Ep 184 – The Power of a Mormon POTUS

On this episode, we discuss the continued growing tensions between the Mormon and non-Mormon settlements in Illinois in early 1844. The Nauvoo City Council renews its effort to get an ordinance passed through the state legislature from Dec. 1843 which claimed Nauvoo to be a sovereign territory as well as the Nauvoo Legion to be a federally-recognized militia. How did they work to lobby this through the State legislature? By harping on the same persecution narrative resulting from the 1838 Missouri-Mormon conflict. This dead horse keeps on giving. Eventually, Governor Thomas Ford steps in to try and cool things down. The unsatisfied Warsaw Signal prints his letter with their commentary and Jo prints a concession in the Nauvoo Neighbor. Thomas Ford’s History of Illinois (1854) reflects on this complicated time when Jo decided to run for POTUS.


Warsaw Signal archives:

Thomas Ford’s letter (14 Feb 1844)

A History of Illinois by Thomas Ford

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Tensions were high between the Mormon and non-Mormon settlements in Hancock County, Illinois of early 1844. We’ve been discussing this extensively for many episodes because this is an accumulating effect that will continue to more heavily influence our timeline as we edge ever closer to the shootout in the Carthage Jail in a few short months.

We should note that it’s not just with retrospect we can see these tensions building; they were felt quite prominently at the time and some small methods were taken to relieve a little of the pressure. Jo called a meeting of the city council to review some of the ordinances they’d passed which were causing the citizens of Carthage and Warsaw to be so infuriated by the Mormon overreach of power. From the Vogel HoC 6:233

Monday [Feb] 12.—I sat in the city council, and recommended the repeal of the ordinances entitled “An extra ordinance for the extra case of Joseph Smith,” “An ordinance to prevent unlawful search or seizure of persons or property, by foreign process, in the city of Nauvoo,” and “An ordinance regulating the currency,” and they were repealed accordingly. The memorial to Congress, passed Dec. 21, 1843, was again read, and signed by the councilors, aldermen, mayor, recorder and marshal.

I instructed councilor Orson Pratt to call all the Illinois representatives together, and tell them our sufferings have been such that we must have that document passed, and we will have it.

“You must go in for it. Go to John Quincy Adams and ask him to call the delegation from other prominent men. Call public meetings in the city of Washington. Take the saloon, publish the admittance so much per ticket, invite the members of both houses to come and hear you, and roar upon them. You may take all my writings you think anything of and read to them, &c., and you shall prosper in the name of God; Amen.”

The Memorial to Congress passed Dec. 21, 1843, is quite a remarkable document. Let’s read a bit of it and discuss so we get an idea for what Jo instructed Orson Pratt to take to various Illinois representatives to make the case for Mormon exceptionalism.

HoC 6:147

To the Honorable Senators and Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled.

We, the undersigned, members of the city council of the city of Nauvoo, citizens of Hancock county, Illinois, and exiles from the State of Missouri, being in council assembled, unanimously and respectfully, for ourselves, and in behalf of many thousands of other exiles, memorialize the Honorable Senators and representatives of our nation upon the subject of the unparalleled persecutions and cruelties, inflicted upon us and upon our constituents by the constituted authorities of the State of Missouri, and likewise upon the subject of the present unfortunate circumstances in which we are placed in the land of our exile. As a history of the Missouri outrages, has been extensively published, both in this country and in Europe, it is deemed unnecessary to particularize all of the wrongs and grievances, inflicted upon us, in this memorial. As there is an abundance of well-attested documents to which your honorable body can at any time refer; hence we only embody the following important items for your consideration…

Then it goes on to relate a massive history of the Mormons in Missouri starting with their first settlement there in 1831 and culminating in the Missouri-Mormon conflict of 1838.

In vain had we appealed to the constituted authorities of Missouri for protection and redress of our former grievances. In vain we now stretched out our hands and appealed as the citizens of this great republic to the sympathies, to the justice and magnanimity of those in power. In vain we implored again and again at the feet of Governor Boggs, our former persecutor, aid and protection against the ravages and murders now inflicted upon our defenseless and unoffending citizens. The cry of American citizens already twice driven and deprived of Liberty, could not penetrate their adamantine hearts.

The Governor, instead of sending us aid, issued a proclamation for our EXTERMINATION and BANISHMENT, ordered out the forces of the State, placed them under the command of General Clark, who to execute these exterminating order, marched several thousand troops into our settlements in Caldwell county, where, unrestrained by fear of law or justice, and urged on by the highest authority of the State, they laid waste our fields of corn, shot down our cattle and hogs for sport, burned our dwellings, inhumanly butchered some 18 or 20 defenseless citizens, dragged from their hiding-places little children, and placing the muzzles of their guns to their heads, shot them with the most horrid oaths and imprecations.

An aged hero and patriot of the revolution, who served under General Washington, while in the act of pleading for quarters, was cruelly murdered and hewed in pieces with an old corn cutter, and in addition to all these savage acts of barbarity, they forcibly dragged virtuous and inoffensive females from their dwellings, bound them upon benches used for public worship, where they in great numbers ravished them in the most brutal manner.

