Ep 128 – Bennett Meltdown Pt 5: Fugitive Prophet
On this episode, we finally return to our historical timeline and the Bennett Meltdown. Jo starts in the custody of the Adams County Sheriff. An “escape” occurs and Jo flees town with a bit of trickery. We spend some time reading letter correspondence between Jo and other “thinking few” Mormon elites.
Letter from Wilson Law
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
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We’re picking up right where we left off with Jo and friends in Nauvoo, August of 1842.
We’ve been absent our historical timeline for a number of weeks now so it feels like a little bit of a review is in order. If you’re listening to this in the backlog and the timeline is contiguous for you, my apologies, but for everybody else, hopefully this will help bridge the month-long gap.
Our timeline sits amidst the ruins of the Bennett Meltdown. John C. Wreck-it Bennett had spent a year and a half as the right-hand man of Joseph Smith, collecting a ton of information. Now, beginning in July 1842, he published his first expose letters in the Sangamo Journal. These letters contained vicious accusations of Jo’s true theocracy. Jo’s theocracy without the veil of prosperity being touted about by the leadership looked like a completely different beast, medusa removing her mask, if you will.
Add in to the PR nightmare that was Wreck-it Bennett’s exposes, ex-governor and current senatorial candidate, Lilburn Boggs of Missouri, had awakened from the assassination attempt and swore out an affidavit leading to the arrest of Jo and his best friend, Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell. When we left off, they were both in the custody of Adams county constables with an extradition order in hand to take them to Missouri. What awaited them in Missouri? The charges of conspiracy to assassinate a government official on one hand, and on the other, the old charges from the 1838 war of arson, robbery, and high treason. As soon as Jo and Port make it across the state line into Missouri in the custody of government officials, they’re doomed to the gallows or firing squad. There was no question or ambiguity about that. They just needed to remain under the safe umbrella of Nauvoo and they could survive in the Mormon kingdom on the Mississippi.
However, they had limited time and options to affect a plan. Lucky a few convenient pieces of Nauvoo government were in place to set the battlefield in their favor.
Before we continue marching forward, I want to take a second to reflect on how fickle power really is. How easy it is to gain and lose power and what predicaments are created when single individuals vie for power in a world of people competing for finite slices of the power pie.
I was thinking back on this year’s Sunstone and a presentation given by Steve Shields. He gave an overview of the succession crisis and quoted a number of letters which talked about authority. Who has the authority to excommunicate whom in the wake of Jo’s death? Who was the one true prophet? Those two concepts, power and authority, they’re inextricably tied. But when it all comes down to it, people only have authority if other people recognize and acknowledge said authority. Same thing with power. The most powerful politician in the world has just as much authority as a person screaming on the street corner, the politician just has more people who recognize and acknowledge that authority. The politician has more power than the screaming person on the street corner because they’ve personally seized or have been granted that power by outside forces. But it’s all entirely a human concept. Like language, emotions, buildings, all human constructs. The universe doesn’t care what we call a rock, a rock is just certain matter arranged in a certain way. The universe doesn’t care who sits on thrones or who begs for food, power and authority, and the resulting human luxuries both afford, are just things we all agree to put value in.
Joseph Smith in 1842 had fostered a situation where he had more authority and power than basically any American religious leader of his day. Some can say he was granted that authority from a higher power, but we’ve spent this entire podcast exhibiting exactly the methods by which he was able to seize and retain control. By 1842 he had roughly 10,000 people calling him the prophet. Claims to be the mouthpiece of God mean nothing if nobody is listening to what comes out of the claimant’s mouth. But Jo had an audience, a pulpit he could approach every Sunday with thousands of people in the audience fawning over his every word. He had a ton of power and authority in the minds of these people.
A shared trait among most with power and authority is the lack of willingness to cede such attributes at any cost. When a person gains power, seldom do they relinquish it willingly, especially in positions without term limits like prophet of a major religion. Anything threatening to Smith’s power structure required treatment with the utmost prejudice and expediency.
Joseph Smith and his enforcer, Pistol Packin Porter Rockwell, in cuffs headed toward Missouri certainly threatened the tenuous power balance Jo had manufactured for over a decade at this point. They had to be released at all costs.
