Ep 209 – “We Will Be Reconciled to Our Fate”
On this episode, Joseph Smith crossed the Mississippi to go into hiding from Governor Ford’s arrest order. Emma and his friends blast him for cowardice and he agrees to finally surrender saying “[i]f my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to myself.” Joseph and Hyrum decide to go “like lambs to the slaughter” expecting to be “butchered” by the anti-Mormons waiting for them in Carthage. However, on their journey to Carthage, they meet Captain Dunn of the Illinois Militia, holding an order from Governor Ford for the Nauvoo Legion to surrender their state-provided arms and cannons. Jo accompanies Captain Dunn to ensure compliance with the order, running out the clock on Ford’s arrest order. Finally, Jo and Hyrum, along with 16 other offenders, enter Carthage to surrender at 5 minutes to midnight on June 24th, 1844. The anti-Mormons among the Illinois Militia there celebrate this small victory.
History of Illinois by Governor Thomas Ford
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The Mormon theocracy on the Mississippi was tossed into the throes of chaos by recent events. Governor Thomas Ford, attempting to enforce the law of the land, had been very clear in his letter to Joseph Smith and personal communication with John Taylor who relayed the message to the prophet; if Jo and Hyrum didn’t agree to be arrested on the morning of June 23rd, he’d order out the militia to occupy Nauvoo until they could be found. The previous night, Jo, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith, White-out Willard Richards, and Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell committed to their fateful crossing of the Mississippi under the cover of night, where they planned on camping for a few days until horses and provisions could be prepared for their journey to the Great Salt Lake to build the new Zion away from all law enforcement. The Mormons would follow close behind and begin their mass migration to the north corner of Mexico that summer.
By running away from the Mormons at this crucial juncture in Jo’s life, he abandoned them when they needed him the most. Yes, his life was in danger, but cowardice is most often revealed when the consequences are dire. Jo sent a message to each and every one of the 15-20,000 Mormons living in Nauvoo and Illinois at large that night that he valued his own life more than he valued theirs. No true leader worthy of adulation would abandon his people in the throes of a coming war like this. Further, without leadership, what would the Nauvoo Legion do when Ford’s Illinois militia attempted to enter the city and occupy it? Would the Legion see this as aggression and answer with aggression, thus kicking off the war and setting Nauvoo under siege? Or, would they give themselves over to Governor Ford who was the rightful commander in chief here, whose authority supersedes that of a simple mayor’s?
The posse of 30 men to arrest Jo and Hyrum entered the city of Nauvoo at 8 a.m. on June 23rd, expecting the fugitives to follow the orders of the Governor of Illinois. The arrest couldn’t be affected and they would have to return to Carthage empty-handed, leaving one officer by the name of Yates in Nauvoo to watch any fishy behavior and keep an eye out for the fugitives. However, it wasn’t quite that simple, which is what we’re discussing today.
Events on June 23rd transpired quickly and it’s easy to get lost in attempts to sequence them. As always, I’ll do my best but it was a busy and chaotic day in Nauvoo history. First off, by 9 a.m., the posse had been in Nauvoo roughly an hour, talking with the citizens, asking around to find Jo and his friends, all of the posse members keeping an eye on their collective backs in case of immediate insurrection. They were hostiles in a foreign land; these men were enemies of the prophet and the people believed the rhetoric that the men were there to kill the prophet or at least escort him to a place where he’d be vulnerable to assassinate. It was clearly tense in the city. After conversing with the arresting posse for some time, John M. Bernhisel, who visited Governor Ford with John Taylor the previous day, crossed the river with Reynolds Cahoon, another trusted advisor of the prophet, to visit Jo, Hyrum, and White-out Willard in hiding near Montrose Iowa. They went there to “ma[k]e some explanations respecting Governor Ford’s letter.” What did they say? We can only speculate. However, I would wager a guess that Cahoon and Bernhisel told Jo that just because he ran away didn’t mean the Illinois militia wouldn’t enter and occupy the city until the fugitives were found.
These men conversed for quite some time while the arresting posse remained in Nauvoo for a few more hours. During that time, they spoke with Alpheus Cutler and Henry G. Sherwood about the situation.
[T]he officer in command exhorted Alpheus Cutler and Henry G. Sherwood to have Joseph and Hyrum come back, as the safety of Nauvoo depended on it. He pledged himself that their lives should be protected.
Could Jo and Hyrum be protected? Was this man’s pledge for protection enough to convince them to come out of hiding? These 30 men were hand-picked by Governor Ford to carry out this mission; they were likely the most-trusted contingent of the militia force in Carthage. If Ford sensed any of them may take an opportunity to execute vigilante justice, they wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Somehow, the men were convincing enough to the Mormon leadership in Nauvoo that Jo and Hyrum would be protected.
Cutler was satisfied with this pledge and said it could be depended upon, as he was an old acquaintance of his; and agreed to use his influence to fetch them back. They went and informed Emma, who requested them to go to Joseph and Hyrum and say that unless they returned and went to Carthage, Nauvoo would be burnt up and the people massacred.
She was right. Emma’s refusal to go with the Phelps family to D.C. and meet with President John Tyler and petition again for redress synergizes with this statement perfectly. There was the eventual danger of the Nauvoo Charter being revoked and her husband’s life being in danger, but the immediate threat was far more pressing. Honey, I know you’re worried about dying, but if you run away we’re all dead. Emma had her priorities straight here and she was obviously weighing her options in the growing conflict. It wasn’t just Emma who was considering the larger implications of the state militia entering Nauvoo, some of Jo’s closest allies were similarly fearful, although for reasons beyond the human cost.
About 11 a.m., the posse had mounted their animals to return to Carthage,
I would add here, where they would communicate Joseph’s insurrection to Governor Ford and he would order out the militia, but the HoC continues.
when Hiram Kimball laid his hand on Reynolds Cahoon’s shoulder and said, “there must be something done in this matter immediately, or our property in the city will be of no value whatever and a number of men will be ruined if posse leaves.”
Sure, Nauvoo citizens will probably be massacred like Emma said, think what that’ll do to our property values! We gotta get those guys to surrender or we’re gunna lose our butts on city real estate!
Kimball then called the officer aside and promised if he would wait until 2 p.m., they would go over the river and try to persuade Joseph and Hyrum to come back. Upon that promise the posse dismounted, and the animals were ordered back to the stable.
Hiram Kimball bought them another few hours to make a decision. Messengers were sent up the Mississippi to William Jordan’s farm where Jo, Hyrum, and White-out Willard were hiding, to convey the events of the morning and push them to just surrender and everything will be okay.
About 11 a.m., Emma sent over Lorenzo D. Wasson, and Hiram Kimball to entreat of Joseph and Hyrum to come back to Nauvoo and give themselves up for trial, and to inform them what the Governor intended to do in case they did not deliver themselves up.
W.W. Phelps says that about noon he went to the house of Captain John Killien as proposed by Joseph the night before. In short time afterwards Jonathan Dunham came in and they went to the house of William Jordan, where Joseph, Hyrum, and Dr. Richards were,… Directly afterwards Reynolds Cahoon and O. P. Rockwell came in and Cahoon commenced interceding with Hyrum for them to come back to Nauvoo, and stuck to it until he persuaded them to do so.
