Ep 171 – Horse Thief Daniel Avery

On this episode, we begin with discussing the arrest and extradition to Missouri of Mormon horse-thief Daniel Avery. He suffers for 2 weeks in a Missouri jail and is let off on a writ of habeas corpus to return to Nauvoo and swear out an affidavit detailing what happened. The Anti-Mormon political party becomes more aggressive in its opposition to Mormon political power and the Nauvoo City Council responds with enacting an ordinance which would allow them to arrest any officer of the law attempting to arrest a Mormon and throw them in prison for life. The Anti-Mormon party reacts in outrage and drafts their own resolution to run any Mormons out of Carthage and Warsaw, as well as send a copy of the new Nauvoo ordinance to the Governors of Missouri and Illinois. We wrap the episode with briefly discussing last week’s episode and some listener mail.


Carthage Conspiracy

Daniel Avery

Warsaw Signal

Warsaw Signal Archives

Nauvoo Neighbor 12/23/43


March for the Children Oct. 5, 2019

John Whitmer Historical Association Conference

Show links:

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Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
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Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/

Now that our Council of Fifty series has concluded, it’s time to rewind the podcast back to early 1844 to jump into our historical timeline. From the feedback I received on the last episode, it’s become clear to me that I need to address a few things and I’ll do so after the main segment today.

Our timeline is just getting into 1844. We jumped ahead to talk about the Council of Fifty because we’ll see events and factors play into its foundation by the time we hit March of 1844 when it was actually organized. The tendencies for creating a new theocratic government had been present in Mormonism since its foundation, but never had reached the fever pitch like in early 1844 where our timeline rests.

We’re going to take our time. 1844 is a woefully complex year of Joseph Smith’s ministry, many would agree the most controversial and complicated year of his entire life. We have a lot to discuss from scandals and high-profile excommunications, to political maneuvers and the looming threat of the Nauvoo Charter being revoked, to the King Follett discourse, to the Nauvoo Expositor, to the rolling back of polygamy and sex rings; we have a busy period ahead of us to cover the rest of 1844 with the Council of Fifty cloud hanging over our heads.

Jo successfully evading the law in July and August of 1843 revealed how criminally corrupt Nauvoo really was. The citizens of Illinois and Missouri were becoming drained by the constant scandal and cover ups in the kingdom, but one person exemplified the corruption that ran so deep through the kingdom of God. This is the story of Daniel Avery, and his son, Philander. These guys came into contact with a leading anti-Mormon named Levi Williams, arrested them. Levi Williams is an important anti-Mormon name to remember because he stood on trial for the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum after the Carthage shootout. Daniel Avery was a Mormon horse thief during the Missouri-Mormon war in 1838, and had garnered a reputation of being a member of Jo’s secret cabal of criminals. This is how Marvin Hill and Dallin Oaks wrote of Levi Williams arresting the Averys in their book Carthage Conspiracy:

If Thomas C. Sharp was the leading spokesman of the anti-Mormon cause, then Levi Williams was probably the leading actor. His activities made him well known to the Mormons. In December, 1843, Williams rode at the head of a mob that forcibly kidnapped a Mormon named Daniel Avery and his son at gunpoint near Warsaw, threatened them with knives, bound them in chains, and took them into Missouri, where they were briefly imprisoned on horse-stealing charges and then released.

So, what actually happened here when this leading anti-Mormon arrested Daniel and Philander Avery? Levi Williams was a member of the Illinois militia and, indeed, an anti-Mormon for understandable reasons. Most of the citizens of the towns surrounding Nauvoo could be classified as anti-Mormons by late 1843. But the crucial point here is reminiscent of what happened with the Missouri State militia during the 1838 Missouri-Mormon war. Members of the state militia were citizens of the state, which were the people impacted by the Mormons who harbored the strongest grudges against them to begin with. It was impossible to gather an impartial militia to execute the due process of law when the militias were comprised of people who owned property the Mormons had stolen or held a note against the Mormons that was 2 years overdue. It was impossible for a militia and the commanding officers of said militia to remain objective and impartial to the Mormon problem. The result of Governor Boggs calling the militia out against the Mormons in 1838 was everything getting dramatically blown out of proportion and the only solution was to kick the Mormons out of the state. The Governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, knew this same problem hampered his abilities to deal with the Nauvoo Mormon problem. If he called out the Illinois state militia, they’d be just as mad at the Mormons as the Missouri militia was in 1838 and armed conflict would be the inevitable result. Only the Mormons in Nauvoo were far more terrifying than the Mormons in Missouri because they had their own state-sanctioned militia, which was larger than the Illinois state militia, and they were armed by Illinois state armory. Even if Thomas Ford wanted to put down the Nauvoo Mormon problem by militia force, the size of army he could call out would be outnumbered and outgunned by the Mormons.

