Part II of the series is available here. EDITORIAL NOTE: This post contains links to various transcripts of the “King Follett Discourse” which I have prepared. I prepared them quickly, so it is best to check against the originals for any meaningful analysis.
Joseph Smith delivered the “King Follett Discourse” (KFD) on April 7, 1844. It was his last General Conference. Joseph had lost several close associates to apostasy and Navuoo was tense. Joseph defied his critics, and with the KFD, Joseph showed his hand, pledging as proof that he was not “a fallen prophet,” details of his ultimate theology. The critics had a field-day with the content and Joseph made his rebuttal on June 16, in what is commonly called the “Sermon in the Grove.” The KFD is perhaps the most famous of all Joseph’s sermons, but the text of the most common printings has followed and interesting and, at times, strained route. This post is the first of a two part series reviewing the history of this text.
Unlike the leaders of the Church in Utah, clerks, trained in short hand, were never available to record the sermons of Joseph Smith. Fortunately, several individuals habitually recorded notes and or longhand transcriptions of Joseph’s teachings. At the April 1844 conference, there were several:
Bullock was the official scribe for the general conference. His record of Joseph Smith’s sermon, with the rest of the conference minutes are available in the “Church Historian’s Office General Church Minutes, 1839-1877,” LDS Archives. High quality digital images of the holograph record are available in Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2 vols., DVD (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, [Dec. 2002], 1:18.
William Clayton was Joseph’s personal scribe. His diary accounts of Joseph Smith’s teachings are an invaluable resource and have even been used for the text of sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. Clayton’s journal is located in the LDS Archives and the Joseph Smith years are restricted from public access. In the late 1970′s Andrew Ehat was granted access to the restricted Clayton diaries and made transcript extracts of approximately 50% of this journal for use in his publishing and scholarly pursuits. (1) A copy of this transcript was stolen from a colleague’s office and given to the Tanners who published it. Lawsuits ensued. Ehat won, but the decision was overturned on appeal. (2) George Smith later edited these transcripts and included them in the widely cited, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995). (3)
Richards was Joseph’s secretary and as such wrote Joseph Smith’s journal. The holograph is located in the LDS Archives, which have been digitally reproduced in Selected Collections, 1:20. Scott Faulring edited the Joseph Smith journals (other than the entries in the “Book of the Law of the Lord”) and published them as An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, Inc., 1987). Faulring’s edition was hugely important, however it was also frequently heavily and silently edited. Subsequently, Dean Jessee started a serial publication of the Papers of Joseph Smith. (4) The first volume included historical and autobiographical writings and the second comprised the Joseph Smith diaries to 1842. The 1843-44 diaries were to be included in volume three; however, for a number of reasons, not excluding internal politics within LDS Church administration, the volume was never published. The Joseph Smith Papers project took over, with expansive (but not hasty) glory, and we expect to see a volume covering this later period to appear approximately summer 2010.
Wilford Woodruff, an early apostle and prodigious journal keeper, frequently recorded Joseph Smith’s sermons. Woodruff’s journals, approximately 7,000 holograph pages, cover the years of 1833-1898. Woodruff stipulated that his journals stay in the possession of his family and that his history should eventually be published. In 1981, the Woodruff Family Association contracted with Signature Books to publish what is one of the most foundational extant Mormon historical sources. (5)
George Laub was a Pennsylvania native who arrived in Nauvoo during the Spring of 1843. Eugene England edited one of his holograph journals (LDS Archives, MS 1983) for BYU Studies. (6) Laub included in his journal some Joseph Smith sermon transcripts. However, as Ehat and Cook note, there are some inconsistencies in his record:
Unquestionably, the date George Laub assigned to this transcript is incorrect. He did not arrive in Nauvoo until 9 May 1843, a month after the date given for the sermon (6 April 1843). Because he did not begin his journal until 1 January 1845, these notes of the Prophet’s “King Follett” sermon…were not transcribed into his journal until at least eight months after the [sermon was] delivered. This probably accounts for his error in dating this and the other sermons.
