The Nauvoo City Government - Temple And Other Buildings

A tide of immigration having been turned toward the new

settlement, the next thing in order was to procure for the city a

legal organization. Several circumstances combined to place in

the hands of the Mormon leaders a scheme of municipal government,

along with an extensive plan for buildings, which gave them vast

power without incurring the kind of financial rocks on which they

were wrecked in Ohio.

Dr. Galland* should probably be considered the inventor of the

general scheme adopted at Nauvoo. He was at that time a resident

of Cincinnati, but his intercourse with the Mormons had

interested him in their beliefs, and some time in 1840 he

addressed a letter to Elder R. B. Thompson, which gave the church

leaders some important advice.** First warning them that to

promulgate new doctrinal tenets will require not only tact and

energy, but moral conduct and industry among their people, he

confessed that he had not been able to discover why their

religious views were not based on truth. "The project of

establishing extraordinary religious doctrines being magnificent

in its character," he went on to say, would require "preparations

commensurate with the plan." Nauvoo being a suitable

rallying-place, they would "want a temple that for size,

proportions and style shall attract, surprise and dazzle all

beholders"; something "unique externally, and in the interior

peculiar, imposing and grand." The "clergymen" must be of the

best as regards mental and vocal equipment, and there should be a

choir such as "was never before organized." A college, too, would

be of great value if funds for it could be collected.

* "In the year 1834 one Dr. Galland was a candidate for the

legislature in a district composed of Hancock, Adams, and Pike

Counties. He resided in the county of Hancock, and, as he had in

the early part of his life been a notorious horse thief and

counterfeiter, belonging to the Massac gang, and was then no

pretender to integrity, it was useless to deny the charge. In all

his speeches he freely admitted the fact."--FORD's" "History of

Illinois," p. 406.

** Times and Seasons, Vol. II, pp. 277-278. The letter is signed

with eight asterisks Galland's usual signature to such


These suggestions were accepted by Smith, with some important

additional details, and they found place in the longest of the

"revelations" given out by him in Illinois (Sec. I 24), the one,

previously quoted from, in which the Lord excused the failure to

set up a Zion in Missouri. There seemed to be some hesitation

about giving out this "revelation." It is dated after the meeting

of the General Conference at Nauvoo which ordered the building of

a church there, and it was not published in the Times and Seasons

until the following June, and then not entire. The "revelation"

shows how little effect adversity had had in modifying the

prophet's egotism, his arrogance, or his aggressiveness.

Starting out with, "Verily, thus with the Lord unto you, my

servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offerings and

acknowledgments," it calls on him to make proclamation to the

kings of the world, the President of the United States, and the

governors of the states concerning the Lord's will, "fearing them

not, for they are as grass," and warning them of "a day of

visitation if they reject my servants and my testimony." Various

direct commands to leading members of the church follow. Galland

here found himself in Smith's clutches, being directed to "put

stock" into the boardinghouse to be built.

The principal commands in this "revelation" directed the building

of another "holy house," or Temple, and a boardinghouse. With

regard to the Temple it was explained that the Lord would show

Smith everything about it, including its site. All the Saints

from afar were ordered to come to Nauvoo, "with all your gold,

and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your

antiquities, . . . and bring the box tree, and the fir tree, and

the pine tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth,

and with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and

with all your most precious things of the earth."

The boarding-house ordered built was to be called Nauvoo House,

and was to be "a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge

therein. . . a resting place for the weary traveler, that he may

contemplate the glory of Zion." It was explained that a company

must be formed, the members of which should pay not less than $50

a share for the stock, no subscriber to be allotted more than

$1500 worth.

This "revelation" further announced once more that Joseph was to

be "a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a

revelator, a seer and a prophet," with Sidney Rigdon and William

Law his counsellors, to constitute with him the First Presidency,

and Brigham Young to be president over the twelve travelling


Legislation was, of course, necessary to carry out the large

schemes that the Mormon leaders had in mind; but this was secured

at the state capital with a liberality that now seems amazing.