With these forces at play, Levi Williams acted of his own volition in arresting Daniel and Philander Avery and took the initiative of extraditing them to Missouri to answer for horse-theft, a charge which didn’t infrequently result in hanging. Daniel and his son were released and upon their return to Nauvoo from Missouri, Daniel made an affidavit, which is included in the History of the Church vol 6. The whole ordeal was labeled as kidnapping, but to be clear, Daniel Avery had an arrest warrant in the state of Missouri, but there’s no evidence that a writ of extradition was ever signed by Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois authorizing Levi Williams to arrest the Averys in Illinois for extradition to Missouri. So, technically it was sort of kidnapping, but Daniel Avery was a fugitive from justice while residing in Illinois and was likely carrying on his horse-theft practice while in Illinois and was protected by the municipal government of Nauvoo from any prosecution. One of the men in the arresting posse was a person from whom Avery had stolen the horse; a guy named McCoy. Here’s a few extracts from his affidavit issued on 28 December 1843 to Joseph Smith himself:

Vogel HoC 6:162

… Daniel Avery before me, Joseph Smith,… saith that… he was unlawfully arrested by force and arms, and kidnapped at Doty’s Mill… by Col. Levi Williams, his son John Williams,… John Elliot,… William Middleton, and Joseph McCoy, of Clark county, Missouri, and four others. Col. Williams held his bowie-knife to his breast. Six of the others stood with their pisotls cocked and their fingers upon the triggers, muzzles presented at his body, ready to fire, and two stood with lcubs, and amid the most horrid oaths and imprecations, took and bound with silk handkerchiefs, your said affiant, nad led him away between two men, one holding a savage bowie-knife on one side and the other a cocked pistol on the other side, (having taken away your said affiant’s weapons while binding him in the Mill,) and led your affiant about a mile. Your affiant refused to walk any further, and they put him upon a horse, and tied his legs under the horse… they had bound me so tight that I was in great pain…

[We] started for the river,… they came to a halt; sent messengers to [a] meeting, and in the course of half an hour they returned with an armed mob, with rifles and other weapons, sufficient to make the whole company number about twenty. Being all on horseback they formed a circle, with your affiant in the center,… and marched in that order to a house on the point below Warsaw: and as I was very cold from being bound, they took me into the house to warm… I now called for a trial, as I had told them all the way that I never resisted legal authority. They said they were hunting a magistrate: says I, “I understand you, you mean to force me into Missouri.” McCoy returned, and said [“]we are ready.[“] It was about midnight. We went about 300 yards up the river to a skiff. I refused to cross, as they had promised me a trial. They forced me into a skiff and bound me, and five men put me across…

Just to briefly comment before reading a few more excerpts. The last thing Avery wanted was to be taken across the Mississippi to Missouri to face old horse-theft charges. A Mormon in Missouri didn’t stand a chance of getting a fair and balanced trial as we discussed earlier. However, the last thing the posse wanted to do was remain in Illinois because the Danites could have a search party out for Avery. The posse was in control of the situation, but the fact that they traveled under the cover of nightfall reveals that they knew, even if they had the proper documentation, that they’d be used up by the Mormon mob in a second if the Danites saw one of their brothers in the hands of Missourians. The same principle governed the conduct of Sheriffs Wilson and Reynolds when they arrested Joseph Smith in Dixon and tried to get him to Missouri. They took back roads and often traveled by night so the Danites couldn’t find them and spring Jo free and leave the sheriffs for dead. They were unsuccessful, but they escaped Nauvoo with their lives so luck was on their side. This posse that arrested Daniel and Philander Avery knew every minute they spent on the Illinois side of the Mississippi was borrowed time against their lives. Understandably, Avery didn’t want to be tried in Missouri, but maintained his innocence through this whole ordeal the way any arrested person should. The posse got him across the river that night and sent messengers to the Clark county seat, where the trial was to be held against Daniel Avery. The sheriff came to see him at the tavern where the posse stayed the remainder of the night.

He quizzed me the night before to draw something out for testimony, but as innocence cannot be affected with truth, he was as wise at one end of the story as the other.