Of course, this leads to a question regarding the strict contemporaneousness of these notes. There are a number of evidences in this report, however, which suggest that it is based on contemporary notes. (For example, see the incidental note that Joseph Smith “referred to 6 chapter of Hebrews.”) Nevertheless, because the notes really are only a summary of the major points of the “King Follett” sermon, and because George Laub indicates that this account was from “memory,” the account included here is given without further annotation. (7)
Moreover, the source used by Ehat and Cook as well as England, was Reminiscences and Journal, 1845-1846, MS 1983, LDS Church Archives. This was a later edited and revised copy of the original journal, MS 9628, which was not available when they did their studies (though it is now available at the LDS Church History Library). It appears that the JS sermon material was added to MS 1983 in Utah at some point and is not included in MS 9628.
Typescripts of these five contemporaneous accounts are available to scholars. Ehat and Cook’s Words of Joseph Smith (see note 1) was the first and standard scholarly production of texts. Their 1980 and 1991 editions however, omitted the George Laub account. This was rectified in the 1996 digital edition. Ehat has worked to further revise and expand the volume and is expected to produce a third edition in 2008. Additionally, W. V. Smith at the online Book of Abraham Project has compiled the Parallel Joseph in which the various sources are arranged in columns according to their correspondence. The Parallel Joseph version of the KFD is available here. For some additional details about the holograph records, see the introduction to Stan Larsen’s 1978 amalgamated text. (8)
Times and Seasons
In the months following the KFD, editors combined the Bullock and Clayton accounts and published them as No Author, “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons 5 (August 15, 1844): 612-617 (PDF Typescript). This version of the KFD was published in the Fall of 1844 in the Millennial Star. The transcript is 4,760 words and approximates about 30% of that actual sermon. (9)
“History of Joseph Smith”
Joseph Smith was killed before he and his scribes finished his history. In the subsequent decades, the folks in the Church Historians Office pulled sources from all over the place to compile the “Manuscript History of the Church.” This process is best described in Howard Searle’s dissertation (see note 9). Specifically, Searle has a nice section on the amalgamation of sources that uses the KFD as an example. (10) Basically, the Church historians took the T&S account of the KFD and beefed it up using the Woodruff and Richards accounts of the sermon. A marginal note in the “Manuscript History,” text of the discourse states, “Compiled from the four reports by Jonathan Grimshaw; carefully revised and compared by George A. Smith and Thomas Bullock, read in Council Sunday 18th Nov. 1855, and carefully revised by President Brigham Young.” (11) This was standard practice for the reconstruction of Joseph’s sermons. This textual expansion resulted in increasing the word count of the T&S version by approximately 50%. The “Manuscript History” was serialized in the Deseret News and the KFD was published as “History of Joseph Smith: April 1844,” Deseret News 7 (July 8, 1857): 137-138 (PDF typescript).
Using the wonders of technology, I have produced a textual comparison of the T&S version and the “History of Joseph Smith” version. In this comparison it is quite easy to see how the Church Historians retained the general structure of the T&S version, supplementing the form with additional materials.
Part II of this study will look at the most controversial period of the KFD history, and have lots of fun geekery.
- Most famously, Ehat worked with Lyndon Cook to produce the seminal Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UH: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980). This volume was reprinted by Grandin Book Company (Orem Ut, 1991) and the text was revised for a second edition, first computer edition in 1996. This digital version is available through various Mormon digital collections, including, Gospelink and LDS Library. However, the bulk of Ehat’s notes found their use in his very important unpublished masters thesis: “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982).
- 780 F.2d 876, Tenth Circuit – Andrew F. Ehat, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Modern Microfilm Company, Defendants-Appellants., US.FEDERAL.ca10.
- For more information on the publication history of Ehat’s transcript as well as a critical review of their content see, James B. Allen, “An intimate chronicle: the journals of William Clayton [Book review],” BYU Studies 35, no. 2 (1995), 165-175.
- Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989-1992).
- Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833-1898, typescript, edited by Scott G. Kenney, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-85).
- Eugene England, “George Laub’s Nauvoo Journal,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978), 157-58.
- Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, 2nd ed. rev., 1st computer ed., (1996), June 7 (2), 1844, note 124.
- Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1977-78), 193-208.
- Howard Clair Searle, “Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons, 1830-1858″ (Ph.D. Diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1979), 277.
- Ibid., 275-283.
- Ibid., 282.