Where we last left off our historical timeline in the HoC Vogel edition 5:80
“This forenoon I was arrested by the Deputy Sheriff of Adams county and two assistants, on a warrant issued by Governor Carlin, founded on a requisition from Governor Reynolds of Missouri, upon the affidavit of Ex-Governor Boggs, complaining of the said Smith as “being an accessory before the fact, to an assault with intent to kill, made by one O. P. Rockwell on Lilburn W. Boggs,” on the night of the sixth of May, A.D. 1842. Brother Rockwell was arrested at the same time as principal. There was no evasion of the officers, though the Municipal Court issued a writ of habeas corpus according to the constitution of the State Aricle 8, and Section 13. This writ demanded the bodies of Messrs. Smith and Rockwell to be brought before the aforesaid Court; but these officers refused to do so, and finally without complying, they left them in the care of the Marshal, without the original writ by which they were arrested, and by which only they could be retained, and returned back to Governor Carlin for further instructions, and Messrs. Smith and Rockwell went about their business.”
The Adams county constables had the warrant of arrest for Jo and Port, but in order to extradite the prisoners to Missouri, they were required to go back to Governor Carlin in Adams County and acquire the writ. The constables, and I can’t possibly understand what led them to believe this was a good idea, left Jo and Port in the hands of the Nauvoo Marshal, who was Henry G. Sherwood at the time. Sherwood had been a member since he was baptized 10 years earlier and moved to Kirtland. Sherwood was an O.G. Kirtland Mormon who’d been through all the hardest time of the church in K-town and Missouri. He’d always stuck by the prophet’s side, and these Adams county constables in charge of extraditing Jo and Port, left them in the custody of Sherwood.
Sure, constable, I’ll keep an eye on them… oh… oh no… they got away… I’m just all thumbs today.
In response to the Adams County constables getting so close to legally extraditing Jo and Port back to Missouri, action was needed to keep it from happening again.
Acting as Vice-Mayor and President Pro-tempore, Hyrum Sidekick Abiff Smith passed an ordinance, effective immediately.
“Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Nauvoo, that in all cases where any person or persons, shall at any time hereafter, be arrested or under arrest in this city, under any writ or process, and shall be brought before the Municipal Court of this city, by vrtue of a writ of Habeas Corpus, the Court shall in every such case have power and authority, and are hereby required to examine into the origin, validity and legality of the writ of process, under which such arrest was made, and if it shall appear to the Court, upon sufficient testimony that said writ or process was illegal, or not legally issued, or did not proced from proper authority, and was a legal process, the Court shall then proceed and fully hear the merits of the case, upon which said arrest was made, upon such evidence as may be produced and sworn before said Court, and shall have power to adjourn the hearing, and also issue process from time to time, in their discretion, in order to procure the attendance of witnesses, so that a fair and impartial trial and decision may be obtained in every such case.”
This created a situation where any person arrested in Nauvoo under any authority whatsoever, the warrant for their arrest had to undergo review by the Nauvoo government to ascertain its legality before it could be carried out. The article in the Nauvoo city charter allowing the city to issue writs of habeas corpus to any person in custody now had built in an extra layer of protection. The other provisions in this ordinance add even more layers playing into the religious persecution narrative of Mormonism.
“Sec. 2. And be it further ordained that if upon investigation it shall be proven before the Municipal Court, that the writ or process has been issued, either through private pique, malicious intent, or religious or other persecution, falsehood or misrepresentation, contrary to the constitution of this State, or the constitution of the United States, the said writ or process shall be quashed and considered of no force or effect, and the prisoner or prisoners shall be released and discharged therefrom.”
That was the real teeth of this ordinance. If any writ or process can be deemed as religious persecution, malicious, or based on falsehood, it’s quashed and the arrested parties are to be immediately released. Luckily, Jo and the leadership of Nauvoo were the people who determined what did or did not constitution maliciousness, falsehood, or religious persecution. The last two sections of the ordinance just say that if the Mayor can’t represent himself in these proceedings, then an Alderman can step in and also that it is effective immediately.
After Jo was released he seemed to ponder in his journal what authority the constable had to extradite him from Illinois to Missouri.
“I have yet to learn by what rule of right I was arrested to be transported to Missouri for a trial of the kind stated. ‘An accessory to an assault with intent to kill,’ does not come under the provision of the fugitive act, when the person charged has not been out of Illinois, &c. An accessory before the fact to manslaughter is something of an anomaly. The isolated affidavit of Ex-Governor Boggs is no more than any other man’s, and the Constitution says, ‘that no person shall be liable to be transported out of the State, for an offense committed within the same.’ The whole is another Missouri farce. (fake news) In fact, implied power, and constructive guilt, as a dernier resort, may answer the purpose of despotic governments, but are beneath the dignity of the Sons of Liberty, and would be a blot on our judicial escutcheon.”