At waterloo I was examined by a magistrate, who committed me upon the substance of an affidavit made by my son in duress with a bowie-knife at his breast, and upon a promise that he should be liberated from Monticello jail, where he was confined after being kidnapped some three or four weeks previous. My bonds were fixed at $1000; and as I had no bail in such a strange place, I was started for Palmyra jail in Marion county… Here I sued out a writ of habeas corpus, but the judge remanded me to prison.

At Monticello, my chains were taken off, and I was at liberty… to view the town… Saw my son in the prison; said he was forced at the point of a bowie-knife to make an affidavit against me, but he knew I was innocent.

Avery asked if he could be interred in the Monticello jail with his son, but was denied. They removed him to the Palmyra jail where the blacksmith “ironed me to the middle of a great chain that was fast to the floor, where I remained in the horrid gloom of a Missouri prison two weeks.”

To be chained to the floor of a dungeon for two weeks in December in Missouri, if there’s a hell on earth that would be it, but all things considered Avery got off pretty easy. People didn’t infrequently spend their lives in dungeons like this. Hell, even Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell spent months not only chained to the floor but with his right wrist chained to his left ankle. This is basically corporal punishment doled out over an extended period of time. This was torture, but, it was better than the gallows that might await a convicted horse thief.

Daniel Avery had his initial indictment based on the affidavit given by his son under duress.

I was informed that Middleton and McCoy procured an indictment against me, by giving bonds to the amount of some two or three hundred dollars, that they would hunt up testimony to the point for next court, there being nothing against me but the affidavit of my son before alluded to, and so the grand jury found a bill.

Ellison, my lawyer, deceived me, and put over my case for six months, because, as I suppose, I being kidnapped had no fees for him. I objected to having my trial put off six months; I did not fancy the dungeon of Palmyra prison. The court concluded to let me to bail under bonds of $1,000, but this I could not obtain: subsequently it was reduced to $500, but all in vain, for I was unacquainted with the people.

Good thing America’s legal system has worked out all these injustices and stuff like this never happens anymore. You know, stuff like plea bargains signed under threat of harsher sentences, unreasonable bond for nonviolent criminals who aren’t a travel risk with no means to pay them, general mistreatment and lack of human decency provided to the prisoner. Whew I’m glad we got past this stuff. Well, none of it really mattered, because Daniel Avery spent the weekend in jail and on Monday he sued out a writ of habeas corpus. Since the court only had Daniel’s son’s affidavit and the accusation by McCoy of stealing the horse, they didn’t have sufficient evidence to continue holding him in state custody and he was released the next day. I will add that the end of his affidavit sworn to Jo is quite interesting. Upon his return to Nauvoo on that Tuesday afternoon, when he made his affidavit, he said “To those who assisted your said affiant to obtain his release from bondage, he tenders his grateful acknowledgements.”

He was just over the river from Warsaw. This whole ordeal, spanning 2.5 weeks, happened just 20 miles down the Mississippi from Nauvoo. He was released Tuesday morning and made the journey on foot home and arrived that same evening. Even though this happened in Missouri, it happened just barely in Missouri, well within the confines of the jurisdiction of the criminal empire. Not legally speaking because Nauvoo government had no power outside the confines of the city, but well within the crime family territory. So, who knows what really happened here, but Daniel Avery initially had a bond of $1,000 put on his head, then the next day he walks, possibly pointing to something beneath the surface that no documentation would ever reveal.

This ordeal was branded as a kidnapping at the time and as you can see from that passage I read from Marvin Hill’s and Dallin Oaks’ book, the narrative persists to this day as propaganda often does. The guy who made the arrest is infamous in Mormon history circles, Levi Williams. Williams and Thomas Sharp are two of the most outspoken and prominent anti-Mormons in all of Nauvoo history.

But what does that term mean, Anti-Mormonism? It’s a weaponized term used to suffocate thought and stifle critical thinking today, but it hasn’t always been this way.

Anti-Mormonism has been a near-constant presence in our timeline since the church was founded. Whether it was the Ezra Booth letters or Mormonism Unvailed, anti-Mormons have always filled the role of necessary adversary to galvanize the Mormons against a common enemy. Since their presence in Illinois following their expulsion from Missouri, anti-Mormonism became a codified system of political power for the sole purpose of opposing the overreach of Mormon political power. The old citizens of Hancock and nearby counties in Illinois began the Mormon refugee settlement era with sympathy. They felt pity for the poor deluded religious fanatics. However, as Mormon power grew and the Nauvoo Legion became an increasingly imposing force to be reckoned with, anti-Mormonism grew in correlation.

