In his personal diaries Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, emerges as a believable and human religious leader, willing to allow both descendants and followers a complete look at his innovative beliefs and complex personality. “I enjoyed myself by my own fireside with many friends around me,” he recalled of a quiet moment at home. “I drank a glass of beer at Moisser’s,” he dictated with equal frankness. An enthusiast for winter activities, Smith would often close his office whenever it snowed to go sledding with his son Frederick or to take his wife Emma sleighing.
Occasionally short-tempered, Smith once told detractors to “hide their heads in a hollow pumpkin and never take it out.” He could lose patience with people who left meetings before the benediction and with young men who sneaked onto the women’s side of the congregation. People asked him why he used “such flat and vulgar expressions,” but on occasion he could transcend his frontier parlance and speak in eloquent metaphor, such as when he described the resurrection: “It is pleasing for friends to lie down together locked in the arms of love, to sleep, and [awake] locked in each others’ embrace [to] renew their conversation.”
Throughout these diaries significant events are recorded, such as the first ritualistic washings, perfumings, anointings, and washing of feet; early sealings and polygamous marriages (often recorded in shorthand); meetings of the Council of Fifty; and other important episodes in the history of the development of the Restoration church.
Published for the first time in their entirety, the personal diaries of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (1805-44) provide an unequaled view of this controversial American religious leader. Previous compilations of carefully selected and sometimes rewritten passages of Smith’s diaries and journals do not capture the intensity of the present, unexpurgated edition.
Scott H. Faulring, editor of An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, is a graduate of Brigham Young University. A career Air Force officer, he and his family have lived in Vogelweh, Germany, and in Izmir, Turkey, but returned to his alma mater so he could teach military history there. He is now employed by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, located on the BYU campus, and is preparing a documentary history of Oliver Cowdery.