Some fifty or sixty of the citizens were thrust into prisons and dungeons, where, bound in change, they were fed on human flesh, while their families and some fifteen thousand others, were, at the point of the bayonet, forcibly expelled from the State…

The legislature, instead of hearing the cries of 15,000 suffering, bleeding, unoffending citizens, sanctioned and sealed the unconstitutional acts of the Governor and his troops, by appropriating 200,000 dollars to defray the expenses of exterminating us from the State. No friendly arm was stretched out to protect us. The last ray of hope for redress in that State was now entirely extinguished. We saw no other alternative but to bow down our necks, and wear the cruel yoke of oppression, and quietly and submissively suffer ourselves to be banished as exiles from our possessions, our property and our sacred homes, or otherwise see our wives and children coldly butchered and murdered by tyrants in power…

Thus the said Joseph Smith has been several times tried for the same alleged offense, put in jeopardy of life and limb contrary to the fifth article of the amendments of the Constitution of the United States, and thus we have been continually harassed and robbed of our money to defray the expenses of these vexatious prosecutions. And what at the present time seems to be still more alarming, is, the hostility manifested by some of the authorities and citizens of this State, conventions have been called, inflammatory speeches made, and many unlawful and unconstitutional resolutions adopted, to deprive us of our rights, our liberties, and the peaceable enjoyment of our possessions…

Under all these afflicting circumstances, we imploringly stretch forth our hands towards the highest councils of our nation, and humbly appeal to the illustrious senators and representatives of a great and free people for redress and protection.

Hear, O hear the petitioning voice of many thousands of American citizens, who now groan in exile on Columbia’s free soil. Hear, O hear, the weeping and bitter lamentations of widows and orphans, whose husbands and fathers have been cruelly martyred in the land where the proud eagle exulting floats.

And believe it or not that was just a preamble to passing an ordinance. This ordinance stated in Section one that Nauvoo was to be treated not as a city or township, but as a territory like Iowa or Oregon at this time. Section 2 allowed the mayor of Nauvoo, Jo, to call upon the POTUS to “call to his aid a sufficient number of United States forces,” for anything he needed like repelling mobs, attacking Missouri, you know whatever Jo wanted to do that day. Section 3 was the provision which required the federal government to comply with the other sections and then section 4 made it so the Nauvoo Legion would fall under the regulations of the United States militia and also receive pay the way any other state-sanctioned militia would, meaning from state tax revenue instead of from the Nauvoo city tax revenue.

This was what was reread in the council of February 12, 1844 as Jo was making more political power moves after his nomination as candidate for President of the United States. It was read and approved of by the high council in addition to repealing those other acts that they probably assumed were redundant with the ordinance that was passed back in Dec of 43 that we just read. Three days after that council, an article was published in the Times and Seasons, the Mormon propaganda arm in Nauvoo, titled “Who shall be our next President?”

This is an inquiry which to us as a people is a matter of the most paramount importance, and requires our most serious, calm, and dispassionate reflection. Executive power when correctly wielded is a great blessing to the people of this great commonwealth, and forms one of the firmest pillars of our confederation. It watches the interests of the whole community with a fatherly care; it wisely balances the other legislative powers when over-heated by party spirit, or sectional feeling; it watches with jealous care our interests and commerce with foreign nations, and gives tone and efficacy to legislative enactments.

The president stands at the head of these United States and is the mouth-piece of this vast republic. If he be a man of enlightened mind and a capacious soul; if he is a virtuous man, a statesman, a patriot and a man of unflinching integrity; if he possess the same spirit that fired the souls of our venerable sires, who founded this great commonwealth, and wishes to promote the universal good of the whole republic, he may indeed be made a blessing to community.

The office of president, sure, was powerful. However, in this age approaching the mid-1800s, it was the Legislative branch with the real power. Marbury v. Madison and judicial review had only been adjudicated just a few decades prior and the Supreme Court was finally beginning to come into its own concerning its role and power in the government. George Washington was a powerful first president but the office of president was still very much in flux concerning how much power the president really had or if it was a more ceremonial position. Executive orders were almost unheard of and used only in incredibly extenuating circumstances. Andrew Jackson had pioneered Executive Orders to override the legislative branch and he’d signed 12 before he stepped down. The next after him was George Washington with 8 executive orders. It wasn’t until Ulysses S. Grant that the first president broke over 100 executive orders, and some of society’s most beloved presidents ruled with thousands of executive orders with Franklin D. Roosevelt topping the charts at 3,728 in his 12 years. My point is, a president wasn’t a king, and a president never has been a king. The position of president is enticing, but very few presidents are actually the movers and shakers who get politics done, especially in the 19th century. The real power was in the Congress, Senate, and with Governors of states because states had a much greater level of power compared with the federal government at this time. So, Jo vying for POTUS here was in many ways either ceremonial, or a misdirected pursuit of power. Or maybe it was a pursuit of power that was properly directed because getting elected to POTUS would provide a great deal of marketing to legitimize Mormonism as a viable national religion with over 10,000 adherents and one third of the federal governing power under Jo’s control. Regardless of the real intentions driving his campaign, Jo’s pursuit of the oval office was beginning to gain some steam now that it was a month underway. Pieces like this printed in the Times and Seasons became more frequent throughout 1844. Let’s tune back in to see Who shall be our next President.