Anti-Mormon is a divisive term. Today it means anybody who speaks out against the church for any reason. It’s used as a demonization tactic, and it’s incredibly effective. Sam Young, the guy trying to bring an end to bishop’s worthiness interviews is considered an anti-Mormon. He tried to make it so dentists and car salesman are no longer allowed to ask teenagers about their masturbation habits, but alas, he spoke out publicly against the church and held multiple public demonstrations against bishop’s interviews and was excommunicated for it. Will you be in Salt Lake City this upcoming October 5th for the next march? Will I see you there? Information’s in the show notes. I’d love to see you there.

Anti-Mormon can also mean anybody who tries to use the belief system of the church to make their own church like Denver Snuffer, Chris Nemelka, any Fundamentalist sect leader or any of the leaders of any other group of Mormons outside the authority of the SLC headquartered church. All of them are anti-Mormons according to the downtown SLC corporate entity.

Anti-Mormon can also mean people like yours truly who publish content about Mormon history which falls outside the correlated narrative the institution creates. Anti-Mormons like Kay Burningham sue the church for fraud based on falsely representing their own history. Anti-Mormons attend Sunstone Symposium and John Whitmer Historical Association and present their research on church history and culture that sheds a troubling light on controversial information. Some are excommunicated, some ignored, some vilified. Each individual represents a unique case of anti-Mormon.

My point is, the term anti-Mormon today has such an expansive definition within the minds of believing folk and it’s used as a bludgeon to hide information, quell insurrection, and shut down necessary societal reforms. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Anti-Mormon during Joseph Smith’s lifetime had a more pointed definition than today. An Anti-Mormon in the 1830s and 40s was a person who opposed the church for any reason, but did so through active participation in groups who opposed the church. A single person, like Eber Howe or John C. Wreck-it Bennett, may be an anti-Mormon, but they were figureheads of larger movements who opposed the growing power of Jo Smith and the Mormons. Anti-Mormons were a codified group, not a label slapped on anybody who doesn’t agree with the religious tenets.

Thomas C. Sharp was a well-known anti-Mormon out of Warsaw, Illinois; a town about 20 miles south of Nauvoo along the Mississippi. His attendance at the Nauvoo Temple cornerstone ceremony in 1841 engendered feelings of absolute fear in his mind. He saw the Nauvoo Legion out in full force with one thousand armed volunteers in full battle regalia. Prominent politicians attended the parade; thousands of Mormons shouted hosanna in the streets as the prophet spewed anti-American theocratic dog whistles. Thomas Sharp could see this was a problem in its early stages and the Mormon regime was a worthy cause to oppose. He formed the anti-Mormon party in Warsaw which had vigorous support from nearby Carthage; the old citizens of Illinois, just like the old citizens of Missouri, had to do something to combat the growing threat.

They had reasons outside of the growing political threat to oppose the Mormons. It turns out, the Mormons were bad neighbors.

Boon’s Lick Times, Fayette, Missouri 23 September 1843


In the St. Louis papers we find the proceedings of a great anti-Mormon meeting held at Carthage, Hancock co., Illinois, at which a preamble and resolutions were adopted, complaining of the Mormons, and denouncing them as a set of thieves and vagabonds. The meeting passed a resolution, pledging themselves to stand by one another, and visit the unlawful proceedings of the Mormons to death if necessary.

Resolved, 6th. That we pledge ourselves, in the most determined manner, that, if the authorities of the State of Missouri shall make another demand for the body of Joseph Smith, and our Governor shall issue another warrant, to stand ready at all times to serve the officer into whose hands such warrant may come, as a Posse, in order that it may not be said of us, in future, that the most outrageous culprits have been suffered “to go unwhipped of justice”.

From the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier in Maine 26 September 1843


The Iowa Hawk Eye speaks of the Anti Mormon Convention as being very large and as having passed resolutions declaring that if Gov. Ford would not surrender “Jo Smith” on the requisition of the Gov. of Missouri—which he has refused to do from political considerations—that they would call in aid from other counties and other States, to assist them in delivering him up. As were prevalent that a number of the citizens had had their lives threatened by the Mormons, the meeting resolved to avenge any blood that might be so shed. They agreed not to obey the mandates of the Mormon officers of the county, who have been put in power by the Mormons; the whole county treasury being now at their disposal. The excitement in Indiana and Iowa is very great and it is feared that a crisis is rapidly approaching that will involve thousands in a conflict of terrible consequences. Joe Smith the prophet has twenty thousand well armed troops and they are urged on by a blind zeal and religious fanaticism.