If anything, Jo’s actions and the resulting Nauvoo city ordinance illustrate just how necessary federal charges and a federal police force really is. He hadn’t committed the act of conspiracy with Port while in Missouri, Jo was in Nauvoo the whole time. It wasn’t accessory to manslaughter as Boggs’ assassination attempt was clearly premeditated with a clear and distinct motive, but because Jo wasn’t physically in Missouri when it happened, he was safe unless a writ of extradition was upheld by Governor Carlin. If Carlin expected the Mormon vote for that election year of 1842, upholding that writ would turn the largest population of his constituents against him. But, the kingpin to a criminal empire lived in Adams county, to which Governor Carlin was responsible for keeping the peace and rooting out corruption. Carlin wasn’t in an easy position and Jo was growing stronger by the day.
Nauvoo city government had a ton of power. Now that this ordinance was in place, it would require the state supreme court to rule it unconstitutional, but that could only happen after it was exercised and somebody filed a lawsuit challenging it. That’s the entire point, Nauvoo government could do whatever it wanted and it took a lengthy and costly process to curtail its power. Power is gained and seldom given back freely once acquired.
However, Jo knew that once the constable returned to Nauvoo after a meeting with Governor Carlin that he’d have the proper paperwork. Pistol Packin Port immediately fled towards Pittsburgh, which is understandable. Port pulled the trigger, he was a lot hotter than Jo. On the other hand, Jo leveraged Nauvoo’s convenient location on the Mississippi and made it across to the town of Zarahemla in Iowa territory. Nobody with authority from Missouri or Illinois could touch Jo out there. Jo made it to a safe location, his uncle John’s house.
Nauvoo became a hostile place with Jo in hiding and Port on the run. The constable, a sheriff of Adams County, returned to Nauvoo with the appropriate extradition paperwork, only to find that the prisoners he’d left in custody of Henry Sherwood had absconded. But, the Sheriff had a legal duty to carry out the charges of his office to the best of his ability. He went to the Smith home in Nauvoo, where Emma and her children were, a hot exchange ensued, but we don’t have record of exactly what happened.
“Wednesday August 10.—The Deputy Sheriff returned to Nauvoo, but I was absent, and he did not see me, or brother Rockwell. He endeavored to alarm my wife and the brethren with his threats, if I was not forthcoming, but they understood the law in such cases, and his threats proved harmless.”
They understood the law in such cases. One could make the argument that they perfectly understood the law as it was crafted by the Nauvoo government and they used it to allow a fugitive to escape. Yes, they knew the law, but they also knew the laws of God were superior to the laws of men. The laws of men wanted to see Jo hanged, the laws of God required him to lead the Mormons to build Zion on the American continent. What set of laws would we expect them to follow.
“11.—This forenoon brother William Law entered into conversation with the Sheriff upon the illegality of the whole proceedings in reference to the arrest, when after some remarks from both parties, the Sheriff acknowledged that he believed Joseph was innocent, and that Governor Carlin’s course which he had pursued, was unjustifiable and illegal.”
What actually transpired in that exchange is unknown. I can’t imagine a complete polar opposite shift in the mind of the Sheriff from just one day prior. He just lost both of his high-level prisoners, went and threatened Emma and other Mormon elites in order to get them to give up Jo and Port, all to no avail. He was taking his job seriously and what stern talking-to awaited him when he returned with a report to Governor Carlin that Jo and Port had escaped custody? What would Governor Reynolds of Missouri have to say to the Sheriff when he finds out that Jo and Port evaded the law once again? His job was likely on the line, yet William Law talked to him for a few minutes and everything was cool? Seems a little hard to believe.
Now that Jo was safe on the lam for a minute, he needed to call together a council of his trusted elites in order to sort out what would be the next best action to take.
“[I] sent word that I wished to see Emma, brothers Hyrum Smith, William Law and others, with instructions to meet me on the island between Nauvoo and Montrose. After dark, Emma, Hyrum, William Law, Newel. K. Whitney, George Miller, William Clayton, and Dimick B. Huntington, met at the waterside near the Brick Store, and proceeded in a skiff between the islands, until they arrived near the lower end; and then hailed to shore. After waiting a very little while, the skiff arrived from the opposite shore, and in it were myself, and brother Erastus H. Derby. A council was then held in the skiffs, and various statements set forth in regard to the state of things. It was reported that the Governor of Iowa had issued a warrant for my apprehension, and that of O. P. Rockwell, and that the Sheriff of Lee county was expected down immediately; very strong evidence was also manifested that Governor Reynolds of Missouri was not acquainted with these proceedings. That Ex-Governor Boggs had made oath before a Justice of the Peace, or a Judge, and that the Judge had made the requisition, and not Governor Reynolds, also that the writ issued by Carlin was illegal and unjustifiable. It is absolutely certain that the whole business is another glaring instance of the effects of prejudice against me as a religious teacher, and that it proceeds from a persecuting spirit, the parties having signified their determination to have me taken to Missouri, whether by legal or illegal means. It was finally concluded that I should be taken up the river in a skiff, and landed below [Ebenezer] Wiggan’s farm, so called, and that I should proceed from thence to brother Edward Sayers and there abide for a season.”