But if he prostrates his high and honorable calling to base and unworthy purposes; if he makes use of the power which the people have placed in his hands for their interests to gratify his ambition, for the purpose of self-aggrandizement or pecuniary interest; if he meanly panders with demagogues, loses sight of the interests of the nation and sacrifices the union on the altar of sectional interests or party views, he renders himself unworthy of the dignified trust reposed in him, debases the nation in the eyes of the uncivilized world and produces misery and confusion at home. “When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”

That’s all very legitimate, but surprising because all those accusations of self-aggrandizement, gratifying his own ambitions, panders with demagogues, pecuniary interest; all of those could easily be pointed to as reasons why Jo was running for POTUS in the first place. I suppose just like with all politics, if you call others out for doing what you do, you somehow look like the hero. How dare that candidate take millions of dollars from big oil lobbyists?! When both candidates have taken money from the same group. It’s a tried and true method of running political campaigns. You can’t accuse me of this stuff if I already accused you of it. The next section brings in a personal touch.

There is perhaps no body of people in the United States who are at the present time more interested about the issue of the presidential contest than are the Latter Day Saints. And our situation in regard to the two great political parties is a most novel one. It is a fact well understood that we have suffered great injustice from the State of Missouri; that we have petitioned to the authorities of that State for redress in vain; that we have also memorialized Congress, under the late administration, and have obtained the heartless reply that “Congress has no power to redress your grievances.”

After having taken all the legal and constitutional steps that we can, we are still groaning under accumulated wrongs. Is there no power anywhere to redress our grievances? Missouri lacks the disposition, and Congress both lacks the disposition and power and thus fifteen thousand inhabitants of these United States can with impunity be dispossessed of their property, have their houses burned, their property confiscated, many of their numbers murdered, and the remainder driven from their homes and left to wander as exiles in this boasted land of freedom and equal rights, and after appealing again and again to the legally-constituted authorities of our land for redress, we are coolly told by our highest tribunals, “we can do nothing for you.”

Jo certainly got a lot of mileage out of the Missouri-Mormon war and expulsion. That same persecution narrative persists to this day. 2 years of suffering for over a century and a half of persecution complex radicalizing members is a fantastic return on investment. We’ve been over it a few times, but the Mormons had legitimate grievances and the State of Missouri had acted improperly in dealing with the Mormon problem. The Mormons had also acted improperly by raising their own militia and aggressively attacking Missouri troops, raiding supply trains and stealing state-militia armaments, and pillaging non-Mormon towns. Nobody was in the right during the whole conflict, as is the case with nearly any conflict between two groups of people. But what this really shows is Jo’s own personal animus in his bid for the presidency. He wanted Missouri to pay for what he saw as wrongs committed against him and his people. He wanted to be president to make Missouri pay. He wanted the Green Mountain Boys to join with the Nauvoo Legion to make Missouri pay through blood or gold. It was all personal anger he held against Missouri, and that animus clearly fueled his campaign.

Hear it therefore ye mobbers! Proclaim it to all the scoundrels in the Union! Let a standard be erected around which shall rally all the renegades of the land: assemble yourselves and rob at pleasure, murder till you are satiated with blood, drive men, women and children from their homes, there is no law to protect them, and Congress has no power to redress their grievances, and the great father of the Union (the President) has not got an ear to listen to their complaints.

This is poisoning the well. We were treated so terribly by the President and the government, how long until all of you fellow Americans are similarly treated? It’s an interesting tension Jo was going for. To make people fear the impotence of the government while simultaneously fearing for their own safety because of that impotence sets the reader up to look for what solution the rest of the article will propose. We know that solution is electing Jo, but he’s become so expert at selling the fear before the solution and this is the fear portion of his persuasive techniques. Now that he’s invoked the collective trauma the Mormons experienced in Missouri, harnessed their fears, he opens the door for the solutions. First, the solutions the powers that be would have the people choose.

What shall we do under this state of things? In the event of either of the prominent candidates, Van Buren or Clay, obtaining the presidential chair we should not be placed in any better situation.

In speaking of Mr. Clay, his politics are diametrically opposed to ours; he inclines strongly to the old school of federalists, and as a matter of course would not favor our cause, neither could we conscientiously vote for him. And we have yet stronger objections to Mr. Van Buren, on other grounds. He has sung the old song of Congress—“Congress has no power to redress your grievances.”

But did the matter rest here it would not be so bad. He was in the presidential chair at the time of our former difficulties. We appealed to him on that occasion, but we appealed in vain, and his sentiments are yet unchanged.