From the Vermont Watchman and State Journal out of Montpelier 29 September 1843

… There is considerable excitement—the crisis seems to be rapidly approaching—and we greatly fear the consequences. All may be remedied, if the Mormons as a religious body, will but eschew politics and amalgamate with our citizens—but we fear it is too late to do even that.

You see, the anti-Mormon political party was working its best within the confines of the law to roll back the ever-expanding power of the Mormon political machine. We might view these things as a flame war before twitter, but these meetings and resolutions had real effect and merited real responses from the Nauvoo municipal government. There was, however, a power imbalance when we compare the Mormon political party to the Anti-Mormon. The Anti-Mormons could pass resolutions, but didn’t have the binding power of a city charter which put the resolutions in place. They were little more than sternly-worded letters. However, the city of Nauvoo and its criminal empire could pass actual resolutions that were recognized by the governor of Illinois as legally binding.

These meetings in late 1843 were held in response to Jo evading the law once again when Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson arrested him and the Nauvoo Municipal court released him on a writ of habeas corpus. The old citizens of Illinois wanted Jo to answer for his crimes as they saw it was the only reasonable way to curtail the expansive power of the Mormon kingdom. You cut off the head of the demon and it dies, right? Little did they know that this demon was actually a hydra, but they’d learn that in less than a year.

These non-binding resolutions meant that the citizens of Carthage and Warsaw were willing to call in the militias from Illinois and Missouri to affect the long-awaited arrest of the tyrant. But, once again, these are sternly worded letters declaring intent and desire, they weren’t binding and had no real effect if Governors Ford and Reynolds of Illinois and Missouri weren’t willing to go along. Regardless, a response was required from the Nauvoo government with Jo chairing as mayor of the city. They called a public meeting to pass a new resolution on December 7, 1843. This meeting was called and the resolution passed once the city had learned that Daniel Avery was arrested and taken to Missouri. When the Nauvoo resolution talks about kidnapping, the Avery situation is what it’s referring to. They were afraid a similar “kidnapping” fate may befall other members of the church or even the prophet himself and decided to make an actually binding resolution preemptively to insulate church leadership.

[in response] relative to the repeated unlawful demands by the State of Missouri for the body of General Joseph Smith, as well as the common cruel practice of kidnapping citizens of Illinois and forcing them across the Mississippi river, and then incarcerating them in the dungeons or prisons in Missouri; [passed] the following:

Whereas the State of Missouri,… continues to make demands upon the Executive of Illinois for the body of General Joseph Smith, as we verily believe, to keep up a system of persecution against the Church of the Latter-Day Saints; for the purpose of justifying the said State of Missouri in her diabolical, unheard of, cruel, and unconstitutional warfare against said Church… and which she has practices during the last twelve years, whereby many have been murdered, mobbed, and ravished and the whole community expelled from the State…


Resolved unanimously, as we do know that Joseph Smith is not guilty of any charge made against him by the said State of Missouri, but is a good, industrious, well meaning, and worthy citizen of Illinois, and an officer that does faithfully and impartially administer the laws of the State, that we as citizens of Illinois crave the protection of the constitution and laws of the country as an aegis to shield him, the said General Joseph Smith, from such cruel persecutions, beseeching the Governor of Illinois not to make any more writs against the said General Joseph Smith, or other Latter Day Saints (unless they are guilty,) but to let the Latter-Day Saints ‘breathe awhile like other men and enjoy the liberty guaranteed to every honest citizen by the Manga Charta of our common country.

Resolved, That… we solicit the attention of the Governor and officers… to take some lawful means… to prevent the said Missourians… from committing further violence upon the citizens of Illinois…

Resolved unanimously, That we solicit the Governor, by all honorable means to grant us peace for we will have it

An extra Ordinance for the extra case of Joseph Smith and Others

Whereas Joseph Smith has been three times arrested and three times acquitted upon writs founded upon supposed crimes… preferred by the State of Missouri;… and whereas it has become intolerable to be thus continually harassed and robbed of our money to defray the expences of these prosecutions… Therefore

Sec. 1 Be it ordained by the City Council of… Nauvoo,… that hereafter, if any person or persons shall come with process, demand, or requisition founded upon the aforesaid Missouri difficulties, to arrest said Joseph Smith, he or they shall be subject to be arrested by any officer of the city, with or without process, and tried by the Municipal Court; upon testimony, and if found guilty, sentenced to imprisonment in the city prison for life, which convict or convicts can only be pardoned by the Governor with the consent of the Mayor of said city.