After that they decided that nowhere in Montrose or Nauvoo was safe for Jo. They needed to get him out of town to get him in safe hiding for as long as possible. Wiggan’s farm was a good point to hold up for a minute before proceeding on to Sayers’.
How could they do it without attracting the attention of the Sheriff in town? If he saw anything out of the ordinary, he’d instantly begin tailing anybody who might lead him to Jo or Port.
A little plan was devised. Jo sent Albert P. Rockwood up the river on the Nauvoo side to find Wiggan’s farm in the cover of that night. Jonathan Dunham rowed Jo and Erastus Derby up the river north of Nauvoo. Albert Rockwood’s task was to find the farm, come to the bank of the Mississippi, and light two fires as a signal for Jo to disembark. The plan was carried out that same night, but it wasn’t without its hiccups. They first came to a place on the river where a fire was lit, thinking it was made by Rockwood. They were mistaken but luckily the person was friendly and let them pass along without signaling that he’d found the fugitives.
Jo, Derby, and Dunham continued up the river until they found the two fires by Rockwood, and there, Jo found brief refuge on Wiggan’s farm and made his way to Edward Sayers’ home. This holdup was nice for a minute, but Jo still had a church and city to run, and thus required meetings with trusted elites to put his desires into effect. Most important item on the agenda, get a recognized authority to declare that arrest and extradition warrants for Jo were illegal. Nauvoo had just passed the ordinance less than a week prior that we read earlier which granted a lot of authority for Nauvoo government to declare specific writs and warrants illegal, but if those continued to be enforced by Governors of Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, Nauvoo’s authority didn’t count for much when pitted against Governors of states and a territory.
To recap, Jo was wanted in two states and a territory at this time and there were still a number of people in Kirtland who had outstanding subpoenas to bring Jo in to court for debts he owed. Everywhere Jo had been for the last decade wanted him behind bars or facing the gallows. But never forget, it was all religious persecution, am I right?
The Sheriff still thought Jo was hiding out in Nauvoo, not miles up the river. Jo and friends devised a little plan to lead them to believe he was no longer in Nauvoo and definitely wasn’t still in the state of Illinois. A man named William Walker, in conspicuous sight of numerous people in Nauvoo and the Sheriff who was still trying to find Jo, left Jo’s house on Jo’s horse and crossed the river to Montrose.
They hoped this would be a clever diversion. What was it a diversion for? Well, Emma and William Law decided to send two messengers to Burlington, Iowa, where Governor John Chambers resided, to see whether or not he had issued a warrant for the arrest of Jo and Port in the territory of Iowa. This diversion allowed these two messengers to depart without being noticed and allowed William Clayton and John D. Parker to slip out of Nauvoo and make their way to Sayers’ to meet with Jo in hiding.
The Sheriff must have realized it was all a rouse. He remained in Nauvoo, not crossing the river to attempt finding Jo in Montrose, because Jo wasn’t there to be found. Instead, he decided on the best conclusion, tail Emma. Maybe in a day, maybe in a week, he knew that Emma would leave Nauvoo to visit her husband in hiding. She could lead him right to Jo.
Emma had been here before though. Her husband had been wanted by a lot of people many times throughout their marriage, she was smart enough to know she’d be trailed when she went to meet Jo the next day.
Jo was rightfully scared throughout all of it. His journal reads tells a bit about the boiling tension. The letter to which he’s referring is no longer extant so we don’t know the contents, just what Jo reported of the contents. Of course, he made it seem like Governor Carlin was on his side in the whole matter, but that was evidently not the case as later events will attest. Regardless, what the letter did reveal was that the Missouri officials were nowhere near done.
“This forenoon brother Hyrum received a letter from Elder Hollister at Quincy, stating that Governor Carlin had said that his proceedings were illegal, and he should not pursue the subject any further. The letter also stated that [Edward R.] Ford (the agent to receive me from the hands of the Sheriff, and carry me to Missouri) had concluded to take the first boat and start home: and that he was going to fetch a force from Missouri. All this my friends thought was only a scheme got up for the purpose of throwing us off our guard, that they might come unexpectedly, kidnap, and carry me to Missouri.”
This agent Ford was ready to serve the necessary papers to Jo and get him in custody to bring him to Missouri. He was done messing around and was headed back to Missouri to bring a small armed force to Nauvoo to affect the arrest.