This was due to the desire of the politicians of all parties to

conciliate the Mormon vote, and to the good fortune of the

Mormons in finding at the capital a very practical lobbyist to

engineer their cause. This was a Dr. John C. Bennett, a man who

seems to have been without any moral character, but who had

filled positions of importance. Born in Massachusetts in 1804, he

practised as a physician in Ohio, and later in Illinois, holding

a professorship in Willoughby University, Ohio, and taking with

him to Illinois testimonials as to his professional skill. In the

latter state he showed a taste for military affairs, and after

being elected brigadier general of the Invincible Dragoons, he

was appointed quartermaster general of the state in 1840, and

held that position at the state capital when the Mormons applied

to the legislature for a charter for Nauvoo.

With his assistance there was secured from the legislature an act

incorporating the city of Nauvoo, the Nauvoo Legion, and the

University of the City of Nauvoo. The powers granted to the city

government thus established were extraordinary. A City Council

was authorized, consisting of the mayor, four aldermen, and nine

councillors, which was empowered to pass any ordinances, not in

conflict with the federal and state constitutions, which it

deemed necessary for the peace and order of the city. The mayor

and aldermen were given all the power of justices of the peace,

and they were to constitute the Municipal Court. The charter gave

the mayor sole jurisdiction in all cases arising under the city

ordinances, with a right of appeal to the Municipal Court.

Further than this, the charter granted to the Municipal Court the

right to issue writs of habeas corpus in all cases arising under

the city ordinances. Thirty-six sections were required to define

the legislative powers of the City Council.

A more remarkable scheme of independent local government could

not have been devised even by the leaders of this Mormon church,

and the shortsightedness of the law makers in consenting to it

seems nothing short of marvellous. Under it the mayor, who helped

to make the local laws (as a member of the City Council), was

intrusted with their enforcement, and he could, as the head of

the Municipal Court, give them legal interpretation. Governor

Ford afterward defined the system as "a government within a

government; a legislature to pass ordinances at war with the laws

of the state; courts to execute them with but little dependence

upon the constitutional judiciary, and a military force at their

own command." *

* A bill repealing this charter was passed by the Illinois House

on February 3, 1843, by a vote of fifty-eight to thirty-three,

but failed in the Senate by a vote of sixteen ayes to seventeen


This military force, called the Nauvoo Legion, the City Council

was authorized to organize from the inhabitants of the city who

were subject to military duty. It was to be at the disposal of

the mayor in executing city laws and ordinances, and of the

governor of the state for the public defence. When organized, it

embraced three classes of troops--flying artillery, lancers, and

riflemen. Its independence of state control was provided for by a

provision of law which allowed it to be governed by a court

martial of its own officers. The view of its independence taken

by,the Mormons may be seen in the following general order signed

by Smith and Bennett in May, 1841, founded on an opinion by judge

Stephen A. Douglas:-- "The officers and privates belonging to the

Legion are exempt from all military duty not required by the

legally constituted authorities thereof; they are therefore

expressly inhibited from performing any military service not

ordered by the general officers, or directed by the court


* Times and Seasons, Vol. II, p. 417. Governor Ford commissioned

Brigham Young to succeed Smith as lieutenant general of the

Legion from August 31, 1844. To show the Mormon idea of

authority, the following is quoted from Tullidge's "Life of

Brigham Young," p. 30: "It is a singular fact that, after

Washington, Joseph Smith was the first man in America who held

the rank of lieutenant general, and that Brigham Young was the

next. In reply to a comment by the author upon this fact Brigham

Young said: 'I was never much of a military man. The commission

has since been abrogated by the state of Illinois; but if Joseph

had lived when the (Mexican] war broke out he would have become

commander-in chief of the United States Armies.'"

In other words, this city military company was entirely

independent of even the governor of the state. Little wonder that

the Presidency, writing about the new law to the Saints abroad,

said, "'Tis all we ever claimed." In view of the experience of

the Missourians with the Mormons as directed by Smith and Rigdon,

it would be rash to say that they would have been tolerated as

neighbors in Illinois under any circumstances, after their actual

acquaintance had been made; but if the state of Illinois had

deliberately intended to incite the Mormons to a reckless

assertion of independence, nothing could have been planned that

would have accomplished this more effectively than the passage of

the charter of Nauvoo.

