Hey guys, so I was recently watching a show called Under the Banner of Heaven, and in one of the episodes, one of the characters (a psychopathic murderer) mentioned a pamphlet called The Peacemaker, which he described as “an essential LDS tract, printed by Joseph Smith himself.” Now, the challenge with any show that is “based on a true story” is that it can be really difficult for viewers to separate fact from fiction. So that’s what we’re going to try to do today. What is The Peacemaker? Was it really an essential LDS tract? And just how involved with it was Joseph Smith? Let’s talk about it.
Alright, so The Peacemaker was published at the Nauvoo printing house in 1842. The pamphlet is 37 pages long, and in a nutshell, is basically a commentary on how society was crumbling because women exercised too much power over their husbands. The author draws from the Bible to argue that wives are essentially valuable property to their husbands—it’s really incredibly sexist. The pamphlet is also pro-polygamy, which we’ll talk more about later.
Here’s the deal: Joseph Smith did not write this pamphlet. The author was Udney Hay Jacob. The pamphlet was apparently an extract from an unpublished book that Udney had written: “sometime before March 1840, [which was] when he corresponded with [President] Martin Van Buren in an attempt to promote his work.” Udney was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this pamphlet was published. In the preface, he wrote,
“The author of this work is not a Mormon, although it is printed by their press. It was the most convenient.” Why was it convenient? Probably because Udney lived in the same county as the Saints in Illinois. His son, Norton, did join the Church in 1841 and was living in Nauvoo by the end of 1842. “My father said he had rather heard I was dead than that I was a Mormon.” In the previously mentioned letter to the President, Udney wrote, “These Mormons know but very little of me; but Sir, I know them—and I know them to be a deluded and dangerous set of fanatics, dangerous I say, as far as their influence goes.” Udney did end up joining the Church the year after the pamphlet was published, but soon left and then came back in 1845.
Nauvoo was convenient geographically, but rumors about polygamy were in the air in 1842, and while the pamphlet was not directed at members of the Church, it could be that Udney thought it might be received with some sympathy there. In any case, it wasn’t.
Soon after the pamphlet came out, Joseph Smith denounced it in the Times and Seasons: “There was a book printed at my office, a short time since, written by Udney H. Jacobs, on marriage, without my knowledge; and had I been apprised of it, I should not have printed it; not that I am opposed to any man enjoying his privileges; but I do not wish to have my name associated with the authors, in such an unmeaning rigmarole of nonsence [sic], folly, and trash.”
Now, despite Joseph’s disavowal, because the pamphlet was published in Nauvoo, had Joseph’s name on it, and dealt with polygamy, some people believe that Joseph actually was aware of it, and did want it published. For example, in the 1877 book, Mormonism Unveiled, John D. Lee claimed, “…Joseph, the Prophet, set a man by the name of Sidney Hay Jacobs, to select from the Old bible such scriptures as pertained to polygamy, or celestial marriage, and to write it in pamphlet form, and to advocate that doctrine. This he did as a feeler among the people, to pave the way for celestial marriage … Joseph saw that it would break up the Church, should he sanction it, so he denounced the pamphlet … as a bundle of nonsense and trash.”
Claims like these were not new. John Taylor addressed a similar claim in 1845, which you can pause and read. Now, it is true that Joseph was privately practicing polygamy at this time, so it’s not surprising that people would be suspicious of his potential involvement in a pro-polygamy pamphlet. But John D. Lee’s theory quickly runs into problems. For example, this is a letter written by Udney Jacob to Joseph Smith in 1844, long after the pamphlet had been published. He opens the letter by stating, “Dear sir I hope you will not consider this letter an intrusion—I have not to be sure the pleasure of a personal acquaintanse [sic] with you, nor do I know that I am worthy of that favour [sic] …” The letter suggests that even by 1844, Joseph and Udney had never met—making allegations of a conspiracy much more complicated.
But the pamphlet also teaches various ideas that Joseph clearly didn’t believe in. For example, in the preface, Udney claimed to fulfill a prophecy in Malachi about the coming of Elijah. This is in stark contradiction to D&C 110, originally recorded in Joseph’s journal in 1836, which describes a very different fulfillment of that same prophecy.
The pamphlet also teaches that marriage ends with death. Joseph, on the other hand, had already been teaching before 1842 that marriage could last beyond the grave. Historian Richard L. Bushman noted another discrepancy that you can pause and read if you’d like.
If Joseph orchestrated the publication of this pamphlet, I don’t see why he would have let things like this through which he clearly did not believe. Joseph Smith was obviously pro-polygamy at this time, but I still think it’s totally reasonable for Joseph to denounce Udney’s take on the issue, along with the other nonsense it contains.
In an 1850 edition of the Millennial Star, Eli Kelsey offered his perspective on the issue. It’s too long for me to read to you, so please pause and check it out for yourself. At the end of the day, I tend to agree with Kelsey. Not everything printed in Nauvoo was for the Church. Obviously, somebody at the press had to be aware of the pamphlet—perhaps they found it interesting—but at its core, I think this was just another print job. It was quickly and forcefully denounced, and it certainly was never an “essential LDS tract.” It wasn’t even written by a member of our faith. I do wish there was more information available about how this came to be printed, but based on the information we do have, this is what makes the most sense to me. As always you’re free to come to your own conclusions. Check out the notes and resources in the description for more info, watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day.
- Read “The Peacemaker” on BYU’s digital collections website: https://bit.ly/3PMDMQm
- “A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, Volume 1,” by Peter Crawley (see entry #165): https://bit.ly/38Dd5ww
- “A New Look at the Alleged Little Known Discourse by Joseph Smith” via BYU Studies (1969): https://bit.ly/3NAg47Y
- “Question: Did Joseph Smith write a pro-polygamy pamphlet called The Peace Maker in 1842?” via FAIR: https://bit.ly/3MTKaDj
- “A Little-known Defense of Polygamy from the Mormon Press in 1842” via Dialogue Journal: https://bit.ly/3PZY9JD
- “Printing office, Nauvoo, Illinois,” via the Joseph Smith Papers: https://bit.ly/3LN0DYA
- Mini-biography of Udney Hay Jacob with sources (JSPP): https://bit.ly/3xgrW9L
- Mini-biography of John D. Lee with sources (JSPP): https://bit.ly/38msEbW
- 1844 (January 6) letter from Udney Jacob to Joseph Smith, via The Joseph Smith Papers Project: https://bit.ly/3x46PWK
- 1857 (March 5) letter from Udney Jacob to Brigham Young, via the Church History Catalog: https://bit.ly/3mvrQFf
- “The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal,” Dean Jessee (editor), BYU Studies (quoted in video): https://bit.ly/3GVoGE4
- There is a book called “The Life of Norton Jacob” (Udney’s son) at the BYU Library that I have not read yet, but here’s a link to the item information nonetheless, if interested: https://bit.ly/3Ml7Org