The Joseph Smith Papers project is an effort to gather together all existing Joseph Smith documents so that complete and accurate transcripts of those documents can be published.
These documents also have textual and contextual annotation.
The print and electronic publications of these papers constitute an essential resource for scholars and students of the life and work of Joseph Smith, the early church, and nineteenth-century American religion.
They provide great insight into what Joseph thought about different subjects, including freedome of religion and his thoughts on race and other important matters.
The Joseph Smith Papers project contain the Nauvoo Council of Fifty minutes.
What is perhaps the most powerful teaching in the entire Nauvoo Council of Fifty record?
Joseph Smith’s statement on religious liberty from the meeting on 11 April, 1844.
Those minutes are below, with highlighted areas drawing attention to the most salient parts (as chosen by the author of this article).
He then went on to say that for the benefit of mankind and succeeding generations, he wished it to be recorded that there are men admitted members of this honorable council who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, neither profess any creed or religious sentiment whatever, to show that in the organization of this kingdom men are not consulted as to their religious opinions or notions in any shape or form whatever, and that we act upon the broad and liberal principle that all men have equal rights and ought to be respected, and that every man has a privilege in this organization of choosing for himself voluntarily his God, and what he pleases for his religion, inasmuch as there is no danger but that every man will embrace the greatest light.
God cannot save or damn a man only on the principle that every man acts, chooses, and worships for himself; hence the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intolerance towards a man’s religious sentiments, that spirit which has drenched the earth with blood. When a man feels the least temptation to such intolerance he ought to spurn it from him.
It becomes our duty on account of this intolerance and corruption—the inalienable right of man being to think as he pleases, worship as he pleases, etc., being the first law of everything that is sacred—to guard every ground all the days of our lives. I will appeal to every man in this council, beginning at the youngest, that when he arrives to the years of hoary age he will have to say that the principles of intolerance and bigotry never had a place in this kingdom, nor in my breast, and that he is even then ready to die rather than yield to such things. Nothing can reclaim the human mind from its ignorance, bigotry, superstition, etc., but those grand and sublime principles of equal rights and universal freedom to all men. We must not despise a man on account of infirmity. We ought to love a man more for his infirmity. Nothing is more congenial to my feelings and principles than the principles of universal freedom and has been from the beginning. . . .
Let us from henceforth drive from us every species of intolerance. When a man is free from it he is capable of being a critic. When I have used every means in my power to exalt a man’s mind, and have taught him righteous principles to no effect, he is still inclined to his darkness, yet the same principles of liberty and charity would ever be manifested by me as though he embraced it. Hence in all governments or political transactions a man’s religious opinions should never be called in question. A man should be judged by the law independent of religious prejudice; hence we want in our constitution those laws which would require all its officers to administer justice without any regard to his religious opinions, or thrust him from his office.
There are only two or three things lacking in the Constitution of the United States. If they had said all men born equal, and not only that but they shall have their rights, they shall be free, or the armies of the government should be compelled to enforce those principles of liberty.
(Council of Fifty, “Record,” 11 Apr. 1844, vol. 1, pp. –, Church History Library, in Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, 97–101)