But Jo needed to see Emma. She decided to take the carriage, but the Sheriff noticed and immediately began trailing her. But, once again, this wasn’t the first time this had happened and Emma was smart. Instead of heading north out of town toward Sayers’ house where Jo was hiding out, she instead took a little detour to wait out the Sheriff. She went to Elizabeth Durphy’s house and waited there for a while. But she had a plan all along to throw the Sheriff off her trail. Once at Elizabeth’s house, she had William Clayton with another carriage with drawn curtains pass along the river near Elizabeth’s house. While Emma’s carriage remained parked in front of Elizabeth’s house and the Sheriff waited somewhere nearby watching it, Emma snuck out the other side and got in the carriage brought around by William Clayton. With this little scheme she was able to pass out of Nauvoo as the evening turned to night completely undetected.
They took the backroads out of Nauvoo and arrived at the field of Wiggam’s farm where Emma got out of the carriage and walked the rest of the way to Sayers’ house where Jo remained in hiding. That night, while they remained together, some uncomfortable intelligence also came to Emma and Jo’s attention.
“A report came over the river that ‘there are several small companies of men in Montrose, Nashville, Keokuk, &c. in search of Joseph, they saw his horse go down the river yesterday and were confident he was on that side. They swear they will have him.”
With the assurance that her husband would be alright and was sufficiently well-hidden, Emma made her way back to Nauvoo undetected. The next few days were tense.
That little rouse with William Walker disguised as Jo on his horse crossing the river threw some people off his trail, but what that did mean was that they wouldn’t find him and would keep searching. A bounty of $1300 was placed on his head, which essentially deputized anybody who wanted to be a bounty hunter to bring him into the custody of the Sheriff of Adams county, which of course would lead to his transfer to agent Ford and his extradition to Missouri. Of course, Port was on the chopping block too, but he was long gone by this time. Besides if you can disarm the Mormon colossus or take its head off, which option do you think Governor Reynolds go for? Getting Pistol Packin Port in custody was a priority, getting Jo in state custody was a necessity.
Jo knew the law was closing in on him and it was only a matter of time before he fell into custody that he wouldn’t be able to escape from. He was pushing 4 out of 5 wanted stars here and had to lie low while somehow keeping the church and city running and keep his followers from caving to the public pressure caused by the Bennett meltdown. How could he retain control? Further, with all the new revelations made public by Bennett, who could he still trust?
Now, I have to say, whenever Jo is chained down to one location away from his regular daily responsibilities, those are some of my favorite times in Mormon history. When Jo couldn’t leave the confines of a building for whatever reason, he wrote. That’s when we get a view into the mind of Joseph Smith where otherwise we wouldn’t have access to. Most writings concerning Jo don’t come from him, but from people close to him and his various secretaries and scribes. Joseph’s own writings in his own hand are surprisingly few when compared to the mountain of documentation from people near him. However, while he was in hiding from the law here in August of 1842, he exchanged a number of letters with Mormon elites including Emma.
We’ll be spending some time on those exchanges as they provide a window into the chaos of August 1842. But, before we do, we need to hear a word from our sponsor this week, 49dollarsites.com
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And now, back to the show…
Jo had to keep everything in check from afar. Here’s the first letter he wrote to his acting second in command of the Nauvoo Legion, Wilson Law. He had just been elected as Major-General with the upset in leadership since the Bennett meltdown. It’s a small window into the mind of Joseph Smith at this time when he realistically thought he would be captured and executed. It reads more like the last will and testament of a martyr than that of a letter of direction. I’ll leave a link to this letter on Joseph Smith Papers in the show notes.
