The Mormons In Politics - Missouri Requisitions For Smith

The Mormons were now equipped in their new home with large landed

possessions, a capital city that exhibited a phenomenal growth,

and a form of local government which made Nauvoo a little

independency of itself; their prophet wielding as much authority

and receiving as much submission as ever; a Temple under way

which would excel anything that had been designed in Ohio or

Missouri, and a stream of immigration pouring in which gave

assurance of continued numerical increase. What were the causes

of the complete overthrow of this apparent prosperity which so

speedily followed? These causes were of a twofold character,

political and social. The two were interwoven in many ways, but

we can best trace them separately.

We have seen that a Democratic organization gave the first

welcome to the Mormon refugees at Quincy. In the presidential

campaign of 1836 the vote of Illinois had been: Democratic,

17,275, Whig, 14,292; that of Hancock County, Democratic, 260,

Whig, 340. The closeness of this vote explained the welcome that

was extended to the new-comers.

It does not appear that Smith had any original party

predilections. But he was not pleased with questions which

President Van Buren asked him when he was in Washington (from

November, 1839, to February, 1840) seeking federal aid to secure

redress from Missouri, and he wrote to the High Council from that

city, "We do not say the Saints shall not vote for him, but we do

say boldly (though it need not be published in the streets of

Nauvoo, neither among the daughters of the Gentiles), that we do

not intend he shall have our votes."*

* Millennial Star, Vol. XVII, p.452.

On his return to Illinois Smith was toadied to by the workers of

both parties. He candidly told them that he had no faith in

either; but the Whigs secured his influence, and, by an

intimation that there was divine authority for their course, the

Mormon vote was cast for Harrison, giving him a majority of 752

in Hancock County. In order to keep the Democrats in good humor,

the Mormons scratched the last name on the Whig electoral ticket

(Abraham Lincoln)* and substituted that of a Democrat. This

demonstration of their political weight made the Mormons an

object of consideration at the state capital, and was the direct

cause of the success of the petition which they sent there,

signed by some thousands of names, asking for a charter for

Nauvoo. The representatives of both parties were eager to show

them favor. Bennett, in a letter to the Times and Seasons from

Springfield, spoke of the readiness of all the members to vote

for what the Mormons wanted, adding that "Lincoln had the

magnanimity to vote for our act, and came forward after the final

vote and congratulated me on its passage."

*This is mentioned in "Joab's" (Bermett's) letter, Times and

Seasons, Vol, II, p. 267.

In the gubernatorial campaign of 1841-1842 Smith swung the Mormon

vote back to the Democrats, giving them a majority of more than

one thousand in the county. This was done publicly, in a letter

addressed "To my friends in Illinois,"* dated December 20, 1841,

in which the prophet, after pointing out that no persons at the

state capital were more efficient in securing the passage of the

Nauvoo charter than the heads of the present Democratic ticket,

made this declaration:--

* Times and Seasons, Vol. III, p. 651.

"The partisans in this county who expect to divide the friends of

humanity and equal rights will find themselves mistaken. We care

not a fig for Whig or Democrat; they are both alike to us; but we

shall go for our friends, OUR TRIED FRIENDS, and the cause of

human liberty which is the cause of God . . . . Snyder and Moore

are known to be our friends . . . . We will never be justly

charged with the sin of ingratitude,--they have served us, and we

will serve them."

If Smith had been a man possessing any judgment, he would have

realized that the political course which he was pursuing, instead

of making friends in either party, would certainly soon arraign

both parties against him and his followers. The Mormons announced

themselves distinctly to be a church, and they were now

exhibiting themselves as a religious body already numerically

strong and increasing in numbers, which stood ready to obey the

political mandate of one man, or at least of one controlling

authority. The natural consequence of this soon manifested


A congressional and a county election were approaching, and a

mass meeting, made up of both Whigs and Democrats of Hancock

County, was held to place in the field a non-Mormon county

ticket. The fusion was not accomplished without heart-burnings on

the part of some unsuccessful aspirants for nominations. A few of

these went over to Smith, and the election resulted in the

success of the state Democratic and the Mormon local ticket,

legislative and county, Smith's brother William being elected to

the House. It is easy to realize that this victory did not lessen

Smith's aggressive egotism.

