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The Council of Fifty

          Another secret pseudo-religious group found in Nauvoo was called the “Council of Fifty.”  Like the Endowed Quorum, it was referred to by other names including “the Kingdom of God,” “The Kingdom,” “the Council of the Kingdom,” or “the General Council, “the Grand Council,” “the Grand Council of Heaven” or “the Grand Council of God.”[1]

          The Council of Fifty was organized  by Joseph Smith and the Quorum of the Twelve (all of whom were members) on 10 March 1844.  As its name implies, it was composed of fifty men but usually varied from that number.  It was unique among the councils established by President Smith in that its membership could include individuals who were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[2]

          In Nauvoo, the Council of Fifty was a secret council,[3] with members bound by an oath of secrecy[4] and minutes of its meetings kept confidential.[5]  Once established in the West, it became more widely known to the membership of the Church. 

            The design of the Council of Fifty was to advance the Kingdom of God in political ways.  Its original duties included appealing to the Federal government for compensation for the atrocities committed in Missouri, campaigning for the presidency of Joseph Smith in 1844, preparing for the trek west, and in establishing a formal government in Utah in 1849.[6]  Ad hoc subcommittees would be selected to address specific needs.[7]   

          As a political body, Joseph Smith asked the Council to write a constitution for the Kingdom of God.  Having failed, the Prophet then provided a revelation stating:  “My People are the constitution and I am their God.”[8]  Apparently a single printed document would be insufficient, or perhaps a written constitution would be superfluous in a group that is guided by the Spirit.  The Lord mentioned the Council in an uncannonized 1882 revelation to John Taylor:  

          Behold, you are my Kingdom, and rulers in my Kingdom and then you are also many of you, rulers in my Church according to your ordinations therein. For are you not of the First Presidency, and of the Twelve Apostles, and some Presidents of Stakes, and some Bishops, and some High Priests and some Seventies and Elders therein? And are ye not all of my Church and belong to my holy Priesthood? And then, are ye not all of my kingdom, and do you not belong to my Kingdom, and are ye not the representatives thereof, even my Constitution?[9] 

          As LDS scholar Kenneth Godfrey penned: “The council... did not challenge existing systems of law and government (even in Nauvoo), but functioned more as a private organization learning to operate in a pluralistic society. Its exercise of actual political power was modest, but provided a symbol of the future theocratic kingdom of God.  Always, the Fifty functioned under the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who were also members of the council.”[10]

           Without exception during its existence, the Church President served as chairman of the Council.  Although the Council of Fifty was technically not a religious organization, Brigham Young taught that it would arise out of the Church of Jesus Christ, thus producing the government of the Kingdom of God.[11]  He also explained the difference between the “Church” and the “Kingdom of God” or the Council of Fifty: 

          I will say to you with regard to the kingdom of God on the earth – Here is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized with its rules, regulations and degrees, with the quorums of the holy Priesthood, from the First Presidency to the teachers and deacons; here we are, an organization....  This is what we are in the habit of calling the kingdom of God.  But there are further organizations.  The Prophet gave a full and complete organization to this kingdom the Spring before he was killed.  This kingdom is the kingdom that Daniel spoke of, which was to be set up in the last days; it is the kingdom that is not to be given to another people; it is the kingdom that is to be held by the servants of God, to rule the nations of the earth...[12] 

          The Council of Fifty was busy with different activities until about 1850 and then fell dormant.  President John Taylor reanimated the council in 1880, but even then it met only sporadically.  Its last meeting occurred 9 October 1884.  D. Michael Quinn concluded: “The Council of Fifty was most often not functioning and was only a symbolic formality when it was functioning.”[13]

          Kenneth Godfrey assessed: “The Saints found consolation in the belief that one day, when the Savior returned, the Council of Fifty, or a council based on its principles, would rise again to govern the world under the King of Kings.”[14]

[1]  Quinn, “Council of Fifty,” 167-68.

[2]  Only three unbaptized individuals were members and they were released 4 February 1845.  See Quinn, “Council of Fifty,” 180.  Klaus J. Hansen inaccurately reported that Thomas L. Kane and Daniel H. Wells were also unbaptized members of the Council.  See Quest for Empire, 61-63.

[3]  D. Michael Quinn has written that the existence of the Council of Fifty “was common knowledge among Latter-day Saints” (“Council of Fifty,” 164) and undoubtedly this an accurate assessment after the trek to the West had begun.  However, it was a secret council up until January, 1846.  See Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 159, 163; Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 364.

[4]  “When invited into the Council [a member] must covenant by uplifted hand to maintain all things of the Council inviolate agreeable to the order of the Council.”  Ehat, “Constitution of the Kingdom,” 261.

[5]  On 22 June 1844 during the commotion that preceded the Prophet martyrdom, William Clayton recorded in his journal: “Joseph whispered and told me either to put the r[ecords] of K[ingdom] into the hands of some faithful an and send them away, or burn them, or bury them.  I concluded to bury them, which I did immediately on my return.”

[6]  Hansen, Quest for Empire, 77-78; Quinn, “Council of Fifty,” 174-75.

[7]  Alpheus Cutler claimed that in conjunction with the Council of Fifty, Joseph Smith organized a “Quorum of Seven” ordaining them to the prophetic office; with all the rights, keys, powers, privileges, and blessings belonging to that condition.  Cutler would later claim that his ordination to that quorum provided him with an undisputed right to organize and build up the kingdom the same as Joseph had done.  See Rupert J. And Daisy Whiting Fletcher, Alpheus Cutler and the Church of Jesus Christ, (Independence, Missouri: The Church of Jesus Christ, 1974), 53.  In Quinn, “Succession Crisis of 1844,” 198.  See also Quinn, “Council of Fifty,” 183-84.

[8]  Charles L. Walker Journal, 5 June 1870.  Larson, and Larson, Diary of Charles L. Walker.

[9]  Revelation to John Taylor, July 1882.  Collier, Unpublished Revelations 1:136 (Part 82:9-11).

[10]  Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:327.

[11]  JD 2:317.

[12]  JD 17:156-57.  Italics added.

[13]  Quinn, “Council of Fifty,” 170.

[14]  Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:327.