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Interpreting Interpreter
Expositor-Based Exposition

This post is a summary of the article “Turning Type into Pi: The Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor in Historical Context” by Craig L. Foster in Volume 58 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Foster provides historical context for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, suggesting that harsh action against press outlets was far from unique in 19th century America.


The Summary

In this article, Craig L. Foster argues that the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor fits well in the volitive environment of mid-19th century America, showing a number of examples where presses were destroyed or editors attacked. This includes examples of newspaper type being “pied”, indicating the specific practice of mixing and jumbling an otherwise sorted set of type, a practice common enough to be defined in the 1828 Webster’s dictionary. After providing the historical details of the fateful event in Nauvoo, including contemporaneous descriptions of it as “unparalleled”, Foster demonstrates a number of cases that indeed appear to be close parallels. He first describes press-destruction by extralegal mob action, including the following (organized here chronologically):

Foster then turns to examples of both legal and extra-legal action conducted directly by civil authorities, including:

Though he is clear that he is neither condemning or condoning the actions in Nauvoo, Foster argues that mob violence was viewed as commonplace, citing figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Cassius M. Clay. Whether these acts were condemned or lauded generally depended on the political persuasion of those involved. The irony is that mobs usually believed they were being hypersensitive to the law instead of in conflict with it, a fact that aligns with the intense legal deliberation of the Nauvoo City Council—the Council appeared to genuinely believe that they were within their legal rights to destroy the press, a belief which, though likely mistaken in their specific claims, may have ultimately had merit.


The Reflection

As Foster recognizes, it’s possible to frame the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor as relatively unprecedented—all you have to do is split enough hairs. If one wants to count only the successful destruction of a press under a city’s own legal authority, then Nauvoo does appear to be the first. But it seems odd to me that “unprecedented” somehow implies “worse.” If a mob had risen up on its own to destroy the Expositor, as suggested by Thomas Ford, then perhaps Joseph or the City Council might have been shielded from some of the blame, and one could claim a substantial amount of historical precedent. But, like John Taylor, I have a hard time seeing that as the better alternative. That the Nauvoo City Council is unique in its attempt to align with the law of the land, rather than engage in extralegal vigilante justice, strikes me as a substantial point in their favor. That some instead see it as a special indicator of villainy, in the context of the examples cited by Foster, may tell me more about them than about conditions in Nauvoo.

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