Neither Henry Clay or Van Buren are possible candidates, what are we as Mormons to do this coming election year?! Jo is expert at harnessing fear in these public declarations, but he’d only spoke of the known fears of the Mormons. There was another place he could yet tap into that was an infinite well of fear, the great unknown fears.

But all these things are tolerable in comparison to what we have yet to state. We have been informed from a respectable source that there is an understanding between Mr. Benton, of Missouri, and Mr. Van Buren, and a conditional compact entered into, that if Mr. Benton will use his influence to get Mr. Van Buren elected, that Van Buren, when elected, shall use his executive influence to wipe away the stain from Missouri by a further persecution of the Mormons, and wreaking out vengeance on their heads either by extermination or by some other summary process. We could scarcely credit the statement, and we hope yet for the sake of humanity that the suggestion is false, but we have too good reason to believe that we are correctly informed.

This is almost Lovecraftian in invoking fear of the unknown. Van Buren is not only a terrible candidate for us Mormons to support because he didn’t help us when we were grieved from the Missouri troubles, but a little birdie told us that if he’s elected, he’ll do us even greater harm by another extermination and cleanse the sullied reputation of Missouri for what they’ve done to us. Human imagination is far more powerful than anything physical a human might experience and Jo left to the reader’s imagination the greater part of this fearmongering to give even more weight to how terrible Van Buren was.

If then this is the case can we conscientiously vote for a man of this description, and put the weapons into his hands to cut our throat with? We cannot; and however much we might wish to sustain the democratic nomination we cannot—we will not vote for Van Buren. Our interests, our property, our lives and the lives of our families are too dear to us to be sacrificed at the shrine of party spirit and to gratify party feelings. We have been sold once in the State of Missouri, and our liberties bartered away by political demagogues, through executive intrigue, and we wish not to be betrayed again by Benton and Van Buren.

Either of these candidates will spell our demise as a people, fellow Mormons, no solution exists except for the one I'm about to provide.

Under these circumstances the question again arises, who shall we support? GENERAL JOSEPH SMITH. A Man of sterling worth and integrity and of enlarged views; a man who has raised himself from the humblest walks in life to stand at the head of a large intelligent, respectable and increasing society, that has spread not only in this land, but in distant nations; a man whose talents and genius are of an exalted nature, and whose experience has rendered him every way adequate to the onerous duty. Honorable, fearless and energetic; he would administer justice with an impartial hand, and magnify, and dignify the office of chief magistrate of this land, and we feel assured that there is not a man in the Untied States more competent for the task.

One great reason that we have for pursuing our present course is, that at every election we have been made a political target for the filthy demagogues in the country to shoot their loathsome arrows at. And every story has been put into requisition to blast our fame from the old fabrication of “walk on the water” down to “the murder of ex-Governor Boggs.” The journals have teemed with this filthy trash, and even men who ought to have more respect for themselves; men contending for the gubernatorial chair have made use of terms so degrading, so mean, so humiliating, that a Billingsgate fisherwoman would have considered herself disgraced with. We refuse any longer to be thus bedaubed for either party. We tell all such to let their filth flow in its own legitimate channel, for we are sick of the loathsome smell.

Now to answer some of that fake news that’s been spread about the Mormons.

Gentlemen, we are not going either to “murder ex-Governor Boggs nor a Mormon in this State for not giving us his money,” nor are we going to “walk on the water,” “nor drown a woman,” nor “defraud the poor of their property,” nor send “destroying angles after General Bennett to kill him,” nor “marry spiritual wives,” nor commit any other outrageous act this election to help any party with; you must get some other persons to perform these kind offices for you for the future. We withdraw.

This paragraph was actually quite genius in how it was worded. All those quoted headlines from papers were obviously perceived as fake news and propaganda by the average Mormons and with all those headlines put together in one paragraph it strains credulity that any of them might be true because they’re all so outlandish by themselves. What’s interesting though, is that basically all of them were true. The attempted murder of Lilburn Boggs is most reasonably interpreted as a Mormon retaliation for their extermination from the state. Murdering people for not giving them his money, while that is a bit simplistic it wasn’t wholly inaccurate. People who didn’t pay tithing when the leadership knew they had means to pay it basically owed money to the mafia. Walk on water, I’m not sure if that’s referring to a specific story or not but there was some contemporary propaganda which circulated about Jo telling people he’d walk on water and they discovered planks of wood just under the surface which, when removed, allowed the prophet to sink into the river he promised he’d be able to cross. I spoke to historian Dan Vogel about this story and he considers it folklore, but it isn’t entirely impossible and could be what this paragraph was referring to specifically. Defrauding the poor of their property was literally what Jo had been doing since day one of his church and he had sent Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell, the destroying angel of Mormonism, to track down John C. Bennett when he fled Nauvoo for Carthage and was collecting affidavits from high-ranking members and spiritual wives of the prophet in Nauvoo. So… basically everything in that paragraph was cobbled together to reveal how preposterous such propaganda was; how fake the fake news can get. But, like all of it, almost every word in those headlines was true which shows just how genius it was for the paragraph to be crafted the way it was. If somebody reading this, especially believing Mormons, don’t believe one of those headlines, they’d subconsciously loop all those headlines together as the same fake news and wouldn’t give any of those rumors or stories any credence. To any non-Mormon reading this, it could sound quite reasonable to understand the case the article is making; that all of these were just devised by demagogues to gain political capital by making the Mormons their whipping boys. Absolutely genius that bit.