I know that was kind of a long reading, but it’s important to capture the mentality of the meeting during which this resolution was passed and I did cut a fair amount to spare you undue boredom. That ordinance is incredibly important though. The anti-Mormons could pass resolutions all day but those didn’t actually amount to anything more than a wagged finger and a printed outlet for their frustrations to be sent to Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois.

The Mormons, on the other hand, had complete and total control of Nauvoo. When they passed resolutions and ordinances, they had legal effect, even if they were blatantly unconstitutional, like imprisoning officers of the law for life for merely serving arrest warrants.

This new ordinance was published in the Nauvoo Neighbor of 13 December 1843 and was quickly circulated to nearby cities. The anti-Mormon political party decided this was a step too far and chose to hold their own meeting in the final days of December 1843, which was published in the Warsaw Message of 3 January 1844. The Warsaw Message was what the Warsaw Signal turned into when Thomas Sharp sold it, and it would revert back to the Warsaw Signal when he took the helm of editing duties again in February 1844.

At a meeting of the Anti-Mormon citizens held at Green Plains, on motion, Col. L. Williams was called to the chair, and H. P. Crawford, chosen Secretary, 

On motion it was 

1st. Resolved, That the citizens of Green Plains, request the Central Committee to forward a certain extra Nauvoo Neighbor, published December 1843, to Governor Ford informing him of our situation, and that we wish redress for our grievances.

2nd. Resolved, that the Chairman and Secretary of this meeting forward said extra Nauvoo Neighbor to the Governor of Missouri, with suitable comments on the same. 

3rd. Resolved, That we request the authorities of the State of Missouri to make a demand for such individuals as have transgressed their laws, and fled to our State especially Jo Smith the false Prophet.

Basically, the anti-Mormon political party knew this new Nauvoo resolution had far-reaching and dire implications. It essentially made anybody in Nauvoo completely immune from the criminal justice system. This was a long-running trend in Nauvoo. A Jo crony would commit a crime, he’d be arrested, then witnesses would be produced and Jo would chair the municipal court hearing and they guy would be let off without even a slap on the wrists. That’s how Nauvoo kept faithful members of the church out of the criminal justice system of Illinois and Missouri and it was effective and employed daily. Now, because of this new resolution, there was yet another layer of protection for these criminals. If a Mormon stole somebody’s property anywhere and a sheriff or member of the Illinois or Missouri militia came into Nauvoo and attempted to arrest the suspect, that sheriff of militiaman would themselves be arrested and have to plead their case before the Nauvoo municipal court. If, for any reason, their actions were seen as unjustified by the Nauvoo Mormon leadership, that officer of the law would be committed to the Nauvoo jail for a life sentence. This was understandably terrifying for anybody on the receiving end of these draconian mafia laws.

Accordingly, the citizens of Warsaw and Carthage decided to take measures to simply keep the Mormons out of their towns. The power granted by this resolution extended beyond the confines of Nauvoo. If a Mormon committed a crime in Warsaw and Carthage, like stealing a man’s horse, and that Mormon was arrested, the Nauvoo Legion could march into the town, storm the jail where the Mormon was confined, and put him and the arresting officer in their custody and bring them to Nauvoo for a hearing, which could result in the arresting officer being thrown in jail for life. The rest of the points in this resolution made it so Mormons seen in Carthage and Warsaw would be removed by the citizens.

4th Resolved, That any of our citizens seeing a suspicious character lurking around that we find out if possible his business, and give him our opinion of spies and bad characters. 

5th. Resolved, That we use our utmost energy to ferret out all dishonest persons in our section of country, whether Mormons or not. 

6th. Resolved, That so far as we are concerned about Jo and his Legion and his threats we ask him no favors. 

                  Levi Williams, Ch'r'm.