There were other considerations beyond the person and property value which would be lost once the Illinois militia entered the city.
About this time L[yman] O. Littlefield came from the printing office in great agitation and said to Cahoon, “something must be done. We must get those men back or we shall all be destroyed. I must have some help immediately to pack away the printing press and fixtures.”
Yes, this excitement had begun by the destruction of a rival printing press in the city, now members of the leadership were concerned about their own Nauvoo Neighbor/Times and Seasons printing press meeting a similar fate. I don’t know if this technically qualifies as irony but it sure is sweet to the taste.
While in hiding, Jo, Hyrum, and Willard Richards were taking all these meetings from people telling them they need to come back and just surrender. Hiram Kimball had bought them until 2 p.m. before the posse would return to Carthage, which, because information traveled at the speed of a horse, bought them another 12 hours before the Illinois militia would descend on the city. By 1 p.m. it was do or die.
At 1 p.m., Emma sent over O.P. Rockwell, requesting him to entreat of Joseph to come back; Reynolds Cahoon accompanied him with a letter which Emma had written to the same effect, and she insisted that Cahoon should persuade Joseph to come back and give himself up. When they went over they found Joseph, Hyrum, and Willard in a room by themselves, having flour and other provisions on the floor ready for packing.
Flour… right. All three of these guys have been awake for nearing 32 hours by this point. Now, when Pistol Packin’ Porter arrived at William Jordan’s farm with Reynolds Cahoon to persuade Jo to come back, this is an iconic moment in Mormon history. It’s also a moment used as ammunition against Emma Hale Smith Bidamon for over a century and a half to come. This is the moment when Jo and Hyrum had this monumental conversation with Port after they’d crossed the Mississippi for Mexico, but decided to go like lambs to the slaughter. Here it is.
Reynolds Cahoon informed Joseph what the troops intended to do, and urged upon him to give himself up, inasmuch as the Governor had pledged his faith and the faith of the State to protect him while he underwent a legal and fair trial. R. Cahoon, L. D. Wasson, and Hiram Kimball accused Joseph of cowardice for wishing to leave the people, adding that their property would be destroyed, and they left without house or home; like the fable when the wolves came, the shepherd ran from the flock, and left the sheep to be devoured. To which Joseph replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to myself.”
Joseph said to Rockwell, “What shall I do?” Porter replied, “You are the oldest and ought to know best; and as you make your bed, I will lay with you.” Joseph then turned to Hyrum, who was talking with Cahoon, and said, “Brother Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?” Hyrum said, “Let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.” After studying a few moments Joseph said, “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.” Hyrum said, “No, no; let us go back, and put our trust in God, and we shall not be harmed; the Lord is in it; if we live or have to die, we will be reconciled to our fate.”
After a short pause Joseph told Cahoon to request Captain Daniel C. Davis to have his boat ready by half-past five o’clock, to cross them over the river.
Emma pushed Jo to come back with the letter. I can’t find the actual letter but the content of what Port told Jo has served as what Emma communicated to Jo through Port, when the shepherd ran from the flock, he left the sheep to be devoured. This conversation lives in infamy in believing Mormon circles because if Jo didn’t listen to Emma, he would never have been interred in Carthage and therefore never assassinated; American history would look significantly different. But, Jo listened to what Emma said through Pistol Packin’ Porter, asked his older brother, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff, what to do, and they all agreed to give themselves up and see the thing out. Jo told Hyrum that they’d be butchered, but Hyrum apparently believed in Jo’s god more than Jo because he said we’ll be alright, the Lord is in it. We will be reconciled to our fate. Indeed, they were reconciled to their fate. They were now on a path to suffer the consequences of their own actions.
There was a problem though. Hiram Kimball got the arresting posse to stick around until 2 p.m. before they returned to Carthage empty-handed and Governor Ford ordered out the militia to occupy Nauvoo. This conversation transpired over that deadline, meaning they wouldn’t be back in Nauvoo until the posse was already nearly back in Carthage. They missed the deadline, and immediate action was required to keep Governor Ford from marching a thousand soldiers into Nauvoo that night or the following morning. Jo drafted a letter to Ford and sent it via express messengers Theodore Turley and Jedediah M. Grant, who would be known as Brigham’s Sledgehammer in Utah. Here’s the letter:
His Excellency Thomas Ford:--
Sir:--I wrote you a long communication at 12 last night, expressive of my views of your Excellency’s communication of yesterday. I thought your letter rather severe, but one of my friends has just come to me with an explanation from the captain of your posse, which softened the subject matter of your communication, and gives us greater assurance of protection, and that your Excellency has succeeded in bringing in subjection the spirits which surround your Excellency to some extent. And I declare again, the only objection I ever had or ever made to a trial by my country at any time, was what I have made in my last letter—on account of assassins, and the reason I have to fear deathly consequences from their hands.
But from the explanation, I now offer to come to you at Carthage on the morrow, as early as shall be convenient for your posse to escort us into Headquarters, provided we can have a fair trial, not be abused, nor have my witnesses abused, and have all things done in due form of law, without partiality, and you may depend on my honor without the show of a great armed force to produce excitement in the minds of the timid.
We will meet your posse, if this letter is satisfactory (if not, inform me) at or near the Mound, at or about two o’clock tomorrow afternoon, which will be as soon as we can get our witnesses, and prepare for trial. We shall expect to take our witnesses with us, and not have to wait a subpoena, or a part at least, so as not to detain the proceedings, although we may want time for counsel.
We remain most respectfully,
Your Excellency’s humble servants,
So began the coverup. Jo and Hyrum ran from the law, they were convinced to surrender and go to court, now they needed to contrive the necessary excuses to the powers that be to keep from the militia marching into Nauvoo because of the missed deadline. It was all a misunderstanding from Ford’s previous letter, no need to bring in the militia, we’ll meet you on the mound tomorrow afternoon. The excuse given, that Jo feared for his life, is legitimate. He was in danger of assassination, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse ignoring an arrest warrant, especially when his life was in danger for the very things he was supposed to be arrested for. However, Jo was smart enough to realize that with everybody telling him to just surrender and with the assurance from Henry G. Sherwood that the arresting posse would effectively defend him from assassination, he made a judgement call. See this out, escape from jail or be released, whichever was most prudent, then organize the next Mormon exodus to the Great Basin. Trying to make the journey west with so much pressure on Nauvoo was ill-advised and poorly timed. But if the Mormons could have a few months to prepare while Jo and Hyrum were tied up in court, the next exodus could be executed less hasty and more effectively, likely retaining a larger percentage of the members during the move.
It is notable, however that Jo seemed to be acting completely defeated. In the city council meeting before he decided to run he acted defeated before he came up with the plan to flee west, but this sense of defeat was different.
About four o’clock, p.m., Joseph, Hyrum, the Doctor, and others started back; while walking towards the river Joseph fell behind with O.P. Rockwell; the others shouted to him to come on; Joseph replied, “it is of no use to hurry, for we are going back to be slaughtered,” and continually expressed himself that he would like to get the people once more together, and talk to them tonight. Rockwell said if that was his wish he would get the people together, and he could talk to them by starlight.
Jo wanted one final address to the Mormons as he likely felt his previous message about going to the west and raising a more righteous people might not sit well as his final sermon before all these legal troubles. But there was a problem. Yates, the guy the arresting posse left behind, was still in Nauvoo and waiting to arrest Jo and Hyrum as soon as they publicly showed their faces. Besides, Yates and the arresting posse were still operating under the assumption that Jo and Hyrum had fled and they’d need to bring the militia into Nauvoo the following day. By the time Jo and his cabal of acolytes were entering crossing back over the Mississippi, the arresting posse would be riding into Carthage to inform Governor Ford of Jo’s insurrection by refusal to surrender. Governor Ford would resolve to call out the militia and if they entered the city the next morning and learned Jo had preached a sermon the previous evening, it would be an act of insurrection so blatant that it would further inflame the anti-Mormons among the militia to the point that violence couldn’t be prevented. You do have to admire Pistol Packin’ Porter’s resolve to follow the prophet and his childhood friend here. If you want to preach, I’ll get everybody together and you can talk to them by starlight. He was a murderer, but at least he was a loyal murderer.
Preaching by starlight was a bad idea though. It would leave the prophet vulnerable to anybody in the city who wanted to either arrest or kill him on the spot. When Jo arrived in Nauvoo that evening after crossing back over the Mississippi, he understood the gravity of the situation by spending time with the few people on earth he actually did care about.
It was the strong persuasions of Reynolds Cahoon, Lorenzo D. Wasson, and Hiram Kimball, who were carrying out Emma’s instructions, that induced Joseph and Hyrum to start back to Nauvoo. They re-crossed the river at half-past five; when they arrived at his Mansion in Nauvoo, Joseph’s family surrounded him, and he tarried there all night, giving up the idea of preaching to the Saints by starlight.
The sun was going down and shadows cast further across the city. The arresting posse were certainly back in Carthage by this point. It was hoped that Theodore Turley and Jedediah Grant would arrive in Carthage to deliver Jo’s surrender letter to Governor Ford before nightfall, thereby abating the mustering of the militia to march on Nauvoo that evening. They’d also be able to observe what was going on in Carthage and report it to Joseph the following day upon their return. Awake for over 36 hours by this point, Jo settled into the Nauvoo Mansion where he crashed and allowed the next day’s events to hit him like a freight train upon waking.
While he slept, Turley and Grant made it to Carthage with Jo’s letter of surrender as the stars began to peek through the firmament.
Col Turley, and Elder Jedediah M. Grant,… carried it to Carthage, where they arrived about 9 p.m. They gave the letter to Governor Ford, who first agreed to send a posse to escort Gen. Smith in safety to Carthage;
There was a problem, however. Governor Ford had a few little demons on his shoulders who voiced dissent for the escort of the General Joseph Smith to Carthage.
immediately afterwards Mr. Skinner came in and made a very bitter speech to the Governor, in which Wilson Law and Joseph H. Jackson joined, telling him naught but lies, which caused Elder Grant to ask if messengers to him were to be insulted in that manner. The Governor treated them coldly, and rescinded his previous promise and refused to send, or allow an escort to go with Joseph, as he said it was an honor not given to any other citizen.
This is an interesting point. We need to keep in mind that Jo was trying the patience of Governor Ford here. The previous letter Ford sent to Jo, which Jo replied by saying we’ve done nothing wrong, stated that Jo was to surrender that morning and that if any witnesses were required Governor Ford would subpoena them accordingly. Also, no escort as that will only cause the Carthaginians to lose their minds. Now, 13 hours after the deadline for surrender and Governor Ford’s hand was called. To remain true to his first letter to Jo he was required to call out the militia to invade Nauvoo and affect the arrest. Now, in this letter from Jo, he surrendered on his own terms, claimed he was bringing his witnesses anyway in defiance of Ford’s previous letter, and Jo wanted his own escort but assured Governor Ford that they would escort him “without the show of a great armed force to produce excitement in the minds of the timid.” Ford had absolutely no reason to honor Jo’s requests here as they were in stark contradiction to his own terms. He was the governor and Joseph Smith was an inferior military officer, Ford called the shots here. It was very gracious of him to even allow the messengers to deliver the letter without detaining them as leverage to insure the prophet’s surrender. Ford had absolutely no obligation to conform his conduct to the wishes of Joseph Smith; Jo had worn out his welcome before Ford even arrived in Carthage 2 days prior. Ford also had a point; if Joseph Smith were any other citizen, let alone any other officer in any state-sanctioned militia, Jo would never be granted any of these wishes. Ford had absolute grounds to hold a court martial of Joseph Smith in absentia and rule him guilty of treason, after which Ford had legal grounds to march the Carthage militia into Nauvoo and execute both Joseph and Hyrum in broad daylight. He had legal grounds to conduct the proceedings this way and the fact that he didn’t proves he wasn’t the rabid anti-Mormon like Colonel Levi Williams who just wanted the prophet dead. Governor Ford was doing everything in his power from keeping this from spiraling out of control, which includes ignoring the requirements of martial conduct for officers who commit acts of treason. With Governor Ford’s patience wearing thin, he concluded the meeting with Jo’s bois, Turley and Grant, by telling them to get out of here and tell your commanding officer that he better be in Carthage by 10 tomorrow morning or I’ll call out the militia as I promised I’d do 13 hours ago if Jo didn’t surrender. He sent them packing with this final dire message to carry back to the prophet.
He would not allow the messengers to stay in Carthage through the night, but ordered them to start at 10 o’clock and return to Nauvoo with orders for Gen. Smith to be in Carthage by 10 o’clock tomorrow morning without an escort, and he threatened that if Gen. Smith did not give himself up at that time, that Nauvoo would be destroyed, and all the men, women and children that were in it. Messrs. Grant and Turley immediately started, but on account of their horses being wearied they did not arrive in Nauvoo until about 4 a.m. of the 24th, when they went to Gen. Smith to report to him the state of excitement in Carthage: he would not hear one word of the warning, as he was determined to go to Carthage and give himself up to the Governor.
Turley and Grant arrived in Nauvoo as daylight was near breaking on June 24th to deliver the message of immediacy to Jo who probably slept like a rock that night after having not slept the previous night. They woke him up upon their arrival and notified him that his previous letter to Governor Ford stating he’d be at the mound near 2 p.m. wasn’t good enough; Governor Ford demanded Jo be in Carthage by 10. Jo sent a few letters demanding Horace Hugins and Joseph R. Wakefield to meet him in Carthage the next day at noon to provide legal counsel. He signed each letter with “Do not fail me, and oblige your old friend.” Jo got his posse together of all the men who were charged with the original Expositor destruction and riot.
Monday, 24.—Francis M. Higbee having sworn out a writ before [Judge] Thomas Morrison, a justice of the peace at Carthage, on the 11th inst. [13 days prior], against Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Bennett, John Taylor, William W. Phelps, John P. Greene, Stephen C. Perry, Dimick B. Huntington, Jonathan Dunham, Stephen Markham, William W. Edwards, Jonathan Holmes, Jesse P. Harmon, John Lytle, Joseph W. Coolidge, David Harvey Redfield, Orrin P. Rockwell, and Levi Richards, for riot in destroying the Nauvoo Expositor Press, the property of William and Wilson Law and others on the 10th inst., and Governor Ford having sent word by the posse that those eighteen persons should be protected by the militia of the State; they, upon the assurance of that pledge at 6 ½ a.m. started for Carthage, Willard Richards, Dan Jones, Henry G. Sherwood, Alfred Randall, James Davis, Cyrus H. Wheelock, A.C. Hodge, and several other brethren, together with James W. Woods, as counsel, accompanying them.
This wasn’t an armed guard or a posse to protect the prophet, these were the 18 fugitives named in the original arrest warrant Jo had refused to honor when Constable Bettisworth entered Nauvoo and placed him under arrest which led to the 2 sham trials in the Nauvoo Municipal Court. The others, White-out Willard, Henry Sherwood, Alfred Randall, James Davis, Cyrus Wheelock, A.C. Hodge, and several other brethren, however, were the bodyguards of the prophet, joining him on the journey to Carthage in outright defiance of Governor Ford’s orders. Each of them were likely armed as well, which would only exacerbate the excitement of the Carthaginians on their arrival.
They began the journey out of Nauvoo, but not before Jo could take a wistful moment of reflection when he caught sight of the temple.
Joseph paused when the got to the Temple, and looked with admiration first on that and then on the city, and remarked, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.” As he passed out of the city he called on Daniel H. Wells, Esq., who was unwell, and on parting he said, “Squire Wells, I wish you to cherish my memory, and not think me the worst man in the world either.”
That is a rather revealing passage as Daniel Wells was the justice who presided over the 2 sham trails in the Nauvoo Municipal Court. What conversation transpired between Jo and Wells previously which would cause Jo to say that to him? Jo and Daniel Wells had an interesting relationship which is also quite notable because he wasn’t a member of the church at this time. It wouldn’t be until after the battle of Nauvoo, during which Daniel Wells served as a lieutenant and defended the city and harbored refugees that he was baptized, after which he went with the Mormons out to Utah, served as a Mayor of Salt Lake City, Attorney General of the State of Deseret, he dedicated the St. George Temple, and was a loyal dog to Bloody Brigham during the construction of the Mormon empire in Utah territory. I suppose I’m merely surprised that Jo considered Wells’ opinion of him so highly that he would give those parting words before heading to his certain death at Carthage.
After Jo saw the temple and wistfully commented about it and the Mormons, talked briefly to Daniel H. Wells, the men set off, possibly as many as fifty of them leaving Nauvoo, probably with most of them armed.
At 10 mins. to 10 a.m., they arrived at Albert G. Fellows’ farm, 4 miles west of Carthage, where they met Captain Dunn, with a company of about sixty mounted militia, on seeing which Joseph said, “Do not be alarmed, brethren, for they cannot do more to you than the enemies of truth did to the ancient saints—they can only kill the body.” The company made a halt, when Joseph, Hyrum, and several others went into Fellows’ house with Captain Dunn, who presented an order from Governor Ford for all the “State arms” in possession of the Nauvoo Legion, which Joseph immediately countersigned.
This was a good move from Governor Ford. The Nauvoo Legion was a significant threat. If he could neuter them by taking away at least some portion of their guns, that threat is reduced. The people will still have their own personal arms, nothing could force them to give those up, but the arms owned by the state could be revoked at any time. So, the order came from Captain Dunn, no friend of the Mormons, and Jo countersigned. Now Captain Dunn could take that signed order into Nauvoo and all 3,500 Legionnaires would be forced to surrender their arms to state custody.
But, with tensions so high, an Illinois militia officer entering the city and demanding unilateral disarmament of the Nauvoo Legion could only excite the tensions even more. Even if this Captain Dunn carried the order signed by Governor Ford and Joseph Smith personally, would the people trust that he was acting under proper authority? Would they think the signature of Joseph Smith was actually a forgery and that Captain Dunn was just disarming them to make an attack of the city more favorable for his Illinois militia troops? Plus, Jo had agreed to Governor Ford’s directive to be arrested at 10 a.m. just a few miles from where this meeting took place. If the Mormons perceived Captain Dunn’s disarmament order as an act of aggression and responded likewise, Nauvoo would be missing its commander in chief in the very moment the Illinois-Mormon war kicked into action. It was a bit of a conundrum, here is the solution.
Henry G. Sherwood went up to Joseph and said, “Brother Joseph, shall I return to Nauvoo, and regulate about getting the arms, and get the receipts for them?” Joseph inquired if he was under arrest, or expected to be arrested.
Let me go ahead and answer that for you Jo, yes. Yes, you are being detained and you agreed with the GOVERNOR OF THE STATE to be arrested at this exact moment. You are very much expected to be arrested and Governor Ford was showing a great deal of leniency in not calling out the militia immediately upon your first refusal to be arrested when you fled across the Mississippi. But, instead, Jo asked one of his trusted sycophants for the answer.
Sherwood answered “No”; when Joseph directed him to return ahead of the company, gather the arms, and do as well as he could in all things.
Jo directed Sherwood to carry out the order. He was defeated. Opposing this order would be yet one more act of aggression that would result in the state militia entering Nauvoo. His hands were tied and all he could do was acquiesce to the request. But, Jo did take the opportunity to grandstand a bit in another iconic quote in Mormon history.
Joseph then said to the company who were with him, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward all men; if they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall yet be said of me, “he was murdered in cold blood!”
Yeah, he could see himself as innocent if he was a narcissistic sociopath, which I think there’s plenty of evidence for. He was not innocent of the crimes against the state and the American constitution. However, his blood did cry from the ground for vengeance and he was indeed murdered, or assassinated if you prefer, but it was clearly the result of hot blood that he’d personally boiled for half a decade. But then, an interesting turn happens in this back and forth with Henry Sherwood, Jo, and the Illinois militia officer, Captain Dunn.
[Joseph] then said to Father Sherwood, “Go, and God bless you.” Sherwood then rode as swiftly as he could to Nauvoo.
Esq. Woods left the company there, and continued his journey to Carthage.
So, we have Sherwood going with the order from Jo and the Governor to collect the Legion’s arms and we have Jo’s legal counsel headed to Carthage ahead of the company. But what about Jo and the arrested posse? They made an interesting decision after a little commentary on the perceived intention of the disarmament order.
This order for the delivery of the State arms was evidently designed to drive the citizens of Nauvoo to desperation, so that in the heat of their indignation they might commit some overt act which the Governor could construe into treason, and thus have a shadow of excuse for his mob militia to destroy the Mormons.
Captain Dunn requested the company to return to Nauvoo to assist in collecting the arms, and pledged his word as a military man that Joseph and his friends should be protected even if it were at the expense of his own life, and his men responded to the pledge by three cheers. Captain Dunn no doubt feared that the order of the Governor would excite the inhabitants of Nauvoo beyond endurance, and therefore chose to depend upon the well-known integrity of Gen. Smith than to risk the chances of exciting the wounded feelings of a much-abused people.
