The Reception Of The Mormons

The state of Illinois, when the Mormons crossed the Missouri

River to settle in it, might still be considered a pioneer

country. Iowa, to the west of it, was a territory, and only

recently organized as such. The population of the whole state was

only 467,183 in 1840, as compared with 4,821,550 in 1900. Young

as it was, however, the state had had some severe financial

experiences, which might have served as warnings to the

new-comers. A debt of more than $14,000,000 had been contracted

for state improvements, and not a railroad or a canal had been

completed. "The people," says Ford, "looked one way and another

with surprise, and were astonished at their own folly." The

payment of interest on the state debt ceased after July, 1841,

and "in a short time Illinois became a stench in the nostrils of

the civilized world . . . . The impossibility of selling kept us

from losing population; the fear of disgrace or high taxes

prevented us from gaining materially."* The State Bank and the

Shawneetown Bank failed in 1842, and when Ford became governor in

that year he estimated that the good money in the state in the

hands of the people did not exceed one year's interest on the

public debt.

* Ford's "History of Illinois," Chap. VII.

The lawless conditions in many parts of the state in those days

can scarcely be realized now. It was in 1847 that the Rev. Owen

Lovejoy {handwritten comment in the book says "Elijah P.

Lovejoy." PG Editor} was killed at Alton in maintaining his right

to print there an abolition newspaper. All over the state,

settlers who had occupied lands as "squatters" defended their

claims by force, and serious mobs often resulted. Large areas of

military lands were owned by non-residents, who were in very bad

favor with the actual settlers. These settlers made free use of

the timber on such lands, and the non-residents, failing to

secure justice at law, finally hired preachers, who were paid by

the sermon to preach against the sin of "hooking" timber.*

* Ford's "History of Illinois," Chap. VI.

Bands of desperadoes in the northern counties openly defied the

officers of the law, and, in one instance, burned down the

courthouse (in Ogle County in 1841) in order to release some of

their fellows who were awaiting trial. One of these gangs ten

years earlier had actually built, in Pope County, a fort in which

they defied the authorities, and against which a piece of

artillery had to be brought before it could be taken. Even while

the conflict between the Mormons was going on, in 1846, there was

vitality enough in this old organization, in Pope and Massac

counties, to call for the interposition of a band of

"regulators," who made many arrests, not hesitating to employ

torture to secure from one prisoner information about his

associates. Governor Ford sent General J. T. Davies there, to try

to effect a peaceable arrangement of the difficulties, but he

failed to do so, and the "regulators," who found the county

officers opposed to them, drove out of the county the sheriff,

the county clerk, and the representative elect to the

legislature. When the judge of the Massac Circuit Court charged

the grand jury strongly against the "regulators," they, with

sympathizers from Kentucky, threatened to lynch him, and actually

marched in such force to the county seat that the sheriff's posse

surrendered, and the mob let their friends out of jail, and

drowned some members of the posse in the Ohio River.

The reception and treatment of the Mormons in Illinois, and the

success of the new-comers in carrying out their business and

political schemes, must be viewed in connection with these

incidents in the early history of the state.

The greeting of the Mormons in Illinois, in its practical shape,

had both a political and a business reason.* Party feeling ran

very high throughout the country in those days. The House of

Representatives at Washington, after very great excitement,

organized early in December, 1839, by choosing a Whig Speaker,

and at the same time the Whig National Convention, at Harrisburg,

Pennsylvania, nominated General W. H. Harrison for President.

Thus the expulsion from Missouri occurred on the eve of one of

our most exciting presidential campaigns, and the Illinois

politicians were quick to appraise the value of the voting

strength of the immigrants. As a residence of six months in the

state gave a man the right to vote, the Mormon vote would count

in the presidential election.

* "The first great error committed by the people of Hancock

County was in accepting too readily the Mormon story of

persecution. It was continually rung in their ears, and believed

as often as asserted."--Gregg, "History of Hancock County," p.


Accordingly, we find that in February, 1839, the Democratic

Association of Quincy, at a public meeting in the court-house,

received a report from a committee previously appointed, strongly

in favor of the refugees, and adopted resolutions condemning the

treatment of the Mormons by the people and officers of Missouri.

The Quincy Argus declared that, because of this treatment,

Missouri was "now so fallen that we could wish her star stricken

out from the bright constellation of the Union." In April, 1839,

Rigdon wrote to the "Saints in prison" that Governor Carlin of

Illinois and his wife "enter with all the enthusiasm of their

nature" into his plan to have the governor of each state present

to Congress the unconstitutional course of Missouri toward the

Mormons, with a view to federal relief. Governor Lucas of Iowa

Territory, in the same year (Iowa had only been organized as a

territory the year before, and was not admitted as a state until

1845), replying to a query about the reception the Mormons would

receive in his domain, said: "Their religious opinions I consider

have nothing to do with our political transactions. They are

citizens of the United States, and are entitled to the same

political rights and legal protection that other citizens are

entitled to." He gave Rigdon at the same time cordial letters of

introduction to President Van Buren and Governor Shannon of Ohio,

and Rigdon received a similar letter to the President,

recommending him "as a man of piety and a valuable citizen,"

signed by Governor Carlin, United States Senator Young, County

Clerk Wren, and leading business men of Quincy. Thus began that

recognition of the Mormons as a political power in Illinois which

led to concessions to them that had so much to do with finally

driving them into the wilderness.

The business reason for the welcome of the Mormons in Illinois

and Iowa was the natural ambition to secure an increase of

population. In all of Hancock County there were in 1830 only 483

inhabitants as compared with 32,215 in 1900. Along with this

public view of the matter was a private one. A Dr. Isaac Galland

owned (or claimed title to) a large tract of land on both sides

of the border line between Illinois and Iowa, that in Iowa being

included in what was known as "the half-breed tract," an area of

some 119,000 acres which, by a treaty between the United States

government and the Sacs and Foxes, was reserved to descendants of

Indian women of those tribes by white fathers, and the title to

much of which was in dispute. As soon as the Mormons began to

cross into Illinois, Galland approached them with an offer of

about 20,000 acres between the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers

at $2 per acre, to be paid in twenty annual instalments, without

interest. A meeting of the refugees was held in Quincy in

February, 1839, to consider this offer, but the vote was against

it. The failure of the efforts in Ohio and Missouri to establish

the Mormons as a distinct community had made many of Smith's

followers sceptical about the success of any new scheme with this

end in view, and at this conference several members, including so

influential a man as Bishop Partridge, openly expressed their

doubt about the wisdom of another gathering of the Saints.

Galland, however, pursued the subject in a letter to D. W.

Rodgers, inviting Rigdon and others to inspect the tract with

him, and assuring the Mormons of his sympathy in their

sufferings, and "deep solicitude for your future triumphant

conquest over every enemy." Rigdon, Partridge, and others

accepted Galland's invitation, but reported against purchasing

his land, and the refugees began scattering over the country

around Quincy.

The Political Puzzle Continued The Reformation facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail