“Council of Fifty,” Church History Topics
“Council of Fifty”
Less than four months before his death in 1844, Joseph Smith convened a council to discuss proposed Latter-day Saint settlements in areas that were then outside the United States, such as in California and Texas. The council deliberated not only about how Church leaders would govern these settlements but about how to establish a political kingdom or government in preparation for the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith and his associates saw this council as the beginning of such a kingdom. The council was composed of about 50 members who typically referred to it as the “Kingdom of God” or the “Council of Fifty.”1
Joseph Smith intended the council to function separately from the Church. While the Church was responsible for spiritual concerns and the eternal salvation of God’s children, the Council of Fifty was a political or civic organization formed to “govern men in civil matters.” Many of Joseph’s closest associates participated in the council, including members of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Nauvoo High Council.2 Joseph also admitted three non-Mormons to the council.
The Latter-day Saints’ desire to lay the foundation for a new civil government was partly in response to the persecution they had experienced in Missouri. Joseph Smith and other Church leaders became convinced that the local, state, and national governments were either unwilling to defend or incapable of protecting the Church’s rights as a religious minority. One important purpose of the council was to adopt measures that would protect the “religious rights and worship” of the Latter-day Saints and others.3 The council’s minutes contain powerful teachings from Joseph Smith about religious liberty. He spoke of “the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intolerance towards a man’s religious sentiments.”4
During the spring of 1844, the council met frequently to draft a constitution, promote Joseph Smith’s 1844 campaign for president of the United States, and identify potential sites for gathering in the American West. After Joseph Smith’s death, the council reconvened in 1845 and early 1846 under the direction of Brigham Young to make decisions about governing Nauvoo, to build diplomatic relations with American Indians, and to prepare for the Latter-day Saint exodus to the West.
In Utah the council met sporadically between the late 1840s and the 1860s. John Taylor reorganized the council in 1880, but meetings ceased before the end of that decade.5