Under existing circumstances we have no other alternative, and if we can accomplish our object, well; if not, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we have acted conscientiously and have used our best judgment; and if we have to throw away our votes, we had better do so upon a worthy rather than upon an unworthy individual, who might make use of the weapon we put in his hand to destroy us with.

Whatever may be the opinions of men in general in regard to Mr. Smith, we know that he need only to be known to be admired; and that it is the principles of honor, integrity, patriotism and philanthropy that has elevated him in the minds of his friends, and the same principles if seen and known would beget the esteem and confidence of all the patriotic and virtuous throughout the Union. Whatever therefore be the opinions of other men our course is marked out, and our motto from henceforth will be GENERAL JOSEPH SMITH.

When we tease apart each constituent piece of this article it reveals a level of expert coercion which Joseph Smith wielded to incredible ends. He had to be good at these subversive persuasion tactics or he wouldn’t be a good religious leader. He proposed what the issue was, told the readers what to fear, told them what they needed to see as the real crux of the issue, answered accusations frequently levied against the Mormons, then left their imaginations to conjure a deeper fear than words could ever describe, then told them the solution to all “our motto from henceforth will be GENERAL JOSEPH SMITH”. What an absolute masterclass of religious and political persuasion tactics.

This article in the Times and Seasons was widely circulated and made many who were otherwise unaware of Jo’s presidential campaign wholly aware that he considered himself a reasonable contender. There was, however, a major chink in the Nauvoo armor that had to be dealt with. If Nauvoo and the Mormons were to put on a good face for the nation to consider Joseph Smith electable as President of the United States, their greatest threat in that contrived façade was the towns nearest Nauvoo who hated the Mormons; the anti-Mormon political party. Now, remember, the anti-Mormon political party was formed for the sole purpose of combatting the growing power of the Nauvoo empire since mid-1840. Thomas Coke Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal, was one of the founders of the anti-Mormon party. This wasn’t a party formed to oppose Mormonism in general, it was explicitly formed to fight Mormon political power and the overt intermingling of church and state in that little fiefdom on the Mississippi.

Warsaw and Carthage were the two hotbed cities of anti-Mormonism. Warsaw was headquarters of the anti-Mormon political party and where the Warsaw Signal was published by Thomas Coke Sharp. Carthage was the county seat and the location to which fugitives from the Mormon empire would flee when their lives were in danger. Carthage was one of the only cities in Hancock county where Mormon leadership couldn’t exercise their Nauvoo-based power with impunity.

Tensions were constantly rising between the anti-Mormons in Carthage and Warsaw and the Mormons in Nauvoo. With the Daniel Avery being arrested for horse-theft and taken to Missouri back in episode 171, to the Milton Cook affair resulting in a brawl between Mormon and Carthaginians in episode 180, the resulting town meetings of the anti-Mormons and Mormons passing competing resolutions against each other was reaching a fever-pitch. Both groups had put forward these competing resolutions and forwarded them to Governor Ford of Illinois.

The Mormon resolutions basically amounted to them being able to exercise their sovereign authority with the Nauvoo municipal police force and court system and opposing any encroachment of any other legal system to further insulate Jo from arrest and extradition to Missouri. The anti-Mormon resolutions basically amounted to hold themselves in readiness at all times to march at a moment’s warning to oppose the Nauvoo Legion, to “resist every oppression that may be attempted to be imposed upon us… by the authorities of Nauvoo, at the point of a bayonet,” and to organize people in the surrounding towns into militias to oppose the expanding Nauvoo Legion. You see… these competing resolutions couldn’t exist in the same county in neighboring towns at the same time.

The Warsaw Signal and Nauvoo Neighbor continued to exchange blows.


We are not willing, brother Joe, to leave the station we have ocupied for a year past, and in which it has been our duty to hold up your deformities occasionally to the public gaze, without giving you, in the kindest feeling, a few words of parting advice. It shall be gratis -- and therefore the more valuable: At any rate, our fee shall not exceed what you charge to marry a brother and sister for Eternity; and we think the service will be of quite as much value.

Be an honest man, Joe! Steeped up to the very eyes in sin, as you have been from your cradle up -- deep, disgusting, foul, lothesome, soul-destroying sin -- it is yet in your power, as we verily believe, by a long process of purgation and purification, to make [a] tolerably decent man of yourself. This will be disputed by many. But we are more charitable than some of our neighbors, and verily believe it. At least in the language of the Irishman -- "If you can't be dacent be as dacent as you can." But it will be no mean labor: it will require years of penitence, in sackcloth and ashes -- but then you can accomplish it. You are strong and robust and have sufficient mental and physical energy tp carry you through, if you shall undertake it in the proper spirit. Try it then.

