“Round Up Your Shoulders,” chapter 42 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 42: “Round Up Your Shoulders”
In early November 1843, Phebe Woodruff welcomed Wilford home from a four-month mission to the eastern states. He arrived with gifts for his family and a wagon laden with printing supplies for the Times and Seasons office, where Phebe and the children had been living.1
Phebe had given birth to another daughter in July, and she had been anticipating Wilford’s arrival for about a month. The Woodruffs were very close and hated being apart when Wilford was on missions. Unlike other apostles and their wives, though, they had not yet been sealed together for time and eternity, and they were anxious to receive the ordinance.
While Wilford was away, Phebe had written to him, asking if he thought their love would ever be divided in eternity. He responded with a poem expressing his hope that their love would thrive beyond the tomb.2
On November 11, a week after Wilford’s return, the Woodruffs visited the home of John and Leonora Taylor. There Hyrum Smith taught about resurrection, redemption, and exaltation through the new and everlasting covenant. He then sealed Phebe and Wilford together for time and eternity, and they all enjoyed a pleasant evening together.3 The Woodruffs soon began preparing to receive the endowment.
Earlier that fall, for the first time in more than a year, Joseph had started to endow more Saints. As promised, he had extended the endowment to women, and on September 28 he administered the ordinance to Emma in the Nauvoo Mansion.4 Soon after, Emma had washed and anointed Jane Law, Rosannah Marks, Elizabeth Durfee, and Mary Fielding Smith. It was the first time a woman had officiated in a temple ordinance in the latter days.5
In the weeks that followed, Emma performed the ordinance for Lucy Smith, Ann Whitney, Mercy Thompson, Jennetta Richards, Leonora Taylor, Mary Ann Young, and others. Soon other women performed the ordinance under Emma’s supervision.6
In December, Phebe and Wilford were washed, anointed, and endowed.7 By the end of the year, forty-two women and men had received the endowment. They met together often in the room above Joseph’s store to pray and learn about the things of eternity.8
That fall, while meeting regularly with the endowed Saints, William Law hid from Joseph and Hyrum the fact that he was guilty of adultery. In committing the sin, William felt like he had transgressed against his own soul.9
Around this time, Hyrum gave him a copy of the revelation on marriage. “Take it home and read it,” Hyrum instructed, “then be careful with it and bring it back again.” William studied the revelation and showed it to his wife, Jane. He doubted its authenticity, but she was sure it was real.
William took the revelation to Joseph, who confirmed that it was genuine.10 William begged him to renounce its teachings, but Joseph testified that the Lord had commanded him to teach plural marriage to the Saints and that he would stand condemned if he disobeyed.11
At some point, William became sick and finally confessed his adultery to Hyrum, admitting to his friend that he did not feel worthy to live or die. Yet he wanted to be sealed for eternity to Jane, and he asked Joseph if that were possible. Joseph took the question to the Lord, and the Lord revealed that William could not receive the ordinance because he was adulterous.12
Now William’s heart began to burn with anger against Joseph.13 In late December, he and Jane stopped meeting with the endowed Saints.14 Jane advised that they sell their property quietly and simply leave Nauvoo. But William wanted to crush Joseph.15 He began plotting secretly with others who opposed the prophet, and not long after, he lost his place in the First Presidency.
William declared that he was glad to be free of his association with Joseph. But instead of leaving Nauvoo and moving on, as Jane had recommended, he became more determined than ever to work against the prophet and bring about his demise.16
William Law’s apostasy was upsetting but not unprecedented. “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God,” Joseph told a congregation on a chilly Sunday early in 1844, “but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.”
Since the organization of the church, Joseph had seen men and women leave the faith when they disagreed with the principles he taught or when he fell short of their notions of what a prophet should be. Those who broke with the church often left peacefully. But as men like Ezra Booth, Warren Parrish, and John Bennett had shown, sometimes those who fell away fought against the prophet, the church, and its teachings, often leading to violence against the Saints. The course William would take was yet to be seen.
