There are 2 thoughts on “The Council of Fifty and Its Minutes: A Review”.

  1. Kudos to Stephen Smoot for an excellent summary of the contents and significance of this publication, adding insights and perspectives on the volume that were insufficiently treated in previous reviews.
    One important subject that is addressed in a balanced fashion in the JSP volume that is neither treated in Smoot’s essay nor in any detail in the reviews I have seen so far is how the minutes bear on the question of the context and timing of the “Last Charge” that Joseph Smith gave to the Twelve, including his stated intention to “roll the burden of the kingdom” off his shoulders and on to theirs. (Ronald Esplin briefly addresses the question of *dating* of the last charge on pp. 15-16 of his BYU Studies article, and Brian Whitney’s online dismissively asserts that an earlier search for the “last charge” in the minutes “didn’t pan out”).
    On pp. 62-63 of the JSP Volume, the editors note that this:
    “significant event likely occurred in this meeting [i.e., the meeting of the Council of Fifty held on 26 March 1844], probably in the morning session, about which the minutes are silent but which council members discussed a year later in connection with a written summary prepared by Orson Hyde. Clayton’s brief note that JS spoke ‘on heavenly things and many other important subjects’ likely marks what was later referred to as JS’s ‘last charge.’ This may have been an extension of the charge relating the history, purpose, and rules of the council that was typically given to new members and that JS may have delivered in this meeting. The most complete recorded version of this charge was written down by Thomas Bullock in December 1846. On that occasion William Clayton related that at the organization of the Council of Fifty, JS stated that the council served two purposes: it was to establish ‘the Kingdom spoken of by Daniel’ and ‘to take from his [JS’s] shoulders a great weight of responsibility & place it in others.'”
    Why is it important that this signal event not be forgotten in discussions of the Council of Fifty? First, it constituted, according to Clayton’s minutes of JS’s remarks, one of the two primary purposes of the organization of the Council of Fifty. Second, it is one of the cornerstones on which the Church’s belief in apostolic succession from Joseph Smith rests.
    True it is that we possess several firsthand accounts of the “Last Charge” meeting. However, because none of them were written until several months afterward, and since all of them were recorded by parties with potential self-interest due to their roles as participants, some have expressed frustration and doubt as to whether or not the incidents really happened as they have been reported. The publication of the Council of Fifty minutes gives the best evidence currently available for a plausible date and setting for the meeting, consistent with retrospective accounts by participants.
    For a list of primary sources relating to the “Last Charge,” see the endnotes on pp. 62-63 of the JSP volume. Going beyond what was purposed in the JSP volume, Andrew F. Ehat’s writings on the subject perceptively illuminate the meaning and significance of the “Last Charge.” Ronald Esplin has also written previously on the subject. Richard Holzapfel has written extensively (including a chapter with Smoot’s father, Stephen H. Smoot) about the “Last Charge,” emphasizing in particular Wilford Woodruff’s later testimony of this event.
    All these references (and more) with up-to-date perspectives on this significant event (including gracious contributions from Church historians and others involved in the preparation of the Council of Fifty volume) can be found in my recent Interpreter Journal article ( ). It also includes the first publication of Dennison Lott Harris’ reminiscence of JS’s words relating to the “Last Charge.” Dennison’s account is significant because it is the only reminiscence by an outside observer (vs. a potentially self-interested participant) that gives an account of events purporting to have occurred on the very day of the “Last Charge” was given.

  2. Interesting review. There is much to learn and to ponder in these minutes.
    It is also interesting that at the Ancient American archaeological site, Ocmulgee, in the State of Georgia, they uncovered and restored a circular council chamber with 47 seats carved into the clay, and 3 more, on a raised dias in the shape of a bird.
    Ancient Council of Fifty?

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