Jo was already 30 hours overdue for the first arrest order, which was served by the Governor because his defiance to acquiesce to the first arrest warrant issued 13 days prior. The ultimatum if he didn’t surrender was the state militia burning Nauvoo to the ground and he was now finally only an hour late for the final notice Governor Ford gave him when Jo was trying his patience, and here he resolved to return to Nauvoo again, instead of continuing on to Carthage where he was expected at 10 a.m. This decision was made around 1030-11, he was so overdue! How long could Governor Ford be expected to extend more leniency when he was surrounded by over a thousand people who wanted nothing more than to march into Nauvoo with rifles over their shoulders? Jo going with Captain Dunn back to Nauvoo to execute the disarmament order was absolutely unnecessary and only ran out an already extinguished clock by more hours. Jo and the Mormons were on borrowed time and Jo decided to mortgage even more time he didn’t have to assist Captain Dunn. I can’t stress this enough, this action was not necessary. Jonathan Dunham was the acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion. If he walked into Nauvoo with a signed order from Governor Ford and Joseph Smith telling the Legion to give up their arms, they would comply or they’d be in defiance to their own two commanders-in-chief, at which point the state militia would be forced to put Nauvoo under siege until the Legion surrendered.
Most importantly, Jo going back to Nauvoo on the 24th was terrible optics. Governor Ford and the thousand Carthage militiamen were expecting him on the outskirts of the city by 10 a.m. and he was already late and still 4 miles out. It would take another hour or two for intelligence to reach Carthage that Jo had turned back with Captain Dunn, at which point the riled up militiamen in Carthage wouldn’t see Joseph Smith and his arrested posse riding into town, but a single messenger. They would lose their minds at yet another overt act of insurrection and the cries to Governor Ford to call the militia into Nauvoo would reach a fever pitch. In some ways, Jo was testing Governor Ford and how serious Ford was about calling out the militia here. Jo may have been completely defeated here, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have leverage. Until he was in cuffs behind bars, Jo’s bargaining chip was himself and he was able to make a display of that fact by turning back for Nauvoo instead of walking into Carthage where he was expected.
Jo didn’t, however, just leave Governor Ford high-and-dry. Jo sent his legal counsel, Esq. Woods, into Carthage with this letter for Governor Ford.
Dear Sir:--On my way to Carthage to answer your request, this morning, I here met Capt. Dunn, who has here made known to me your order to surrender the State arms in possession of the Nauvoo Legion, which command I shall comply with, and that the same may be done properly without trouble to the State, I shall return with Capt. Dunn to Nauvoo, see that the arms are put into his possession, and shall then return to headquarters in his company, when I shall most cheerfully submit to any requisition of the Governor of our State.
With all due respect to your Excellency, I remain
Your obedient servant,
Jo also sent acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, Jonathan Dunham, ahead of himself with an extra order beyond the order from Governor Ford in his hand.
To Major-Gen. Jonathan Dunham and all commissioned and non-commissioned officers and privates of the Nauvoo Legion:--
You are hereby ordered to comply strictly, and without delay, with the within order of the Commander-in-Chief, Governor Thomas Ford.
Lieut.-Gen. Nauvoo Legion
Notably, Jonathan Dunham was also one of the 18 offenders arrested on the original charges of riot. He was just as guilty as Jo and Hyrum in this posse of arrested folks at this very moment, but this order from Jo apparently superseded the arrest order from Governor Ford. What this all amounted to was chaos. For a few short hours, nobody knew what was going on. The militia and Governor Ford expected Jo had again defied the arrest order. The citizens of Nauvoo expected Jo to be martyred in cold blood when he left the city at 630 that morning and a siege of the city to immediately follow. All those plans and expectations are out the window because Jo does what Jo wants.
Joseph and his company then returned with Capt. Dunn, and arrived in Nauvoo at 2 ½ p.m…
When the fact of the order for the State arms was known in Nauvoo, many of the brethren looked upon it as another preparation for a Missouri massacre; nevertheless, as Joseph requested that it should be complied with, they very unwillingly gave up the arms.
All the state arms were gathered and interred in the Masonic Hall, begrudgingly, by the members of the Nauvoo Legion. This is a super important detail. These were the state arms originally supplied to the Nauvoo Legion because John C. Wreck-it Bennett was quartermaster general of the state of Illinois before he was named Major-General of the Legion. They retained those arms, many of them holdovers from the revolutionary war and in disrepair, until this order was complied with. However, there were still everybody’s personal guns that couldn’t be legally seized because America the second amendment is bonkers. While the citizens were officially disarmed, the remaining Nauvoo Legionnaires were far from defenseless and arguably the guns in their private possession, although less in number, were more modern and likely better maintained and more reliable in a battle. While these arms were given up, it was crazy to assume that the Nauvoo Legion didn’t still massively overpower and outgun any militia Thomas Ford could muster. Governor Ford knew this. Joseph Smith knew this. The anti-Mormons in the Illinois militia knew this. The Legion was still incredibly dangerous and a massive threat even if the militia was just using this as a pretense to make a more effective attack on the city.
While this was going on in Nauvoo, Hyrum sent one member of the posse with Jo’s legal counsel, Esq. Woods, into Carthage to see what was going on.
Hyrum said to Abram C. Hodge, “You go into Carthage, and see what is going on, and hear what is said on this matter.”…
When Hodge arrived at Carthage he met with Rev. Mr. Dodge, who had some time previously been very kindly treated by Hyrum; he warned Hodge that as sure as Joseph and Hyrum came to Carthage they would be killed. Hodge also saw Hamilton the innkeeper, who, pointing to the Carthage Greys, said, “Hodge, there are the boys that will settle you Mormons.” Hodge replied, “We can take as many men as there are there out of the Nauvoo Legion, and they would not be missed.”
Hodge wasn’t wrong. The Carthage Greys were one division of the state militia comprising about 150-200 men. You could easily remove 150-200 men from the Nauvoo Legion and not even realize they were missing. That’s about 5% of the total Legion numbers. As I talked about last episode, by any and every calculus, even with their state-provided arms seized, the Nauvoo Legion wins every encounter against any militia Governor Ford could gather.
Another detail worth noting here, Governor Ford officially disbanded the Nauvoo Legion in reaction to the martial law declaration in Nauvoo. But just because the Governor says you’re no longer an official militia, those men don’t forget their training and get rid of their guns and uniforms. It did mean, however, that if any contingency of the Legion mustered for any reason they’d be treated as a rebellion and dealt with accordingly. Ford was doing literally everything in his power to keep that from happening. This fact is noticed by the compilers of the History of the Church.
It appears that Governor Ford feared that the Nauvoo Legion, although disbanded, might avenge any outrage that might hereafter be committed on the persons of their leaders, and so thought he had better disarm them as he had previously disbanded them;
However, the compiler, George A. Smith, didn’t stop there. He provides his own commentary for Ford’s motivations here which I believe are drastically misplaced.
yet the mob was suffered to retain their portion of the State arms, even when within a half-day’s march of Nauvoo, and they in a threatening and hostile attitude, while the Nauvoo Legion had not evinced the least disposition whatever, except to defend their city in case it should be attacked; and they had not set a foot outside the limits of the city.