Now Joe, that you have been a lazy, good-for-nothing vagabond, all the days of your life, your own conscience (if you have any left) will tell you. That you have been the ruin of hundreds of your fellow beings, men, women, and children; -- that you have been the means of sending many of your fellows into Eternity unprepared -- that you have robbed the widow and the orphan of their sixpence, and the honest laborer of his daily earnings -- the rich man of his hoarded gainl -- that you have violate the sanctuary of private life -- despoiled female virtue and innocence, and destroyed conjugal felicity; -- that you harbored the thief and robber -- directed the hand of the assassin and murder, and aided their escape from justice; -- that you have, under the garb of a Saint, done the work of a Demon -- in other words, "stolen the livery of Heaven to serve the Devil ;" that you have done all this, and a hundred times more, you need none other than that same inward monitor to tell you.

Knowing, as you must, Joe, the relation in which your black-hearted crimes and Heaven-daring blasphemies place you before God, we charge you that it is now high time that you should begin to repent in order to avert His impending vengeance. You are now near 40 years of age, and it will require all the remaining years of a life of four score and ten, to place you in the same moral position you occupied at the outset of your desparate career. You know, too, the position you occupy before your fellow men. You know that you are despised, and hated and loathed, by nineteen twentieths of all who have ever heard of your name and deeds; and all the "Appeals" that you and your understrappers can make to the sympathies of your fellow citizens, between this and the day in which you shall "shake off this mortal coil," will not change your position before them.

And more -- you cannot expect it to continue much longer in your courses of infamy and crime. Depend upon it, the day of retribution cannot be far distant, for at least some of your misdeeds. If the vengeance of the law shall [not] overtake you, and stretch you up as quick as lightning to the gallows, and thus end your career, rest assured that individual vengeance will! Do you think that, of all the men, women and children you have so foullu wronged, that no one will be so bold as to avenge their own wrongs? be a prophet nor the son of a prophet -- yet we tell you that your career of infamy cannot continue but a little longer! Your days are numbered! The handwriting is upon the wall!

Come, now, brother Joe. Let us entreat you to begin the work of reparation. Begin it now, for you have much to do; the job is a hard one! Divide out again among the widows and the orphans whom you have beggared, [in] your knavery, the thousands you filched from their hard earnings; pay back those sums of money you have borrowed of your followers, and for which they have for years been whistling; dispoil the oxen and baptismal font of their trappings, and buy shoes and stockings for the ragged urchins of your streets; and tear down your Temple and of its materials build a hospital for the innocent victims of your ambition and licentiousness. These done, and you will have made some atonement for your past life. Until then, Joe, we shall remain as, ever, all but "your friend and most obedient servant."

After receiving copies of all these resolutions and reading all the papers published about these rising tensions, Governor Ford decided to step in.

[Governor Ford's address to]
the Citizens of Hancock country, Mormons and all.

 SPRINGFIELD, January 29, 1844.

DEAR SIR: -- I have received the copy of the proceeding and resolutions of a meeting of the citizens of Hancock County, which you did me the honor to send me.

I have observed with regret that occasions have been presented for disturbing the peace of your county; and if I knew what I could legally do to apply a corrective, I would be very ready to do it. But if you are a lawyer, or at all conversant with the law, you will know that I, as a Governor, have no right to interfere in your difficulties.

As yet, I believe that there has been nothing like war among you: and I hope that all of you will have the good sense to see the necessity of preserving peace. If there is anything wrong in the Nauvoo charters, or in the mode of administering them, you will see that nothing short of legislative or judicial power is capable of enforcing a remedy.

I myself had the honor of calling the attention of the Legislature to this subject at the last session; but a large majority of both political parties in that body either did not see the evil which you complain of, or, if they did, they repeatedly refused to correct it. And yet a call is made upon me to do that which all parties refused to do at the last session.

I have also been called upon to take away the arms from the Mormons, to raise the militia to arrest a supposed fugitive, and in fact to repeal some of the ordinances of the City of Nauvoo.

Hancock County is justly famed for its intelligence; and I cannot believe that any of its citizens are so ignorant as not to know that I have no power to do these things.

The absurd and preposterous nature of these requests give some color to the charge that they are made for political effect only. I hope that this charge is untrue; for, in all candor, it would be more creditable to those concerned to have their errors attributed to ignorance than to a disposition to embroil the country in the horrors of war for the advancement of party ends.

But if there should be any truth in the charge, (which God forbid.) I affectionately entreat all the good citizens engaged in it to lay aside their designs and yield up their ears to the voice of justice, reason, and humanity. All that I can do at present is to admonish both parties to beware of carrying matters to extremity.

Let it come to this -- let a state of war ensue, and I will be compelled to interfere with executive power. In that case also, I wish, in a friendly, affectionate, and candid manner, to tell the citizens of Hancock County, Mormons and all, that my interference will be against those who shall be the first transgressors.