Some important matters were involved in the next political

contest, the congressional election of August, 1843. The Whigs

nominated Cyrus Walker, a lawyer of reputation living in

McDonough County, and the Democrats J. P. Hoge, also a lawyer,

but a weaker candidate at the polls. Every one conceded that

Smith's dictum would decide the contest.

On May 6, 1842, Governor Boggs of Missouri, while sitting near a

window in his house in Independence, was fired at, and wounded so

severely that his recovery was for some days in doubt. The crime

was naturally charged to his Mormon enemies,* and was finally

narrowed down to O. P. Rockwell,** a Mormon living in Nauvoo, as

the agent, and Joseph Smith, Jr., as the instigator. Indictments

were found against both of them in Missouri, and a requisition

for Smith's surrender was made by the governor of that state on

the governor of Illinois. Smith was arrested under the governor's

warrant. Now came an illustration of the value to him of the form

of government provided by the Nauvoo charter. Taken before his

own municipal court, he was released at once on a writ of habeas

corpus. This assumption of power by a local court aroused the

indignation of non-Mormons throughout the state. Governor Carlin

characterized it somewhat later, in a letter to Smith's wife, as

"most absurd and ridiculous; to attempt to exercise it is a gross

usurpation of power that cannot be tolerated."***

* The hatred felt toward Governor Boggs by the Mormon leaders was

not concealed. Thus, an editorial in the Times and Seasons of

January 1, 1841, headed "Lilburn W. Boggs," began, "The THING

whose name stands at the head of this article," etc. Referring to

the ending of his term of office, the article said, "Lilburn has

gone down to the dark and dreary abode of his brother and

prototype, Nero, there to associate with kindred spirits and

partake of the dainties of his father's, the devil's, table."

Bennett afterward stated that he heard Joseph Smith say, on July

10, 1842, that Governor Boggs, "the exterminator, should be

exterminated," and that the Destroying Angels (Danites) should do

it; also that in the spring of that year he heard Smith, at a

meeting of Danites, offer to pay any man $500 who would secretly

assassinate the governor. Bennett's statement is only cited for

what it may be worth; that some Mormon fired the shot is within

the limit of strict probability.

** Rockwell, who, in his latter days, was employed by General

Connor to guard stock in California, told the general that he

fired the shot at Governor Boggs, and was sorry it did not kill

him.--"Mormon Portraits," p. 255.

*** Millennial Star, Vol. XX, p. 23.

Notwithstanding his release, Smith thought it best to remain in

hiding for some time to escape another arrest, for which the

governor ordered a reward of $200. About the middle of August his

associates in Nauvoo concluded that the outlook for him was so

bad, notwithstanding the protection which his city court was

ready to afford, that it might be best for him to flee to the

pine woods of the North country. Smith incorporates in his

autobiography a long letter which he wrote to his wife at this

time,* giving her directions about this flight if it should

become necessary. Their goods were to be loaded on a boat manned

by twenty of the best men who could be selected, and who would

meet them at Prairie du Chien: "And from thence we will wend our

way like larks up the Mississippi, until the towering mountains

and rocks shall remind us of the places of our nativity, and

shall look like safety and home; and there we will bid defiance

to Carlin, Boggs, Bennett, and all their whorish whores and

motley clan, that follow in their wake, Missouri not excepted,

and until the damnation of Hell rolls upon them by the voice and

dread thunders and trump of the eternal God."

* Ibid., pp. 693-695.

In October Rigdon obtained from Justin Butterfield, United States

attorney for Illinois, an opinion that Smith could not be held on

a Missouri requisition for a crime committed in that state when

he was in Illinois. In December, 1842, Smith was placed under

arrest and taken before the United States District Court at

Springfield, Illinois, under a writ of habeas corpus issued by

Judge Roger B. Taney of the State Supreme Court. Butterfield, as

his counsel, secured his discharge by Judge Pope (a Whig) who

held that Smith was not a fugitive from Missouri.