There are a few ways to look at this. Governor Ford didn’t disarm the Legion so that his militia could burn the city down unopposed, he did it to stop from violence breaking out in the first place and if violence did break out it would be easier to arrest. But beyond that, it wasn’t so much what the Legion had done that was feared by Governor Ford and the officers of the state militia, it was much more about what they were capable of. When Jo was arrested in Dixon, Illinois back in June 1843, just a year ago from our timeline, it was his Nauvoo Legion who rode out of the city and rescued him by placing the officers who arrested Jo under the arrest of the Legion. Those men, Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds, barely escaped Nauvoo with their lives. What was to ensure that the Nauvoo Legion wouldn’t act similarly as soon as this arresting posse had Jo in their custody again? Additionally, if Ford decided to disarm the state militia in addition to the Nauvoo Legion, the state militia lacked the organization and centralized command and geography the Legion had, meaning they’d be at an incredible disadvantage if reduced to their own private arms when violence broke out. The men in the Illinois militia came from all over Adams and Hancock Counties, cities multiple days’ journey away from each other. If any disorganization took place, the consequences were dire and intelligence travelling at the speed of a horse was always a hindrance. The Legion, however, all lived in the same city; all of their private arms were in people’s houses just blocks away from each other. If Ford decided to disarm everybody, the Mormons would make very short work of any unarmed militia attempting to enforce the law or directives of the Governor. Disbanding and disarming the Legion was clearly the most prudent course for Governor Ford, even if the Mormons collectively groaned under the order and suspected it as the beginning of the conspiracy to burn the city to ashes.
The order was carried out. All the Nauvoo Legion’s arms were consolidated at the Masonic Lodge and put into the possession of Captain Dunn under the orders of Governor Ford. Now the posse could finally return to Carthage to comply with the original arrest warrant that was nearing 2 weeks old by this point.
But, of course, some more tearful good-byes were in order.
Joseph rode down home twice to bid his family farewell. He appeared solemn and thoughtful, and expressed himself to several individuals that he expected to be murdered. This he expected before he returned from over the river, but there appeared no alternative but that he must either give himself up, or the inhabitants of the city would be massacred by a lawless mob, under sanction of the Governor.
He’s not wrong, there was no alternative. But, if a militia is operating at the direction of the Governor, it is by definition a lawful militia, not a lawless mob. I know that’s a pointless quibble, but the Mormon persecution narrative is replete through every single page and it needs to be called out for the lies which spawn and nurse it.
The company (about 15) then started again for Carthage, and when opposite the Masonic Hall, Joseph said, “Boys, if I don’t come back, take care of yourselves; I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.” When they passed his farm he took a good look at it, and after they had passed it, he turned round several times to look again, at which some of the company made remarks, when Joseph said, “If some of you had got such a farm, and knew you would not see it any more, you would want to take a good look at it for the last time.”
Okay Jo, we get it. Lamb to the slaughter. Butchered. Calm as a summer’s morning. He was setting himself up as a martyr even though he was clearly unwilling to die and only forced into state custody when continuing to flaunt the law meant total war and massacre of himself and his people.
When they got to the edge of the woods near Nauvoo, they met A.C. Hodge returning from Carthage. He reported to Hyrum what he had heard in Carthage, told him what his feelings were, and said, “Brother Hyrum, you are now clear, and if it was my duty to counsel you I would say, do not go another foot, for they say they will kill you if you go to Carthage”; but as other persons gathered round, nothing further was said.
They received this intel from Hodge and he obviously wasn’t wrong in hindsight. But the options were, not go another step further and declare war against the state of Illinois, or go a step further and face the law, thus preserving the lives of 15-20,000 Mormons in and around Nauvoo. However, after Hodge told this to them, another messenger appeared with two letters for the prophet from Carthage.
Dear Sir:--In accordance with previous arrangement with Elder Adams, I am here at your service; and it will be necessary for us to have, on the examination here before the justice, a certified copy of the City Ordinance for the destruction of the Expositor Press, or a copy which has been published by authority. We also wish the original order issued by you to the Marshal for the destruction of said press, and such witnesses as may be necessary to show by whom the press was destroyed, and that the act was not done in a riotous or tumultuous manner.
Dear Sir:--I concur fully as to the above, and will add, from an interview with Governor Ford, you can with the utmost safety rely on his protection, and that you will have as impartial an investigation as could be expected from those opposed to you. The excitement is much allayed, and your opponents (those who wish to make capital of you) do not want you to come to Carthage. Mr. Johnson has gone east, and that will account for Mr. Reid being here.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES W. WOODS
Requests for documents and insurance that he would be safe. With these final assurances in place, the posse continued towards Carthage.
The company arrived at Fellows’ house, 4 miles west of Carthage, about 9 p.m., where they stopped about half an hour and partook of such refreshments as they had brought with them. Captain Dunn, and his company of mounted militia, returning with the State arms from Nauvoo, joined them here, and escorted them into Carthage, where they arrived at 5 minutes before 12 at night, and went to Hamilton’s Tavern.
Finally, after defying the original arrest warrant for a few hours shy of 2 weeks, running from Governor Ford’s enforcement of the arrest warrant for 40 hours, and delaying another 12 hours beyond Ford’s gracious extensions to the arrest warrant, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and their posse were in Carthage 5 minutes before June 25th. Understandably, they were greeted by all those who’d been expecting them in the city for 40 hours by this point with some derision and excitement.
While passing the public square, many of the troops, especially the Carthage Greys, made use of the following expressions, which were re-echoed in the ears of the Governor and hundreds of others: “Where is the damned Prophet?” “Stand away you, McDonough boys, and let us shoot the damned Mormons.” “God damn you old Joe, we’ve got you now.” “Clear the way and let us have a view of Joe Smith, the prophet of God; he has seen the last of Nauvoo—we’ll use him up now, and kill and the damned Mormons.”
The rear platoon of the Carthage Greys repeatedly threw their guns over their heads in a curve, so that the bayonets struck the ground with the breech of their guns upwards, when they would run back and pick them up, at the same time whooping, yelling, hooting, and cursing like a pack of savages.
Of course they were rejoicing, they’d finally captured public enemy #1, a fugitive from justice for over 4 years who’d been abusing their generosity and good natures for the same amount of time. But there’s a much larger force at work here and it’s a sword that cuts both ways. Dehumanization. To the citizens of Carthage and the gathered militia camped in the city, Joseph Smith was a heaven-daring wretch, a demon in human form, a blasphemer, a knave, the most diabolical and black-hearted monster the world had seen since the reign of Napoleon. For the Mormons, these men cheering at the arrest of Joseph Smith were the adversary. They were mindless mobocrats seeking to destroy the kingdom of god and oppose the Lord’s righteous designs for building the promised land. These people were oppressing and persecuting the Mormons every step of the way and they were motivated by the same spirit that left 18 Mormons dead covered in bullet holes in a sawmill back in Missouri. This isn’t just a bunch of drunken idiots in the 1840s… this is us. This is human and this is how we treat our enemies. We can look at this behavior and discuss how irrational everybody here was acting, but who wouldn’t act exactly the same way watching video of the president being removed from the white house in handcuffs, or the previous president for that matter, it depends on where you fall on this asinine bipolar political spectrum we’ve become the victims of. It takes a cool head to act rationally amidst this much excitement and chaos between these warring tribes. The trouble is, the coolest head is the quietest voice in the room. In this case, the coolest head was Governor Ford and he was dealing with over a thousand drunk men at midnight seeing their sworn enemy ride into town with only a posse of 18 other men who were also guilty and equally their enemies and those men were incredibly vulnerable to vigilante justice. At no other point in Jo’s entire life had he been so vulnerable than the night of June 24th 1844 riding into Carthage 5 minutes to midnight. Governor Ford immediately tried to calm the emotions and get people to withhold their celebratory lynching and just go to bed already.