I am bound by the laws and Constitution to regard you all as citizens of the State, possessed of equal rights and privileges, and to cherish the rights of one as dearly as the rights of another. I can know no distinction among you except that of assailant and assailed.

I hope, dear sir, you will do me the favor to publish this letter in the papers of your county, for the satisfaction of all persons concerned.

I am, with the highest respect,

         Your obedient servant,
         THOMAS FORD.

After Ford sent his letter to the Warsaw Signal, the Signal published it, but not without their own commentary.

This document is highly interesting to our citizens, as exhibiting the exact position of his Excellency, in relation to our Mormon difficulties.

The Governor here tells us that he can legally do nothing at present, in relation [to our] difficulties. We conceive that he is right: but has there not been a time recently when executive power could have been legally exercised, by bringing to justice one who had set at defiance the Laws of the State? When Smith was arrested by warrant from the Governor, and recovered by an armed force, was it not in his power to see that the Law be faithfully executed;… If not, we conceive that the oath which [his Excellency] takes ‘to see that the laws are faithfully executed,’ is an empty form, and utterly unavailing for want of power to enforce its provisions.

It is said, however, that if Smith was rescued, it was the duty of the officer from whose custody he was taken, to raise the posse comitatus, and enforce obedience to the Laws. We think otherwise. Of what avail would a posse have been, when a majority of the citizens of the county, organized as a regular military band, were arrayed on the side of the prisoner? Could a posse have effected anything?—No! Why then make it the duty of the officer to raise one? We insist that the conduct of the Mormons in rescuing their prophet, was insurrectionary, and presented a proper case for Executive interference. We do not impugn the motives of his Excellency, in refusing to enforce the law by Executive power. We believe that he acted from the honest dictates of his judgment and we have an opinion of our own limitations to his power in the premises, and we will not, from motives of delicacy, hesitate to avow it.

But—His Excellency, no content with defining his position and powers, to the citizens of this county, steps aside to intimate that the Anti-Mormons are impelled, in their present movements by political motives. By what particular motive is it possible that the Anti-Mormons should be actuated? Are they not composed of men of both political parties? Have not the recent Anti-Mormon meetings been attended by leading men of both sides, who are cordially united together in opposition to Mormon usurpation, dictation and tyranny? When politicians are thus found advocating a common cause, what political effect can they hope to accomplish in favor of either the one or the other? So far from political motives actuating the Anti-Mormons, we hold that the only reason why there is not almost perfect unanimity amongst the old citizens, in condemnation of the Mormons, is because a certain class of individuals are willing to palliate and excuse the conduct of the Mormons, for the sake of their political influence. Here, then, is where the imputation of political motives properly belongs.

With the remainder of the letter of his Excellency, we have no complaint to make. We therefore let it pass with this remark: that if a state of war should absolutely occur, might not his Excellency find some difficulty in determining who were the aggressors? And if he should not, might not, in this democratic country, the multitude which he should send here to mediate between the belligerents, take a different view of the matter? This we merely throw out as a suggestion, and it may pass for what it is worth.

It's tough to tease out of that article, but the editor of the Warsaw Signal, Thomas Coke Sharp, was making somewhat subtle insinuations about Thomas Ford’s political jeopardy with the Mormons. He was heavily beholden to the Mormon bloc, which made him treat any situation with them with kid gloves; especially when Jo was arrested in Dixon in June of 1843, which we discussed on episodes 144-47. Jo’s own posse of Nauvoo Legionnaires arrested the sheriffs who had Jo under arrest and they sorted the whole thing out in the Nauvoo Municipal Court. Thomas Sharp made a good point that when Jo flaunted the laws during that whole debacle, that was the perfect time for Governor Thomas Ford to exercise his executive authority but he just sat on his own hands and Jo got away, which allowed him to successfully challenge his later arrest in the Springfield court a few months later on the basis of double jeopardy. That line in there where Sharp says:

“We do not impugn the motives of his Excellency, in refusing to enforce the law by Executive power. We believe that he acted from the honest dictates of his judgment and we have an opinion of our own limitations to his power in the premises, and we will not, from motives of delicacy, hesitate to avow it.”

Motives of delicacy don’t allow them to say that Governor Ford is coopted by the Mormon political machine, but that’s what was implied. And yet, nobody was really happy with his performance as Governor because of the complexity of the issue and his lack of decisiveness and deliberate action when outrages with the Mormons occurred.

Thomas Ford wrote about this time in his History of Illinois published in 1854 and his first-hand observations are quite remarkable even though they’re written through the lens of reflection instead of contemporary writing. I’ll let the Governor speak for himself.