In the meantime, Joseph continued to prepare the Saints to receive the saving ordinances found in the temple. “I would to God that this temple was now done that we might go into it,” he told the large congregation of men and women. “I would advise all the Saints to go to with their might and gather together all their living relatives to this place that they may be sealed and saved.”17
He knew, however, that the Saints could do so only if they were able to finish the temple. Already Joseph was worried about growing unrest in the communities around Nauvoo. After a statewide election the previous summer, his critics had met in protest, accusing him of swaying the Saints’ votes. “Such an individual,” they declared, “cannot fail to become a most dangerous character, especially when he shall have been able to place himself at the head of a numerous horde.”18
Knowing how quickly tensions could escalate, Joseph hoped to find allies in the national government who could defend the Saints in the public sphere. A few months earlier, he had written five candidates for president in the upcoming national election, hoping to learn if they would support the Saints’ efforts to recoup their losses in Missouri. Three of the candidates wrote back. Two of them argued that considering redress was a matter for the state, not the president. The third was sympathetic but ultimately noncommittal.19
Frustrated by the candidates’ unwillingness to help, Joseph decided to run for president of the United States himself. Winning the election was unlikely, but he wanted to use his candidacy to publicize the grievances of the Saints and champion the rights of others who had been treated unjustly. He anticipated that hundreds of Saints would campaign throughout the nation on his behalf.
On January 29, 1844, the Quorum of the Twelve formally nominated Joseph as a candidate for the presidency, and he accepted their nomination. “If I ever get in the presidential chair,” he promised, “I will protect the people in their rights and liberties.”20
Meanwhile, on a whaling ship off the coast of South Africa, Addison Pratt watched his shipmates lower four small boats into the ocean and row with all their might after a large whale. Drawing their boats alongside the beast, the men cast harpoons into its back, causing it to dive deep beneath the water and pull the boats over the mountainous crest of a wave.
The swift motion snapped the tow line, and the whale surfaced again, this time near the ship. Climbing atop the mast to get a better view, Addison saw the massive creature lash back and forth, bellowing and spouting water as it tried to free itself of the two harpoons snagged in its powerful flesh. When the boats got nearer, it dove again to dodge another assault, resurfacing farther out to sea. The men tried to pursue it once more, but the whale got away.
Watching the chase reminded Addison of the patriarchal blessing he had received shortly after moving to Nauvoo. In it, Hyrum Smith had promised him that he would “go out and come in and go forth upon the face of the earth.” After the blessing, Hyrum had said, “I guess you have got to go a-whaling.”21
Addison and his fellow missionaries had been at sea now for several months, sailing south across the Atlantic Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope, toward the islands beyond Australia. Unable to find a ship bound for Hawaii, they had booked passage on a whaling vessel headed farther south to Tahiti. The voyage would last the better part of a year, and already Addison and the missionaries had tried discussing the restored gospel with shipmates.
Most days aboard the whaler were pleasant, but Addison’s nights were sometimes troubled with ominous dreams. One night, he dreamed that Joseph and the Saints were aboard a ship sailing directly into a storm. The ship ran across a shoal and struck the ocean floor, shredding the hull. As water poured into the ship, its prow began to sink beneath the water. Some of the Saints drowned while others managed to flee the sinking vessel, only to be devoured by ravenous sharks.22
In another dream, a few nights later, he saw his family and the church leaving Nauvoo. He searched a long time before he found them settled in a fertile valley. In the dream, Louisa and the children lived on a hillside in a small cabin surrounded by plowed fields. She greeted Addison and invited him to walk with her to see the stable and cow pasture on the upper end of the field. The yard was not fenced and the hogs were giving her trouble, but Louisa had a good dog to watch over the property.23
Addison awoke from these dreams anxious for his family and afraid that enemies were once again afflicting the Saints.24
That winter, Mercy Fielding Thompson and Mary Fielding Smith collected pennies from the women in Nauvoo as part of a fund-raising effort for the temple. Late the previous year, while praying to know what she could do to help build up Zion, Mercy had been inspired to start the penny drive. “Try to get the sisters to subscribe one cent per week,” the Spirit had whispered to her, “for the purpose of buying glass and nails for the temple.”