What next followed remains an unexplained incident in Joseph

Smith's career. Instead of taking the mayoralty himself, he

allowed that office to be bestowed upon Bennett, Smith and Rigdon

accepting places among the councillors, Bennett having taken up

his residence in Nauvoo in September, 1840. His election as mayor

took place in February, 1841. Bennet was also chosen major

general of the Legion when that force was organized, was selected

as the first chancellor of the new university, and was elected to

the First Presidency of the church in the following April, to

take the place of Sidney Rigdon during the incapacity of the

latter from illness. Judge Stephen A. Douglas also appointed him

a master in chancery.

Bennett was introduced to the Mormon church at large in a letter

signed by Smith, Rigdon, and brother Hyrum, dated January 15,

1841, as the first of the new acquisitions of influence. They

stated that his sympathies with the Saints were aroused while

they were still in Missouri, and that he then addressed them a

letter offering them his assistance, and the church was assured

that "he is a man of enterprise, extensive acquirements, and of

independent mind, and is calculated to be a great blessing to our

community." When his appointment as a master in chancery was

criticised by some Illinois newspapers, the Mormons defended him

earnestly, Sidney Rigdon (then attorney-at-law and postmaster at

Nauvoo), in a letter dated April 23, 1842, said, "He is a

physician of great celebrity, of great versatility of talent, of

refined education and accomplished manners; discharges the duties

of his respective offices with honor to himself and credit to the

people." All this becomes of interest in the light of the abuse

which the Mormons soon after poured out upon this man when he

"betrayed" them.

Bennett's inaugural address as mayor was radical in tone. He

advised the Council to prohibit all dram shops, allowing no

liquor to be sold in a quantity less than a quart. This

suggestion was carried out in a city ordinance. He condemned the

existing system of education, which gave children merely a

smattering of everything, and made "every boarding school miss a

Plato in petticoats, without an ounce of genuine knowledge,"

pleading for education "of a purely practical character." The

Legion he considered a matter of immediate necessity, and he

added, "The winged warrior of the air perches upon the pole of

American liberty, and the beast that has the temerity to ruffle

her feathers should be made to feel the power of her talons."

Smith was commissioned lieutenant general of this Legion by

Governor Carlin on February 3, 1841, and he and Bennett blossomed

out at once as gorgeous commanders. An order was issued requiring

all persons in the city, of military obligation, between the ages

of eighteen and forty-five, to join the Legion, and on the

occasion of the laying of the corner-stone of the Temple, on

April 6, 1841, it comprised fourteen companies. An army officer

passing through Nauvoo in September, 1842, expressed the opinion

that the evolutions of the Legion would do honor to any militia

in the United States, but he queried: "Why this exact discipline

of the Mormon corps? Do they intend to conquer Missouri,

Illinois, Mexico? Before many years this Legion will be twenty,

perhaps fifty, thousand strong and still augmenting. A fearful

host, filled with religious enthusiasm, and led on by ambitious

and talented officers, what may not be effected by them? Perhaps

the subversion of the constitution of the United States." *

* Mackay's "The Mormons," p. 121.

Contemporary accounts of the appearance of the Legion on the

occasion of the laying of the Temple corner-stone indicate that

the display was a big one for a frontier settlement. Smith says

in his autobiography, "The appearance, order, and movements of

the Legion were chaste, grand, imposing." The Times and Seasons,

in its report of the day's doings, says that General Smith had a

staff of four aides-de-camp and twelve guards, "nearly all in

splendid uniforms. The several companies presented a beautiful

and interesting spectacle, several of them being uniformed and

equipped, while the rich and costly dresses of the officers would

have become a Bonaparte or a Washington." Ladies on horseback

were an added feature of the procession. The ceremonies attending

the cornerstone laying attracted the people from all the outlying

districts, and marked an epoch in the church's history in


The Temple at Nauvoo measured 83 by 128 feet on the ground, and

was nearly 60 feet high, surmounted by a steeple which was

planned to be more than 100 feet in height. The material was

white limestone, which was found underlying the site of the city.