On hearing those expressions, the Governor put his head out of the window and very fawningly said, “Gentlemen, I know your great anxiety to see Mr. Smith, which is natural enough, but it is quite too late tonight for you to have the opportunity; but I assure you, gentlemen, you shall have that privilege tomorrow morning, as I will cause him to pass before the troops upon the square, and I now wish you, with this assurance, quietly and peaceably to return to your quarters.” When this declaration was made there was a faint “hurrah for Tom Ford,” and they instantly obeyed his wish.
For Governor Ford to be able to thwart a lynching that quickly amidst this much chaos and excitement is truly an expression of how universally respected he was. In many ways, Joseph Smith entering Carthage and surrendering to arrest was a massive victory for Governor Ford. He’d effectively brought a fugitive into state custody while avoiding what seemed at many points to be an inevitable civil war. The confusion of the past two days made his job exponentially harder but he still kept his cool and his ability with a few words to quiet a mob of a thousand drunk men itching for murder and send them all to bed is a remarkable display of power. What it reveals further is that Ford really had the rule of law and the interests of the state in mind, not the interests of the respective parties. He didn’t take sides in the conflict, he merely acted as umpire and the players agreed that his calls were the law. But, this was one small victory of one small battle, the war was still ahead for Governor Ford.
To make tensions even worse, Hamilton’s hotel was bursting at the seams and it was the only place in Carthage where people could sleep out of the elements.
There was a company of apostates also quartered at Hamilton’s Hotel, viz.: William and Wilson Law, the Higbees and Fosters, Augustine Spencer, Henry O. Orton, John A. Hicks (formerly president of the Elder’s Quorum) and others. Hicks stated to C. H. Wheelock that it was determined to shed the blood of Joseph Smith by not only himself, but by the Laws, Higbees, Fosters, Joseph H. Jackson, and many others, whether he was cleared by the law or not. He talked freely and unreservedly on that subject, as though he were discoursing upon the most common occurrence of his life; said he, “you will find me a true prophet in this respect.” Wheelock told Ford what Hicks had said; but he treated it with perfect indifference and suffered Hicks and his associates to run at large and mature their murderous plans.
Of course Ford reacted with indifference to this because he’s been listening to hundreds of dudes talking about that nonstop for 3 days since he arrived in Carthage! In fact, everything he did was to keep those musing from becoming a reality. He couldn’t stop people from conspiring against Jo, he could only thwart the plan once it was put into effect. He was a Governor, not a god. Besides, Governor Ford was an elected official and he had to balance his actions with the desires of his constituents while also not appearing a complete fool or partisan to his political opponents. Could he retain control of the situation with these enemy tribes quartering in the same city? Could the peace be maintained?
I observed that I was narrowly watched in all my proceedings by my whig fellow-citizens, and was suspected of an intention to favor the Mormons. I felt that I did not possess the confidence of the men I commanded, and that they had been induced to withhold it by the promulgation of the most abominable falsehoods. I felt the necessity of possessing their confidence, in order to give vigor to my action; and exerted myself in every way to obtain it, so that I could control the excited multitude who were under my command. I succeeded better for a time than could have been expected; but who can control the action of a mob without possessing their entire confidence? IT is true, also, that some unprincipled democrats all the time appeared to be very busy on the side of the Mormons, and this circumstance was well calculated to increase suspicion of every one who had the name of democrat.
As much as this was a purely legal issue, politics couldn’t be disentangled from the public fury and personal motivations of politicians and saboteurs can never be underestimated in public conflicts like this. Ford could only act within the confines the situation and his office dictated, which was most often counter to what the people wanted. The confusion caused by Jo agreeing to surrender, then reneging, then agreeing at a later time, then finally coming into Carthage on his own terms obviously inflamed Ford’s closest advisors during this conflict. He reflects on the past two days with a sense of despair and exhaustion in his History of Illinois. This portion I’m going to read basically summarizes everything discussed in today’s show.
upon the arrival of the constable and guard, the mayor and common council at once signified their willingness to surrende3r, and stated their readiness to proceed to Carthage next morning at eight o’clock. Martial law had previously been abolished. The hour of eight o’clock came, and the accused failed to make their appearance. The constable and his escort returned. The constable made no effort to arrest any of them, nor would he or the guard delay their departure one minute beyond the time, to see whether an arrest could be made. Upon their return, they reported that they had been informed that the accused had fled and could not be found.
It’s a good thing they didn’t stick around too long cuz Jo wasn’t coming into town until late that evening anyway. He continues:
I immediately proposed to a council of officers to march into Nauvoo with the small force then under my command, but the officers were of opinion that it was too small, and many of them insisted upon a further call of the militia. Upon reflection, I was of opinion that the officers were right in the estimate of our force, and the project for immediate action was abandoned. I was soon informed, however, of the conduct of the constable and guard, and then I was perfectly satisfied that amost base fraud had been attempted; that, in fact, it was feared that the Mormons would submit, and thereby entitle themselves to the protection of the law. It was very apparent that many of the bustling, active spirits were afraid that there would be no occasion for calling out an overwhelming militia force, for marching it into Nauvoo, for probably mutiny when there, and for the extermination of the Mormon race. It appeared that the constable and the escort were fully in the secret, and acted will their part to promote the conspiracy.
It was all a plan. The constable never wanted Jo to come with him to Carthage that morning, he wanted Jo to not be arrested and force Governor Ford to call the militia into Nauvoo. It was all a ruse to give them an excuse to burn Nauvoo to the ground. The circle of people Governor Ford thought he could trust in this brewing conflict was growing smaller. He acted the only way he could, by waiting to see Jo’s next move.
Seeing this to be the state of the case, I delayed any further call of the militia, to give the accused another opportunity to surrender; for indeed I was most anxious to avoid a general call for the militia at that critical season of the year.
Then he discusses the historic flooding happening that spring and how it tied up supply lines for any sizeable militia.
This great flood destroyed the last hope of getting provisions at home; and I was totally without funds belonging to the State, with which to purchase at more distant markets, and there was a certainty that such purchases could not have been made on credit abroad. For these reasons I was desirous of avoiding a war, if it could be avoided.