I take this opportunity to give you some instructions how I wish you to act in case our persecutors should carry their pursuits so far as to tread upon our rights as free-born American Citizens. The orders which I am about to give you is the result of a long series of contemplation since I saw you.— I have come fully to the conclusion both since this last difficulty commenced, as before, that I never would suffer myself to go into the hands of the Missourians alive; and to go into the hands of the Officers of this state is nothing more nor less, than to go into the hands of the Missourians; for the whole farce has been gotten up, unlawfully and unconstitutionally, as well on the part of the Governor as others; by a mob spirit for the purpose of carrying out mob violence, to carry on mob tolerance in a religious persecution. I am determined therefore, to keep out of their hands, and thwart their designs if possible, that perhaps they may not urge the necessity of force and blood against their own fellow-citizens and loyal subjects; and become ashamed and withdraw their pursuits. But if they [p. 131] should not do this and shall urge the necessity of force; and I if… by any means should be taken, these are therefore to command you forthwith, without delay, regardless of life or death to rescue me out of their hands. And further, to treat any pretensions to the contrary, unlawful and unconstitutional and as a mob got up for the purpose as religious persecution to take away the rights of men. And further, that our chartered rights and privileges shall be considered by us as holding the supremacy in the premises and shall be maintained; nothing short of the supreme court of this State, having authority to dis-annul them; and the Municipal Court having jurisdiction in my case. You will see therefore that the peace of the City of Nauvoo is kept, let who will endeavor to disturb it. … If there are any threats in the city let legal steps be taken on the part of those that make the threats: and let no man, woman or child be intimidated nor suffer it to be done. Nevertheless as I said in the first place we will take every measure that lays in our power and make every sacrifice that God or man could require at our hands to preserve the peace and safety of the people without colition [collision?]. And if sacrificing my own liberty for months and years without stooping to the disgrace of Missouri persecution and violence, and [Thomas] Carlins mis-rule and corruption I bow to my fate with cheerfulness and all due deference in the consideration of the lives, safety and welfare of others. But if this policy cannot accomplish the desired object; let our charter, and our Municipality; free trade and Sailors rights be our motto, and go a-head David Crockett like, and lay down our lives like men, and defend ourselves to the best advantage we can to the very last. You are therefore, hereby authorised and commanded, by virtue of the authority which I hold, and commission granted me by the Executive of this State, to maintain the very letter and spirit of the above contents of this letter to the very best of your ability; to the extent of our lives, and our fortunes; and to the lives and the fortunes of the [Nauvoo] Legion; as also all those who may volunteer their lives and their fortunes with ours; for the defence of our wives, our children, our fathers and our mothers; our homes; our grave yards, and our tombs; and our dead and their tombstones, and our dear bought American liberties with the blood of our fathers, and all that is dear and sacred to man. Shall we shrink at the onset? No, let every mans brow be as the face of a Lion; let his heart be unshaken as the mighty oak, and his knee confirmed as the sappline [sapling] of the forrest; and by the voice and loud roar of the cannon; and the loud peals and thundering of Artillery; and by the voice of the thunderings of heaven as upon mount Sinai; and by the voice of the Heavenly Hosts; and by the voice of the Eternal God; and by the voice of innocent blood; and by the voice of innocence; and by the voice [p. 132] of all that is sacred and dear to man, let us plead the justice of our cause; trusting in the arm of Jehovah the Eloheem who sits enthroned in the heavens: that peradventure he may give us the victory; and if we bleed we shall bleed in a good cause— in the cause of innocence and truth: and from henceforth will their not be a crown of glory for us? And will not those who come after us, hold our names in sacred remembrance? and will our enemies dare to brand us with cowardly reproach? With these considerations, I subscribe myself Yours most faithfully and respectfully with acknowledgements of your high and honored trusts as Major Gen. of the Nauvoo Legion
Joseph Smith— Mayor of the City of Nauvoo
This letter had a lot of messages to dissect. Most notably, it instructs Wilson Law to prepare the Nauvoo Legion for war if the state militias come into Nauvoo ringing for the prophet. The Mormons weren’t to be treated in Illinois the way they’d suffered in Missouri, at least they’d willingly give their lives to not suffer it again. There was a post script I cut that told Wilson Law to not make public anything he or Jo communicate to each other during this time, so the Mormons were unaware that they were to be prepared for battle at a moment’s notice, but Jo and Wilson Law knew what could happen. That knowledge likely made its way to the Highest-ranking Mormon elites, especially other Major Generals of the Nauvoo Legion. (and yes, pedants, that is the proper pluralization)
Wilson Law received the letter the evening of the 16th and replied the next day under Jo’s directions, making sure nobody was following the messenger to reveal Jo’s location.
“Lieut Gen. J. Smith
Dear Friend— Every thing is moving along in the city in the usual tranquil & industrious manner, there is no change in the appearance of things that a common observer could see, although to one who knows & is acquaint with the countenances of the thinking few, it is evident that their minds are troubled more than common, and I know by myself that they can not help it, and why should it be otherwise when the Lords anointed is hunted like a Lion of forest by the most wicked & oppressive generation that has ever been since the days of the saviour of the world, indeed every movement of this generation reminds me of the history of the people who crucified Christ, it was nothing but mob law, mob rule and mob violence all the time, the only difference is that the Governors then were more just than the Governors now, they were willing to acquit innocent men, but our Governors now despise justice, garble and prevent the law, and join in with the mob in pursuit of innocent blood. I have been meditating on your communication of yesterday & will just add a thought or so on the subject, respecting particularly your going to the Pine country. I think I would not go there for some time if at all. I do not believe that an armed force will come upon us at all unless they get hold of you first & that we rescue you which we would do under any circumstances with the help of God, but I would rather do it within the limits of the city under the laws of the city, therefore I would think it better to Quarter in the city & not long in one place at once. I see no reason why you might not stay in safety within the city for months without any knowing it only those who ought & that as few as is necessary.