No further demand for the arrest of Joe Smith having been made by Missouri, he became emboldened by success. The Mormons became more arrogant and overbearing. In the winter of 1843-‘4, the common council passed some further ordinances to protect their leaders from arrest, on demand from Missouri. They enacted that no writ issued from any other place than Nauvoo, for the arrest of any person in it, should be executed in the city, without approval endorsed thereon by the mayor; that if any public officer, by virtue of any foreign writ, should attempt to make an arrest in the city, without such approval of his process, he should be subject to imprisonment for life, and that the governor of the State should not have the power of pardoning the offender without the consent of the mayor. When these ordinances were published, they created general astonishment. Many people began to believe in good earnest that the Mormons were about to set up a separate government for themselves in defiance of the laws of the State. Owners of property stolen in other counties, made pursuit into Nauvoo, and were fined by the Mormon courts for daring to seek their property in the holy city. To one such I granted a pardon. Several of the Mormons had been convicted of larceny, and they never failed in any instance to procure petitions signed by 1,500 or 2,000 of their friends for their pardon. But that which made it more certain than everything else, that the Mormons contemplated a separate government, was that about this time they petitioned Congress to establish a territorial government for them in Nauvoo; as if Congress had any power to establish such a government, or any other, within the bounds of a State.

To crown the whole folly of the Mormons, in the spring of 1844, Joe Smith announced himself as a candidate for president of the United States. His followers were confident that he would be elected. Two or three thousand missionaries were immediately sent out to preach their religion, and to electioneer in favor of their prophet for the presidency. This folly at once covered that people with ridicule in the minds of all sensible men, and brought them into conflict with the zealots and bigots of all political parties; as the arrogance and extravagance of their religious pretensions had already aroused the opposition of all other denominations in religion.

Thomas Ford wrote this after he’d suffered political death with how he’d handled the Mormon problem in Illinois and there were very few Mormons even left in the state. He was relatively antagonistic but he also had the vantage point of being governor and needing to view the issue from all angles of all his constituents. It should be noted that Ford didn’t take a hands-off approach to the Mormon issue the way Lilburn Boggs did in Missouri. He was actively engaged in letter exchanges and personal meetings with members of both sides of the conflict and he acted in his best judgment when the situation was impossibly complicated with no real winning scenario for any of the involved parties.

If it’s any consolation, when Ford’s letter and Sharp’s commentary were published in the Warsaw Signal, Jo wrote an op ed to be published in the Nauvoo Neighbor which was highly uncharacteristic; you’ll see what I mean. Here’s the full letter taken from the Vogel HoC 6:241-2

To the Editor of the Neighbor:--

Sir:--I wish to say to you, as there seems to be a prospect of peace, that it will be more love-like, God-like, and man-like, to say nothing about the Warsaw Signal.

If the editor breathes out that old sulphurous blast, let him go and besmear his reputation, and the reputation of those that uphold him, with soot and dirt; but as for us, and all honest men, we will “act well our part, for there the honor lies.”

We will honor the advice of Governor Ford, cultivate peace and friendship with all, mind our own business, and come off with flying colors, respected, because in respecting others, we respect ourselves.

Respectfully, I am, JOSEPH SMITH

In a rare showing of concession, Jo decided to deescalate the situation and let the Warsaw Signal alone… for now, at least. It seems, from the wording of the letter, that Jo essentially thought that if he backed away from the conflict, people would see any further aggression in the mix as a result of unwarranted attacks by the Anti-Mormons in Carthage and Warsaw. Besides, Jo had bigger fish to fry, he was running for President after all. He wasn’t wrong, but wasn’t totally right. This concession didn’t put all the tensions between the Mormon and non-Mormon communities to rest to any noticeable degree, it was merely a single statement to the contrary amid a cacophony of escalation and arrogance from Jo and the Mormon leadership. Ford put it well in his history when he said: “[Joe Smith] became emboldened by success. The Mormons became more arrogant and overbearing.” When they overstepped their rights and, according to Sharp and many other media commentators of the day, “had set at defiance the Laws of the State,” they were merely enjoying the liberties of every good American citizen. Whenever persons in proper authority attempted to roll back those outrages and challenge the Mormon empire, it was “unparalleled persecutions and cruelties, inflicted upon us and upon our constituents by the constituted authorities”.

It’s a sense of religious entitlement and supremacy held by many religions, not just Mormonism. We can see how this plays out in Mormonism as a microcosm of how American religions operate and it’s a formula which holds true for all American history. Churches don’t have to follow the rules everybody else does and it’s clear the Anti-Mormons in Carthage and Warsaw were just as outraged about Mormonism enjoying religious exemptions from laws the way we are when Mormonism today covers up sex abuse, accrues 100 billion dollars of ill-gotten wealth off the backs of tax payers and tithe-paying members struggling to feed their families, while never paying taxes or reporting any of that wealth or income to any government agencies; and then cry religious liberty when we say tax the churches. It’s entitlement of the worse kind. Not entitlement people may expect if we someday get universal health care like every other industrialized country, that’s a misappropriation of the term used to smear an aspect of the progressive movement. This is entitlement of the religious exceptionalism flavor and it’s killing our society today; we should be just as furious as the old citizens of Carthage and Warsaw for these outrages, whether they’re committed by Jo Smith or Musty Rusty Nelson.

Congrats to v4c

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