The work of construction continued throughout the occupation of

Nauvoo by the Mormons, the laying of the capstone not being

accomplished until May 24, 1845, and the dedication taking place

on May 1, 1846. The cost of the completed structure was estimated

by the Mormons at $1,000,000.* Among the costly features were

thirty stone pilasters, which cost $3000 each.

* "The Temple is said to have cost, in labor and money, a million

dollars. It may be possible, and it is very probable, that

contributions to that amount were made to it, but that it cost

that much to build it few will believe. Half that sum would be

ample to build a much more costly edifice to-day, and in the

three or four years in which it was being erected, labor was

cheap and all the necessaries of life remarkably low."--GREGG'S

"History of Hancock County," p. 367.

The portico of the Temple was surrounded by these pilasters of

polished stone, on the base of which was carved a new moon, the

capital of each being a representation of the rising sun coming

from under a cloud, supported by two hands holding a trumpet.

Under the tower were the words, in golden letters: "The House of

the Lord, built by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Commenced

April 6, 1841. Holiness to the Lord." The baptismal font measured

twelve by sixteen feet, with a basin four feet deep. It was

supported by twelve oxen "carved out of fine plank glued

together," says Smith, "and copied after the most beautiful

five-year-old steer that could be found." From the basement two

stairways led to the main floor, around the sides of which were

small rooms designed for various uses. In the large room on this

floor were three pulpits and a place for the choir. The upper

floor contained a large hall, and around this were twelve smaller


The erection of this Temple was carried on without incurring such

debts or entering upon such money-making schemes as caused

disaster at Kirtland. Labor and material were secured by

successful appeals to the Saints on the ground and throughout the

world. Here the tithing system inaugurated in Missouri played an

efficient part. A man from the neighboring country who took

produce to Nauvoo for sale or barter said, "In the committee

rooms they had almost every conceivable thing, from all kinds of

implements and men and women's clothing, down to baby clothes and

trinkets, which had been deposited by the owners as tithing or

for the benefit of the Temple." *

* Gregg's "History of Hancock County," p. 374

Nauvoo House, as planned, was to have a frontage of two hundred

feet and a depth of forty feet, and to be three stories in

height, with a basement. Its estimated cost was $100,000.* A

detailed explanation of the uses of this house was thus given in

a letter from the Twelve to the Saints abroad, dated November 15,


* Times and Seasons, Vol. II, p. 369.

"The time set to favor the Stakes of Zion is at hand, and soon

the kings and the queens, the princes and the nobles, the rich

and the honorable of the earth, will come up hither to visit the

Temple of our God, and to inquire concerning this strange work;

and as kings are to become nursing fathers, and queens nursing

mothers in the habitation of the righteous, it is right to render

honor to whom honor is due; and therefore expedient that such, as

well as the Saints, should have a comfortable house for boarding

and lodging when they come hither, and it is according to the

revelations that such a house should be built. . . All are under

equal obligations to do all in their power to complete the

buildings by their faith and their prayers; with their thousands

and their mites, their gold and their silver, their copper and

their zinc, their goods and their labors."

Nauvoo House was not finished during the Prophet's life, the

appeals in its behalf failing to secure liberal contributions. It

was completed in later years, and used as a hotel.

Smith's residence in Nauvoo was a frame building called the

Mansion House, not far from the river side. It was opened as a

hotel on October 3, 1843, with considerable ceremony, one of the

toasts responded to being as follows, "Resolved, that General

Joseph Smith, whether we view him as a prophet at the head of the

church, a general at the head of the Legion, a mayor at the head

of the City Council, or a landlord at the head of the table, has

few equals and no superiors."

Another church building was the Hall of the Seventies, the upper

story of which was used for the priesthood and the Council of

Fifty. Galland's suggestion about a college received practical

shape in the incorporation of a university, in whose board of

regents the leading men of the church, including Galland himself,

found places. The faculty consisted of James Keeley, a graduate

of Trinity College, Dublin, as president; Orson Pratt as

professor of mathematics and English literature; Orson Spencer, a

graduate of Union College and the Baptist Theological Seminary in

New York, as professor of languages; and Sidney Rigdon as

professor of church history. The tuition fee was $5 per quarter.

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