I must close for the present remaining as ever your affectionate friend and obedient servant
Wilson Law. “
Jo was separated from the public, but wasn’t far away. He didn’t know what conversations were happening in his absence, nor was he privy to how anxious other Mormon elites, or as Law called them “the thinking few”, saw the situation. But, even in this time of anxiety and uncertainty, Jo’s and Emma’s love endured… sort of. After she had visited and stayed the night, Jo woke up the morning of August 16th and took a minute to write to his dear wife. Once again, the reason I’m reading these exchanges is because they offer a window into the mind of Jo and Emma which otherwise is completely absent from the history. Really, history is nothing if we don’t take time to appreciate the human element when provided the opportunity.
Jo begins by expressing his love and appreciation to Emma for her visits. After that he goes on to administrative issues communicated to him concerning the people trying to arrest him, related to him through some important visitors the night previous. He goes on to direct Emma with relation to Governor Carlin in Quincy. She must have asked Jo for leave to plead his case, but Jo wasn’t so certain that Carlin was a friend. After that he talks about how much the current situation is really weighing down on his mind. A fair amount of the letter is about the logistics of how the Smith family would simply disappear west to the frontier if it came down to it. It almost strikes fatalistic tones. Understandably, Jo was under a lot of stress, near the end of this letter he lets that side shine through a little bit.
Nauvoo August 16th. 1842
My Dear Emma
I embrace this opportunity to express to you some of my feelings this morning. First of all, I take the liberty to tender you my sincere thanks for the two interesting and consoling visits that you have made me during my almost exiled situation. Tongue can not express the gratitude of my heart, for the warm and true-hearted friendship you have manifested in these things toward me. The time has passed away since you left me, very agreeably; thus far, my mind being perfectly reconciled to my fate, let it be what it may. I have been kept from melancholy and dumps, by the kind-heartedness of brother [Erastus] Derby, and his interesting chit-chat from time to time, which has called my mind from the more strong contemplations of things, and subjects that would have preyed more earnestly upon my feelings. Last night—in the night—brother Hyrum [Smith], [George] Miller, [William] Law & others came to see us. They seemed much agitated, and expressed some fears in consequence of some manouverings and some flying reports which they had heard in relation to our safety; but after relating what it was, I was able to comprehend the whole matter to my entire satisfaction, and did not feel at all alarmed or uneasy. They think, however, that the Militia will be called out to search the city, and if this should be the case I would be much safer for the time being at a little distance off, untill Governor [Thomas] Carlin could get weary and be made ashamed of his corrupt and unhallowed pro-ceedings. I had supposed, however, that if there were any serious operations taking by the Governor; that Judge [James] Ralston or brother [David S.] Hollister would have notified us; and cannot believe that any thing very serious is to be apprehended, untill we obtain information from a source that can be relied on. I have consulted wether it is best for you to go to Quincy, and see the Governor; but on the whole, he is a fool; and the impressions that are suggested to my mind, are, that it will be of no use; and the more we notice him, and flatter him, the more eager he will be for our destruction. You may write to him, whatever you see proper, but to go and see him, I do not give my consent at present. Brother Miller again suggested to me the propriety of my accompanying him to the Pine woods, and then he return, and bring you [p. 173] and the children. My mind will eternally revolt at every suggestion of that kind. More especially since the dream and vision that was manifested to me on the last night. My safety is with you, if you want to have it so. Any thing more or less than this cometh of evil. My feelings and council I think ought to be abided. If I go to the Pine country, you shall go along with me, and the children; and if you and the children go not with me, I dont go. I do not wish to exile myself for the sake of my own life, I would rather fight it out. It is for your sakes, therefore, that I would do such a thing. I will go with you then, in the same carriage and on Horse back, from time to time, as occasion may require; for I am not willing to trust you, in the hands of those who cannot feel the same interest for you, that I feel; to be subject to the caprice, temptations, or notions of any-body whatever. And I must say that I am pre-possessed somewhat, with the notion of going to the Pine Country any how; for I am tired of the mean, low, and unhallowed vulgarity, of some portions of the society in which we live; and I think if I could have a respite of about six months with my family, it would be a savor of life unto life, with my house. Nevertheless if it were possible I would like to live here in peace and wind up my business; but if it should be ascertained to a dead certainty that there is no other remedy, then we will round up our shoulders and cheerfully endure it; and this will be the plan. Let my horse, saddle, saddle-bags, and valice to put some shirts and clothing in, be sent to me. Let brother Derby and Miller take a horse and put it into my Buggy with a trunk containing my heavier cloths, shoes and Boots &c and let brother [John] Taylor accompany us to his fathers, and there we will