William Law (Latter Day Saints)
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|Born||September 8, 1809(1809-09-08)
County Tyrone, Ireland, United Kingdom
|Died||August 5, 1892(1892-08-05) (aged 88)
|Second Counselor in the First Presidency|
|Called by||Joseph Smith, Jr.|
|Start of term||January 24, 1841(1841-01-24) (aged 36)|
|End of term||April 18, 1844(1844-04-18) (aged 39)|
|End reason||Excommunicated for apostasy|
William Law (8 September 1809 – 5 August 1892) was an important figure in the early history of the Latter Day Saint movement, holding a position in the early church’s First Presidency under Joseph Smith, Jr. Law was later excommunicated from the church and was the founder of the short-lived True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Law was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, as the youngest of five children. His family moved to the United States around 1820, and he eventually ended up in Upper Canada. At the age of 24 he married Jane Silverthorn, who was 19 years old.
Law and his wife joined the Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1836, through the efforts of John Taylor and Almon W. Babbitt. He led a group of Canadian saints to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1839 and in 1841, Joseph Smith chose him to be a member of the First Presidency.
As time progressed, Law became troubled by certain practices of Smith. He felt the prophet was uniting church and state in Nauvoo, Illinois by evading extradition to be tried for crimes in Missouri. He also thought Smith used his church authority to sway political outcomes. However, it was Smith’s covert practice of polygamy that caused Law to completely separate himself. Rumors circulated that Smith had made several proposals to Law’s wife Jane, under the premise that Jane Law would enter a polyandrous marriage with Smith. Law and his wife confirmed that these rumors were true. According to Jane, Smith visited her at night when he knew William would not be home and propositioned her, suggesting to her that it was God’s will that she enter into a polyandrous marriage with Smith (even though she was still married to Law). Jane Law described Smith’s proposals, saying that Smith had “asked her to give him half her love; she was at liberty to keep the other half for her husband.” She refused Smith’s request to marry him as a polyandrous plural wife. Law still believed Mormonism to be true, but he viewed Smith as a fallen prophet.
On January 8, 1844 Law was informed that he was no longer a counselor to Smith in the First Presidency. He was shocked and frustrated. He demanded a rehearing of his case, because the procedures for removal from the First Presidency had not been followed. The rehearing was granted and on April 18, 1844 he was tried again. However, this time he was tried as if he were a private member and not a high-ranking church official. Once again he felt this went against church protocol. The following day he was informed of his excommunication on grounds of apostasy. At this point, he felt Smith was beyond saving, and that it was his duty to expose him to the rest of the Mormon community.
Law met privately after his excommunication with other opponents of Smith and formed a group. After they were joined by two boys, Dennison L. Harris and Robert Scott, they were exposed after these boys reported their plans to Smith. Shortly thereafter, Law created the True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and became its President. On June 8, 1844 Law and his followers published the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper which outlined Law’s contentions against Smith, including the then-secret practice of plural marriage. The reaction to the newspaper was not what Law expected, and after two days of consultation, the printing press was ordered destroyed by the Nauvoo city council. It was destroyed later that day.
For many years, Law was accused of being a member or a leader of the mob that killed Smith. However, Law’s diary shows that he was not in Carthage at the time of the murder, though he had been present there earlier in the day. Although Law expresses outrage and remorse at Smith’s death in his private journal, he goes on to say that it was Smith’s goal “to demoralize the world, to give it to Satan, his master …. He claimed to be a god, whereas he was only a servant of the Devil, and as such he met his fate.”
- ^ a b c d Cook, Lyndon W. “William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter”. (10.2 MB) BYU Studies. Winter, 1982. Vol. 22, no. 1, p. 47-72
- ^ a b Jessee, Dean C., editor The Papers of Joseph Smith Vol. 2 pg.565
- ^ “Polygamy, Persecution And Power”, Salt Lake Tribune, June 16, 1996, paragraph 16, 17
- ^ “Wife no. 19”, Ann Eliza Young, 1875, page 61
- ^ “Wife no. 19”, Ann Eliza Young, 1875, page 61 [These allegations from Ann Eliza Young can only be hearsay; Young was not even born until after Joseph Smith’s death.]
- ^ Supplement to the Millennial Star, August 1844 p. 2 (This document can be found online by doing a key word search at http://www.lib.byu.edu/online.html?tab=4)
- ^ Doctrine and Covenants (Covenant 135)
- ^ An unnamed witness said he saw Law at the jail at the time of the killing: Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 (April 1888). Willard Richards, who was present with Smith in Carthage Jail at the time of the killing, included Law on his list of murderers of Smith: History of the Church 7:146. It is unknown whether Richards meant that he saw Law in the mob, or whether he merely suspected Law of being a behind-the-scenes organizer.
- ^ Diary of William Law, 12–13.
- ^ Diary of William Law, 13–14.