Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lawsuits Involving Joseph Smith Jr.

The LDS Church is currently sponsoring a project to identify all of the papers that exist which related to
Joseph Smith, and many of them are legal cases. Probably 5
to 6 of the 30 volumes in this series will
contain law cases. The first edition has
just been printed (and sold out)Info on the Joseph Smith papers
project can be
found at

One of the attorneys working on the Joseph Smith Papers project gave a presentation of the scope of Joseph
Smith's legal involvement. See: Joseph I. Bentley, "Legal Trials of the Prophet: Joseph Smith's Day
in Court," FAIR Conference (Sandy, Utah), Aug. 3, 2006,

Joseph Bently estimates Joseph Smith was involved in over 200 lawsuits during his life, with 48 of
these criminal cases with Joseph Smith as the defendant (and non of those cases ended in a conviction).

You could get a pretty good listing by going through, page by page, the orange-colored entries for legal
events in the recent publication:
"A Chronology of the Life of Joseph Smith," BYU Studies, vol. 46, No.
4, 2007. This journal is at both BYU libraries: HBLL Periodicals BX 8605.1.B76b V.46 ; BYU Law
Periodicals K 2 .R49 V.46. This is a printed and updated
version of an online chronology at: Note: many of the legal events are not listed in the online chronology since
they were not
known when that chronology was posted in late 2005 for the bicentennial of
Joseph Smith's birth.

Academic law libraries only contain court cases that have been appealed to a higher court. Since none of
the court cases involving Joseph Smith in the 1800s were ever appealed (as far as I'm aware), the printed
volumes and legal databases at the BYU Hunter Law Library will not have any of his cases. Instead, the
trial-level court cases will be in the archives of courthouses in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Since
many of those courthouses (especially Missouri) were burned down in the American Civil War (after Joseph
Smith's time), finding relevant legal documents had been considered impossible by most. It has only been in
the past three years with the Joseph Smith Papers Project that many legal documents have been found in
federal archives and institutions, so there's very little written by historians about these materials (as their
[re]discovery has been so recent).

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