tarry, taking every precaution to keep out of the hands of the enemy, untill you can arrive with the children. Let brother Hyrum bring you. Let Lorain [Lorin Walker] and brother [William] Clayton come along and bring all the writings and papers, books and histories, for we shall want a scribe in order that we may pour upon the world the truth like the Lava of Mount Vesuvius. Then, let all the goods, household furniture, cloths and Store Goods that can be procured be put on to the Boat, and let 20 or 30 of the best men that we can find be put on board to man it, and let them meet us at Prairie Du Chien; and from thence, we will wend our way like larks up the Mississippi untill the touring [towering?] mountains and rocks, shall reminds us of the places of our nativity, and shall look like safety and home; and then we will bid defiance to the world, to Carlin, [Lilburn W.] Boggs, [John C.] Bennett, and all their whorish [~~whores~~], and motly clan, that [p. 174] 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; then, in that day will we not shout in the victory and be crowned with eternal joys, for the battles we have fought, having kept the faith and overcome the world. Tell the children that it is well with their father, as yet; and that he remains in fervent prayer to Almighty God for the safety of himself, and for you, and for them. Tell Mother Smith [Lucy Mack Smith] that it shall be well with her son, wether in life or in death; for thus saith the Lord God. Tell her that I remember her all the while, as well as Lucy [Smith Millikin] and all the rest; they all must be of good cheer. Tell Hyrum to be sure and not fail to carry out my instructions, but at the same time if the Militia does not come, and we should get any favorable information all may be well yet. Yours in haste, Your affectionate husband untill death, through all eternity forevermore
Emma’s reply is very revealing… I’ve cut the little piece about finances as it isn’t particularly relevant for today.
I am ready to go with you if you are obliged to leave; and Hyrum [Smith] says he will go with me. I shall make the best arrangements I can and be as well prepared as possible. But still I feel good confidence that you can be protected without leaving this country. There is more ways than one to take care of you, and I believe that you can still direct in your business concerns if we are all of us prudent in the matter. If it was pleasant weather I should contrive to see you this evening, but I dare not run to much of a risk on account of so many going to see you… Brother [Erastus H.] Derby will tell you all the information we have on hand. I think we ~~we~~ will have news from Quincy as soon as tomorrow.
Yours affectionately forever
She was ready to go. Come Outer Darkness or the destroyer upon the waters, Emma was sealed to Jo and ready to fulfill his wishes. She was smart enough to not be tailed when visiting Jo in hiding and realized that too many people were visiting him that if she went it would arouse too much suspicion. This letter exchange exhibits just how much of an emotional pillar she was to Jo in his times of need. They leaned on each other in the most dire of times.
The point of it all is that Jo’s power during the Bennett meltdown rested on a knife’s edge. He had a group of trusted individuals who’d swore undying fealty to him, then there were the thousands of other average Mormons who weren’t privy to the information the higher ranks were. Jo was king.
With all of that considered, what really comprised Jo’s power and authority? A few thousand people believed he was the mouthpiece of God, but nobody granted him that status, he just said it enough times that people eventually said, “okay, yeah, this guy talks to god. Why would he lie about something like that?”
Somebody in an elected position, or an academic authority in a specific field, have usually put their lives’ work into gaining that authority. Millions of people across the planet say that X or Y person is the president or prime minister of our country because they deserve it. X or Y have done what it takes to gain the authority of that position and they reap the power that such authority usually includes. Even then, it’s up to those millions of people every single day to agree that person X or Y is deserving of the authority they grant. Without millions of people in support of them, what power do they truly wield? What authority do they have when the rest of the world leaders openly laugh at them and don’t recognize their claimed power? Does their power and authority continue once they no longer hold whatever position granted such status?
Jo’s power was so vulnerable in 1842. He was just a guy. He was a guy who told thousands of people that he deserved authority because he had power within him that an unseen force had granted, but that wasn’t exactly testable. It was only the people who believed him that created the fountainhead of his power. But the dude could have been killed just like any other person, then what would happen to all that claimed power and authority? Well, the fountainhead of believers were still there creating the position of power and authority, it just required somebody to step up to the plate and claim that they deserved the job.
And really, isn’t that the source of all divides in human cultures? Coup de tats, groups of people at war, religious schisms… all of these boil down to a body of benefactors in the form of believers contributing their fealty to a position or single idea. Then all it takes is a person coming along and saying they deserve that fealty. There are two sides to this power dynamic, those who give power and authority, and those who take it. Needless to say, Jo wasn’t one to leave any power and authority lying around.
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