse (King Follett Discourse) has seven sources, it is helpful to have the source identifications on the page while scrolling through the document. Try the alternate format by checking the second version of April 7, 1844, below.

*Sermon checked for fidelity to source document(s).
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