The Mormons had a ton of power and the anti-Mormons acted reactively to attempt some kind of mitigation of said power, even if that meant they simply chased any Mormons out of their towns by calling them spies or bad characters. Mormonism was the one infringing on people’s rights and an opposing force was necessary to restore and maintain those rights. That’s the overall point here, anti-Mormonism is purely reactionary. It exists because Mormonism is a force of nature to be dealt with somehow. That’s just as true of the 1840s to combat Jo’s criminal regime as it is today’s anti-Mormons combatting the Salt Lake City criminal regime. A tax-exempt organization that takes and takes and takes from the world community while giving nothing back, while making billions of dollars a year in shadow money with no transparency, covering up sex abuse and trafficking, holding to doctrines of religious, sexual, and racial supremacy, all while never admitting fault or apologizing for bigotry, inciting hatred, and committing genocide and waging political warfare on the world stage where it doesn’t belong; the modern church is guilty of far greater atrocities than Joseph Smith ever committed.

Anti-Mormonism wouldn’t exist if Mormonism didn’t do things worth opposing. Mormonism is the aggressor in this equation, both in Joseph Smith’s ministry and the modern church. Mormonism itself is the problem and the blatantly immoral way in which the leadership conducts the church’s activities and direction is what creates anti-Mormonism. Anti-Mormon isn’t anti-Mormons. The vast majority of Mormons are great people, they’re my family and friends. MormonISM is the problem here and what anti-Mormon people oppose. It’s the religion that’s the problem, not the people sitting in the pews.

Maybe one day, Mormonism will stop infringing on the rights of people and common decency and anti-Mormonism will be obsolete. Maybe one day anti-Mormonism will no longer have to fight FOR equal rights and AGAINST religious and racial supremacy. Maybe anti-Mormonism will have the wind taken out of its sails because Mormonism no longer tells LGBTQ people they’re less than human or aren’t normal. Maybe anti-Mormons won’t have to rely on leaks to see face of the financial demon hiding behind the granite edifices with no accountability. Maybe one day Mormonism will give 10% of its billions to charity like it requires of all its members and a whole renaissance of new hospitals, schools, low-income housing, and public works projects will spring up all over the planet. Maybe one day Mormonism will help secular authorities prosecute rapists in the leadership instead of comforting them by draping the shroud of Kirton-McConkie’s legal safety blanket over their shoulders and telling them everything will be fine if you just keep your mouth shut and let us handle it. Until then, if somebody calls you an anti-Mormon, maybe, instead of treating it as a slight, it’s time to consider that a badge of honor.

C segment

I wanted to address last week’s show about the Council of Fifty. If you didn’t catch it or this is your first episode, it was an alternative history. We’ve done alternate history twice in this podcast before. The first time was the interview with Mark Hoffman, the second was the History of Liverpool by Jonas Pierce back on episode 127. I still get emails about that episode from people who thought it was real. Look at the release date and google Samhain. It’s a Gaelic tradition when the divisions between the natural and supernatural are thinnest and it’s celebrated by storytelling; Samhain is what Halloween is based on.

I’ve long pondered what American history would look like if Joseph Smith didn’t die in Carthage and lived long enough to see his wildest dreams come true. What if he’d escaped Carthage? What if Congress granted him his request for 100,000 soldiers to march across the country and conquer the remaining wilderness? What if he was elected president? A few people have reached out in the past and ask if an alternate history like this exists or what my version might look like. I’m not aware of any alternate history with Joseph surviving Carthage, although I’m sure a few are out there. As for my own version of Joseph Smith’s alternate history, it’s so dependent on so many variables that nearly any version of alternative history can be imagined. The version I constructed in last week’s show is completely impossible, but that’s the joy of historical fiction, it can be whatever we want it to be.

I chose to construct a version of American history that experienced Joseph Smith’s wildest dreams coming true. I disagreed with Historian D. Michael Quinn about his high-level assessment of the Council of Fifty because I felt he based his judgement on its result more than its intention. The alternative history I created was based solely on the intention of the Council of Fifty and if it were actually used the way Jo had intended it from its inception. Besides, what do you expect the Utah years of this podcast to look like?

That leaves a few interesting questions up for speculation. How far were we realistically away from that version of history happening? To what degree did it not happen through bad lawmaking and sheer incompetence alone? How far are we from it today? Jo had grand plans he was often terrible at executing, but what if he had the Midas touch and his career turned out how he wanted? What would an American Mormon theocracy look like? What would the system of Moronite law look like? Would non-believers have a place to exist under such a system? What modern systems of theocracy closely resemble what could be expected of an American Mormon theocracy?