While these proceedings were pending, the Nauvoo City Council

(Smith was then mayor), passed two ordinances in regard to the

habeas corpus powers of the Municipal Court, one giving that

court jurisdiction in any case where a person "shall be or stand

committed or detained for any criminal, or supposed criminal,

matter."* This was intended to make Smith secure from the

clutches of any Missouri officer so long as he was in his own


* For text of these ordinances, see millennial Star, Vol. XX, p.


But Smith's enemy, General Bennett (who before this date had been

cast out of the fold), was now very active, and through his

efforts another indictment against Smith on the old charges of

treason, murder, etc., was found in Missouri, in June, 1843, and

under it another demand was made on the governor of Illinois for

Smith's extradition. Governor Ford, a Democrat, who had succeeded

Carlin, issued a warrant on June 17, 1843, and it was served on

Smith while he was visiting his wife's sister in Lee County,

Illinois. An attempt to start with him at once for Missouri was

prevented by his Mormon friends, who rallied in considerable

numbers to his aid. Smith secured counsel, who began proceedings

against the Missouri agent and obtained a writ in Smith's behalf

returnable, the account in the Times and Seasons says, before the

nearest competent tribunal, which "it was ascertained was at

Nauvoo"--Smith's own Municipal Court. The prophet had a sort of

triumphal entry into Nauvoo, and the question of the jurisdiction

of the Municipal Court in his case came up at once. Both of the

candidates for Congress, Walker (who was employed as his counsel)

and Hoge, gave opinions in favor of such jurisdiction, and, after

a three hours' plea by Walker, the court ordered Smith's release.

Smith addressed the people of Nauvoo in the grove after his

return. From the report of his remarks in the journal of

Discourses (Vol. II, p. 163) the following is taken:

"Before I will bear this unhallowed persecution any longer,

before I will be dragged away again among my enemies for trial, I

will spill the last drop of blood in my veins, and will see all

my enemies in hell . . . . Deny me the writ of habeas corpus, and

I will fight with gun, sword, cannon, whirlwind, thunder, until

they are used up like the Kilkenny cats . . . . If these

[charter] powers are dangerous, then the constitutions of the

United States and of this state are dangerous. If the Legislature

has granted Nauvoo the right of determining cases of habeas

corpus, it is no more than they ought to have done, or more than

our fathers fought for."

Smith expressed his gratitude to Walker for what the latter had

accomplished in his behalf, and the Whig candidate now had no

doubt that the Mormon vote was his.

But the Missouri agent, indignant that a governor's writ should

be set aside by a city court, hurried to Springfield and demanded

that Governor Ford should call out enough state militia to secure

Smith's arrest and delivery at the Missouri boundary. The

governor, who was not a man of the firmest purpose, had no

intention of being mixed up in the pending congressional fight

and struggle for the Mormon vote; so he asked for delay and

finally decided not to call out any troops.

The Hancock County Democrats were quick to see an opportunity in

this situation, and they sent to Springfield a man named

Backenstos (who took an active part in the violent scenes

connected with the subsequent history of the Mormons in the

state) to ascertain for the Mormons just what the governor's

intentions were. Backenstos reported that the prophet need have

no fear of the Democratic governor so long as the Mormons voted

the Democratic ticket.*

* Governor Ford, in his "History of Illinois," says that such a

pledge was given by a prominent Democrat, but without his own


When this news was brought back to Nauvoo, a few days before the

election, a mass meeting of the Mormons was called, and Hyrum

Smith (then Patriarch, succeeding the prophet's father, who was

dead) announced the receipt of a "revelation" directing the

Mormons to vote for Hoge. William Law, an influential business

man in the Mormon circle, immediately denied the existence of any

such "revelation." The prophet alone could decide the matter. He

was brought in and made a statement to the effect that he himself

proposed to vote for Walker; that he considered it a "mean

business" to influence any man's vote by dictation, and that he

had no great faith in revelations about elections; "but brother

Hyrum was a man of truth; he had known brother Hyrum intimately

ever since he was a boy, and he had never known him to tell a

lie. If brother Hyrum said he had received such a revelation, he

had no doubt it was a fact. When the Lord speaks, let all the

earth be silent." *

* Ford's"History of Illinois," p. 318.

The election resulted in the choice of Hoge by a majority of 455!

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