Then Ford tells us about why he elected to seize the state arms of the Nauvoo Legion, which led to even more confusion and feelings of persecution on the part of the Mormons, especially because one of Ford’s informants was Wilson Law, one of the publishers of the Expositor and one of the 8 greatest public enemies of the prophet.
I made a requisition upon the officers of the Nauvoo legion for the State arms in their possession. It appears that there was no evidence in the quartermaster-general’s office of the number and description of arms with which the legion had been furnished. Dr. Bennett, after he had been appointed quartermaster-general, had joined the Mormons, and had disposed of the public arms as he pleased, without keeping or giving any account of them. On this subject I applied to gen. Wilson Law for information. He had lately been the major-general of the legion. He had seceded from the Mormon party; was one of the owners of the proscribed press; had left the city, as he said, in fear of his life; and was one of the party asking for justice against its constituted authorities. He was interested to exaggerate the number of arms, rather than to place it at too low an estimate. From his information I learned that the legion had received three pieces of cannon and about two hundred and fifty stand of small arms and their accoutrements. Of these, the three pieces of cannon and two hundred and twenty stand of small arms were surrendered. These arms were demanded, because the legion was illegally used in the destruction of the press, and in enforcing martial law in the city, in open resistance to legal process…
But there’s more. Fake news had blown this number of three cannons and 250 stand of arms to epic proportions.
I demanded the surrender also, on account of the great prejudice and excitement which the possession of these arms by the Mormons had always kindled in the minds of the people. A large portion of the people, by pure misrepresentation, had been made to believe that the legion had received of the State as many as thirty pieces of artillery and five or six thousand stand of small arms, which, in all probability, would soon be wielded for the conquest of the country; and for their subjection to Mormon domination. I was of the opinion that the removal of these arms would tend much to allay this excitement and prejudice; and in point of fact, although wearing a severe aspect, would be an act of real kindness to the Mormons themselves.
Yeah, he removed the state arms from the Nauvoo Legion for their own protection. We can never forget what fueled the Mormons and anti-Mormons alike in this conflict; the impending Mormon revolution. As much as it motivated fealty for the Mormons, it motivated the anti-Mormons to oppose everything the Mormons did, no matter how benign it may be. Joseph Smith was a revolutionary of religious supremacy; he didn’t belong in America in the 1840s and those around him who didn’t see a Mormon theocracy as a good thing were hyper-sensitive to the gluttony of the Mormon empire. The Mormons having 30 cannons and six thousand guns supplied by the state of Illinois to kick off the Mormon revolution was a terrifying prospect, even though the numbers were inflated by misrepresentation. It was the concept the people feared, not the scale of the concept. At the end of the day, Jo’s present situation was the result of his own tyrannical and revolutionary tendencies; his own actions caused his arrest and confinement in Carthage. The fury between the Mormons and anti-Mormons were a product of Joseph Smith and the controversy he inevitably caused by trying to fabricate a world that was impossible and choosing to live in that world regardless of what 1840s America actually was. It was up to the victims of his quest for conquest to clean up his messes and the threats on the lives of 15-20,000 Mormons in Nauvoo were the result.
Occasional threats came to my ears of destroying the city [of Nauvoo] and murdering or expelling the inhabitants…
Besides this, if we had been ever so much disposed to commit such an act of wickedness, we evidently had not the power to do it. I was well assured that the Mormons, at a short notice, could muster as many as two or three thousand well armed men. We had not more than seventeen hundred, with three pieces of cannon, and about twelve hundred stand of small arms. We had provisions for two days only, and would be compelled to disband at the end of that time. To think of beginning a war under such circumstances was a plain absurdity. If the Mormons had succeeded in repulsing our attack, as most likely would have been the case, the country must necessarily be given up to their ravages until a new force could be assembled, and provisions made for its subsistence. Or if we should have succeeded in driving them from their city, they would have scattered; and, being justly incensed at our barbarity, and suffering with privation and hunger, would have spread desolation all over the country, without any possibility, on our part, with the force we then had, or preventing it. Again; they would have had the advantage of being able to subsist their force in the field by plundering their enemies.
In all of this, it’s clear to me that the one saving grace in all of this rising conflict was Governor Ford. If he didn’t have his head on straight and devolved to the partisanship and tribalism that seemed to govern the actions of everybody around him, war was it. There was no other option. The Mormons and anti-Mormons would have waged all-out war and who knows how American history would have been shaped from that time forward. Anybody else handling this situation would have made one false step somewhere and the consequences would have been dire. Governor Ford’s only real mistake in this conflict was not having a large enough force guarding Jo and Hyrum in Carthage on June 27th, otherwise he handled this conflict the way we hope any elected official would handle a crisis of this proportion.
Look, Governor Ford could have handled this the way the Mormon propaganda portrayed him as handling it. He could have done what Governor Lilburn Boggs did in the Missouri-Mormon war of 1838. He could have marched Joseph and Hyrum into the public square of Nauvoo, held a court martial and ruled them as treasonous while officers of a state-sanctioned militia. Their actions absolutely merited this iron-fisted response. He could have marched his militia straight into Nauvoo, set the city ablaze for rebellion, signed an extermination order and declared the Mormons enemies of the state and they’d spend the rest of 1844 moving to the Great Basin. Then, a couple years later Governor Ford would be reading by firelight in his study and a shotgun blast would rip through his window and kill him just like almost happened with Governor Boggs. Ford could have handled this the way military law and the constitution required, marshalled together thousands of militiamen from nearby states who would have been happy to help the Illinois militias in uprooting and terrorizing the Mormons. It was perfectly in line with the laws of the time for Governor Ford to treat this rebellion like it was and quash the Mormon movement within the boundaries of the United States. It would have made him immensely popular in Illinois and he’d go on to run for reelection, or senate, or maybe even aim for a cabinet position.
He did none of those things because he wasn’t a partisan hack and wasn’t seeking personal glory or aggrandizement, even though many of the people at the center of this controversy were only in it for those reasons.
Society rarely looks back fondly on tyrants. Joseph Smith exhibited tendencies people in a pluralistic and democratic society can’t help but fear or loathe. He was the problem here. Anybody who views Joseph Smith with pity or as the victim in all of this only does so through motivated reasoning. History is replete with examples of men just like him rising to power, bucking trends, building empires, overthrowing governments and casting populations into the throes of uncertainty and chaos, often meeting their demise in tragic and violent ways. A person can’t pull all the levers and push all the boundaries in a society without expecting violent pushback. That’s what Jo did and the pushback he received was the due process of law that he deserved. Even still, millions of people today see this as persecution. Here’s a fun exercise, if anybody ever says that what happened in Carthage was the result of religious persecution, ask them: should Joseph Smith be subject to kings, rulers, magistrates in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law like his articles of faith dictate? If the answer to that is yes then you have grounds to say that he should have been court martialed in Nauvoo and executed by Governor Ford for treason and inciting rebellion. If the answer to that question is no, well, then, we have a much larger problem on our hands because the implication there is that the law of god is superior to the law of the land; that there are circumstances where people should follow their god instead of their laws. As soon as that becomes acceptable, the devolution into Christian theocracy is nearly complete.
Oops patron last episode
H2H SCMC ep 140
Sunstone on Whova
July 29- Aug 1
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