Mercy proposed the idea to Joseph, and he told her to go ahead with it and the Lord would bless her. The women responded enthusiastically to Mercy’s plan. Every week, she and Mary collected pennies and carefully recorded the names of the women who had pledged their support.
Hyrum also assisted the women in the drive and gave it the First Presidency’s full endorsement. He declared that every woman who contributed her pennies should have her name written in the Book of the Law of the Lord, where Joseph and his scribes recorded tithing, revelations, and other sacred writings.25
Once the penny drive was under way in Nauvoo, the sisters sent a letter to the office of the Millennial Star in England to solicit pennies from the women of the church there. “This is to inform you that we have here entered into a small weekly subscription for the benefit of the temple funds,” they wrote. “One thousand have already joined it, while many more are expected, by which we trust to help forward the great work very much.”26
Soon women in the British mission were sending their pennies across the ocean to Nauvoo.
With the help of William Phelps, Joseph developed an independent presidential platform and drafted a pamphlet to publicize it across the nation.27 He proposed granting the president more power to put down mobs, liberating slaves by compensating their owners, turning prisons into places of learning and reform, and expanding the nation westward, but only with the full consent of the American Indians. He wanted voters to know that he was the champion of all people, not just the Latter-day Saints.28
He believed that a theocratic democracy, where the people chose to live in harmony with God’s laws, could establish a just and peaceful society to prepare the world for the Second Coming. But if his campaign were to fail and the oppressed and downtrodden were left unprotected, he wanted to establish a place to protect them in the last days, somewhere outside the United States.
Constant threats in Missouri and Illinois, along with the ever-increasing number of Saints, had lately prompted Joseph to look westward for such a place. He did not intend to abandon Nauvoo, but he expected the church to grow beyond what the city could accommodate. Joseph wanted to find a place where the Saints could establish the kingdom of God on earth and institute just laws that would govern the Lord’s people into the Millennium.
With this in mind, Joseph thought of places like California, Oregon, and Texas, all of which were then outside the borders of the United States. “Send out a delegation and investigate the locations,” he directed the Twelve. “Find a good location where we can remove after the temple is completed and build a city in a day and have a government of our own in a healthy climate.”29
On March 10 and 11, the prophet formed a new council of men that would oversee the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom on earth.30 The council came to be known as the Council of the Kingdom of God, or the Council of Fifty. Joseph wanted vigorous debate in the council and encouraged its members to speak their minds and say what was in their hearts.
Before adjourning their first meeting, council members spoke enthusiastically about creating a government of their own under a new constitution that reflected the mind of God. They believed it would serve as a standard to the people and fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord would establish an ensign to the nations to gather His children together in the last days.31
During this time, Joseph appeared weighed down in meetings with church leaders. He believed something important was about to happen. “It may be that my enemies will kill me,” he said, “and in case they should, and the keys and power which rest on me not be imparted to you, they will be lost from the earth.” He said he felt compelled to confer upon the Twelve Apostles all priesthood keys so he could rest assured that the work of the Lord would continue.32
“Upon the shoulders of the Twelve must the responsibility of leading this church henceforth rest until you shall appoint others to succeed you,” he said to the apostles. “Thus can this power and these keys be perpetuated in the earth.”
The way ahead would not be easy, Joseph warned them. “If you are called to lay down your lives, die like men,” he said. “After they have killed you, they can harm you no more. Should you have to walk right into danger and the jaws of death, fear no evil. Jesus Christ has died for you.”33
Joseph sealed on the heads of the apostles all the priesthood keys they needed to carry on the Lord’s work without him, including the sacred keys of the sealing power.34 “I roll the burden and responsibility of leading this church off from my shoulders and onto yours,” he said. “Now round up your shoulders and stand under it like men, for the Lord is going to let me rest a while.”
Joseph no longer appeared weighed down. His face was clear and full of power. “I feel as light as a cork—I feel that I am free,” he told the men. “I thank my God for this deliverance.”35