SALT LAKE CITY — The latest Joseph Smith Papers volume doesn’t read like a John Grisham legal thriller, but there is plenty of courtroom drama, according to historian Jeffrey D. Mahas.

After a failed assassination attempt, Missourians want the Prophet extradited. Joseph Smith is brought before a judge in Illinois. He’s represented by a prominent lawyer. Among the dignitaries in attendance is a future first lady of the United States. Smith receives help from a politician later viewed by many as an enemy. Ultimately, he prevails. Songs and poems are written in tribute to “Joseph’s greatest legal victory.”

The latest Joseph Smith Papers release is “Documents, Vol. 11: September 1842-February 1843.” | Joseph Smith Papers

“As far as dramatic events go, it’s up there in Joseph’s life,” Mahas said. “It’s a pretty good one.”

Documents detailing “Joseph’s greatest legal victory” are are among those found in “Documents, Volume 11: September 1842-February 1843.” The new volume was released this week.

“Documents, Volume 11” is the 22nd installment of the Joseph Smith Papers series, which launched in 2008.

This latest volume, edited by Mahas, Spencer W. McBride, Brett D. Dowdle and Tyson Reeder, features 105 documents that will help readers gain a deeper understanding of Joseph Smith as president of the church, as mayor of Nauvoo, and as a man trying to protect himself, his family and the Latter-day Saints from persecution. Among the documents are letters, editorials, reports of discourses, municipal and legal documents and poems.

The documents chronicle the work and growth of the church during the Nauvoo period. Readers can learn more about instructions for recording baptisms for the dead, an uplifting letter that became a section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the international church and why Latter-day Saints carried their own chairs to church meetings.

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“Once Joseph is freed to go about his business again in January 1843, you see this explosion of documents. You see him resuming his duties and you see this kind of pervasive optimism in Nauvoo again,” McBride said. “Their troubles aren’t over by any stretch, but there’s a real sense that the future has never been brighter for Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo.”

Rare court victory

One of the main themes in the volume is Joseph Smith’s efforts to elude attempts to arrest and extradite him to Missouri for false accusations of his involvement in the failed assassination attempt on former Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs.

As a result, Joseph spent most of September, October and November 1842 in hiding. Some of his friends and allies traveled to Springfield, Illinois, where influential lawyer Justin Butterfield offered to work on Joseph’s case. They also meet state Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Douglas, and newly elected Gov. Thomas Ford, who was elected with support of the Latter-day Saints.

“Everyone agrees that Missouri’s extradition attempt is flawed,” Mahas said.

When Joseph later appeared at a federal hearing in Springfield, every dignitary and prominent resident showed up to see him. They attended a meeting in the state capitol where several apostles preached a sermon, Mahas said.

“This is the most exciting thing that has happened in Springfield in a long time,” Mahas said.

For the first time, women were allowed to be present in the small courtroom. The only available space was on either side of the judge. Newlywed Mary Todd Lincoln was among the group of wives and daughters of prominent residents, Mahas said.

With his lawyer dressed in his finest coat and vest, things couldn’t go better for Joseph. The judge ruled that Missouri’s claims to arrest the Prophet were invalid. Upon returning home, the Prophet hosted a party. Wilson Law, Willard Richards and Eliza R. Snow composed “Jubilee Songs” in praise of the political figures who assisted Joseph.

Joseph Smith commissioned this broadside of songs commemorating his legal victory in Springfield, Illinois. He personally distributed copies of the songs at a party held on Jan. 18, 1843, to celebrate his release. | Joseph Smith Papers

“Even though the court doesn’t say he’s innocent, you have a federal court that has ruled in favor of Joseph Smith,” Mahas said. “This is probably the biggest and most vindicating legal victory of Joseph’s life.”

One of those instrumental allies was Ford, who is later viewed in a negative light for his role in events surrounding Joseph’s death at Carthage Jail in 1844, Dowdle said.

“We don’t think about it but Ford starts out as one of Joseph’s greatest political allies,” Mahas said.

D&C 128

While in hiding — a form of self-isolation people today might relate to — Joseph Smith penned a letter to the Latter-day Saints on Sept. 7, 1842, which is now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 128.

“He’s hiding in the home of Edward Hunter, can’t leave and doesn’t have anything to do,” Dowdle said. “Joseph utilizes this time.”

He takes advantage by communicating additional instructions to the church for keeping more accurate records regarding baptisms for the dead.

“It’s a remarkable document ... that gives understanding into how the practice of baptism for the dead was developed,” Dowdle said.

Near the end of the letter, Joseph also provides hope and encouragement for the Saints during challenging times with these inspiring words:

“Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren, and on, on to the victory!”

Queen Victoria gift

A letter from apostle Lorenzo Snow to Joseph Smith, dated Oct. 10, 1842, gives details about the growth of the church in London.

One item in the letter that stands out is when Snow describes delivering a copy of the Book of Mormon that has been specially bound in fine leather to a person who is able to get it to Queen Victoria. An image of the book’s cover is found in the volume.

“I think this letter is fun for anyone who is interested in the international church and its growth,” Dowdle said.

The cover of Queen Victoria’s Book of Mormon. Prior to his departure from England, Brigham Young arranged for the creation of two ornately decorated copies of the 1841 British edition of the Book of Mormon that would be presented to Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. The books were completed by early 1842, but missionary Lorenzo Snow was unable to find a way to deliver them until October 1842, when he gave them to Sir Henry Wheatley, the queen’s keeper of the privy purse. | Courtesy Royal Collection Trust.

From a footnote

During this period the church didn’t have a permanent place for large gatherings. In times of inclement weather, they met in homes. When the weather was nice, they met in a grove of trees near the temple site, which was under construction.

In September 1842, Joseph Smith proposed the building of a temporary floor in the temple to allow the Saints to meet in a large space, despite walls of various lengths and not having a roof.

“I can’t say this was Joseph’s motivation for sure, but at that time for a number of reasons tithing and donations to the temple were waning,” McBride said. “So how do you reenergize the Latter-day Saints for the building of the temple? One possible way of doing that is to start having events at the temple.”

One of McBride’s favorite descriptions of the Saints meeting in the temple comes from a nonmember living in Nauvoo named Charlotte Haven, who writes to her mother about seeing the people dressed in their Sunday best carrying benches, stools and chairs. The historian and editor talks about Haven’s letter, a footnote in the volume, in a video.

‘But a man’

Church leaders often greeted new converts as they arrived in Nauvoo.

On Oct. 29, 1842, Joseph Smith addressed just such a group with a short discourse.

His journal records: “He said he was but a man and they must not expect him to be perfect; if they expect perfection from him, he should expect it from them, but if they would bear with his infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, he would likewise bear with their infirmities.”

McBride said Joseph’s message can be a helpful and relevant approach to studying church history.

“Joseph Smith never claimed to be infallible. He never presented himself as infallible. He presented himself as a prophet, receiving the mind and will of God,” McBride said. “But in all of his leadership roles he is ‘but a man.’ I like this because it gives us a lens through which to view church history. We can celebrate the great things that occurred without expecting perfection from the men and women who were leading the Saints at the time.”

Visit to learn more about the Joseph Smith Papers project.