Today’s episode was an illustration of the necessity of anti-Mormonism. On a personal level, I vehemently oppose Mormon political power. I oppose all religion, but Mormonism particularly is the single wealthiest religion in America and is vastly overrepresented by sheer number of Mormon politicians with respect to the non-Mormon population. Today we run a pretty low risk of America devolving into a Moronite law Mormon theocracy, but people living in 1844 watching Jo run for president didn’t have the luxury of historical hindsight we enjoy today. The idea of a Mormon theocracy was a far more prescient and realistic threat to them in the 1840s than it is to us today.

Painting a picture of history requires capturing the mindset of the people who lived through it. Not only did I include quotes from contemporaries, but I did my best to put myself in the mindset of myself living in a dystopian Mormon theocratic future. This was revealed through subtle hints throughout the episode referencing the limited information we have and not being able to trust information before the last few minutes where I talked about my families, the Nauvoo Legion in present terms, and the division of the three kingdoms of what used to be the United States and all of that. That’s why I tried to use the terms “Lamanites” and “Descendants of Cain” outside of reading quotes because in an alternate reality indigenous people and African-Americans today could be referred to by those terms.

Most importantly, the episode was an exercise in the importance of context. Every time I said quote on the episode, those were real quotes; almost exclusively quotes I’ve read on the show before in their proper historical context. Think back and try to remember; when did it hit you that the show was a fabrication? Was it when I talked about the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor being thrown in labor camps? How about when Rigdon campaigned and collected signatures to speak before Congress to pass the 100,000 soldiers bill? Maybe when it passed June 1844 and Jo wasn’t in Carthage Jail and certainly didn’t die? Was it as late as when Jo was actually elected president? How about when the South seceded in 1845 instead of 1860?

That disharmony or cognitive dissonance hitting your brain happened because you have a passing familiarity with American and Mormon history so you could detect the forgery. To someone who knows nothing of either subject, it could be mostly plausible, or at least tough to tell what was real and not. But upon critical examination it was so clearly fiction. The characters were one-dimensional. Crucial details were lacking. The military campaigns were quickly done away with in a paragraph or two when military history is arguably one of the most fascination subfields of history BECAUSE it’s so complex. All the Native American tribes were just fish in a barrel when, in reality, colonialism was far messier and more disturbing than what I described. Frankly, a lot of it read like the Book of Mormon with the nearly invincible Nauvoo Legion and overwhelming military victories with minimal casualties and Bloody Brigham and Lyman Wight holding their posts perfectly, millions of people resettling in new locations, entire cities burned to the ground with no mercy. Those are all points of historical context and that’s one of the main points I wanted to get across in making the episode.

History without context means nothing. That’s how apologetics work. Apologetics come from all angles. Believers claim that exMormons or anti-Mormons take quotes out of context to build a case that the church is false and exMormons claim that believers refuse to understand historical context because it would inevitably destroy their testimony. Context cuts all directions and it’s important to recognize that. Whether it’s FAIRMormon or the CES letter, those are by no means equivalent (don’t mistake the point I’m making here), both resources lack perspective and context. From the beginning, I’ve tried my best to give you that all-important historical context in this podcast.

I used this historical fiction to paint a portrait of Mormon beliefs, because what I described were the blueprints to its foundation. Because Jo was a hopeless failure at many things he tried to accomplish, the episode was historical fiction. But the analogy I made still holds. If a guy kills somebody that’s horrible. If a guy attempts to kill somebody but is thwarted by either intervention from outside forces or his own incompetence, the intent is the same. Last episode was a historical fiction built squarely on the intent of the religion from its inception. We have plenty of grounds to judge Joseph Smith’s Mormonism based on what it accomplished but I would argue it’s far more important to judge it on the grounds of what he envisioned that it could become. We can’t prove a person’s intent when they’ve been dead for over a century and a half, but we can make informed speculation based on their actions.

I’ve called Jo evil on this show before and that’s admittedly too simplistic. The reality is, Jo was a complex guy who challenged everything. He pushed every social construct to the point of breaking and then kept pushing. He was unrelenting in his aspirations but too impotent or lazy to bring them to reality and the world is better for it.

So, when I’m tagged in social media threads of somebody trying to understand the “real” reason Jo was shot in Carthage, all I can think of is how did he survive for so long with tens of thousands wanting him dead for the majority of his career? You want to know the real reason Joseph Smith was assassinated, how long ya got? Because we’re going to be talking about this for hours before you have a solid contextual foundation for what happened that day in Carthage.

If there’s one lesson to take away from 171 episodes of this show, it’s that context is everything.

Jessica question email

Oct 5th march

JWHA sept 26-29 Fairport near Rochester New York

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