Ep 204 – Joseph H. Jackson and Nauvoo Bogus
On this episode, we take the opportunity to examine an enigmatic figure of Nauvoo Mormon history, Joseph H. Jackson. He visited the settlement in late 1842 where he was branded a Missouri spy and a Danite attempted to assassinate him. From that point forward he vowed revenge on the man responsible for nearly taking his life, Joseph Smith. Jackson ingratiated himself into the highest ranks of Nauvoo leadership and even participated in multiple secretive Danite missions to Missouri to break Porter Rockwell out of prison and kidnap two people who were set to testify against Joseph Smith in a Missouri court hearing. Jackson’s chief source of income during 1843-44 was manufacturing bogus coins (counterfeit) and his story is stranger than fiction as he himself stands as a wonderful personification of counterfeit. We discuss his dealings, misdealings, and maneuvers which illustrate a strong sense of self-preservation.
Joseph H. Jackson June 1844 expose
Lucy Mack Smith Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith
Thomas Ford’s History of Illinois
How to find Chris Smith:
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.bandcamp.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
A detail within Nauvoo Mormon history which often escapes analysis and mention, and has only been mentioned in passing on this show for a few years now, is counterfeit money. Bogus making. When Jo sought to establish his kingdom on the Mississippi, the Mormons were destitute and he signed his name to dozens of land contracts with half a dozen speculators to acquire the land for the Mormons to settle in Illinois and the Iowa territory.
However, the Mormons needed some liquid capital to work with and therefore the Nauvoo House Association was conceived. It was to be the premier hotel in Illinois, set to curry favor with powerful politicians and dignitaries upon their arrival to the city after landing on the wharf of the Mississippi. Established by the Nauvoo City Charter and modern D&C 124, the Nauvoo House was created with stocks to be purchased for $50 a share to raise capital for the project and create liquidity as a new form of money.
The Nauvoo House was a massive resource vacuum and it never made any money, rendering the stock certificates printed for it essentially valueless within a few months of being printed. That didn’t stop the House Association from continuing to print and sell more, but it did make people less willing to trade using them.
The lack of capital problem needed to be solved in other ways. One of these was by creating the Temple Building Committee. This building committee would take donations from Mormons, sometimes money but usually in goods. Then it would issue people who worked on the temple certificates for their work which they could use to purchase goods from the temple building committee store. Any donations made were recorded in the Book of the Law of the Lord, or the BoLoL as we’ve called it on the show. This had the effect of raising capital, getting labor done on the temple at nearly no cost, and created a new form of money to exchange, the temple store certificates.
These were only a few of the systems to help create or raise some money. Understandably, a lot of holes remained and money was always needed. To answer this need, the Mormon leadership engaged in a practice many of them had dabbled in individually before Nauvoo, but never at a systematic city-wide level, counterfeiting. Some of the hottest collector items among Mormon artifact collectors today are Nauvoo bogus coins. Bogus means counterfeit coins.
In order to discuss this topic today, we’re going to give a proper treatment to a figure in Mormon history who was constantly involved in counterfeit. If there’s a single figure in Nauvoo history who personifies counterfeit, it’s Joseph H. Jackson.
We’ve already discussed Jackson quite a bit, including his meetings with Joseph Smith and his mission to break Porter Rockwell out of jail in Missouri that’s episodes 142 and 144, but I think we need a full episode dedicated to his story in order to slot him into the larger timeline of Nauvoo and discuss the topic of bogus and counterfeit.
Nineteenth-century Illinois historian Thomas Gregg summarized Joseph Jackson’s role in Mormon history as follows: Jackson “went to Nauvoo and became quite intimate with Smith and the leaders; afterwards turned against them—went to Warsaw and issued a pamphlet claiming to be an exposé of Mormonism and the evil purposes and practices of the prophet … charges of murder and conspiracy, of counterfeiting, debauchery, ‘spiritual-wifery,’ etc., ... If half of Jackson’s statements were true, the prophet and some of his abettors should have been hung; if not true, Jackson himself should have been hung—in either case without benefit of clergy.” By the end of this episode, I think you’ll find that most of Jackson’s statements were indeed true, and Joseph Smith and some of his abettors should indeed have been hung by this standard, as well as the legal standards of the 1840s. The way I’ve heard it described when talking to one of the foremost historians of Nauvoo Mormonism, Joseph Johnstun, was that Joseph Jackson’s expose should be regarded with skepticism when he talks about his role or his own competence, not necessarily the material facts he presents. He messes with the information to make himself out to be some kind of hero and scrub his own name of any wrongdoing, but the kernels of history data he provides are mostly accurate.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Joseph Jackson. For starters, we don’t when he was born or where he came from. His biography before he came to Nauvoo is almost a complete mystery. Jackson says he told Joseph Smith that he was a fugitive from justice in Macon City, Georgia. As far as I know, no historian has been able to verify this, although Kathleen Melanokos notes that Macon, Georgia was the “home of a gang of horse thieves, robbers, and murderers known as the ‘Pony Club.’” According to Joseph Smith, Jackson introduced himself as a Catholic priest. Mormon apologist Brian Hauglid thinks this was a lie, and Brian might be right, but again, as far as I know, we have no evidence one way or another regarding whether Jackson had taken holy orders in the Catholic Church. He didn’t act much like a priest, but maybe that’s because he used the priesthood as a cover for criminal activity. Naturally, this put him in rather good company with Joseph Smith.
Nineteenth-century Illinois historian Thomas Gregg illustrates the confusion about Jackson’s background. In his 1890 history of Mormonism, Gregg described Jackson as “an adventurer of fine appearance and gentlemanly manners.” But on the very next page, he notes that the Mormons considered him “an adventurer of the worst class—himself a counterfeiter, etc.”
It seems that descriptions of Joseph Jackson seem to adapt dependent on who you ask and when because he was yet another man who joined the church sort of, quickly rose through the ranks, then left the church and city of Nauvoo volcanically at a controversial time. He was also an opportunist. He saw the Mormon settlement as an opportunity and as we’ll see through our examination of him, Jackson seemed to try and keep at least one finger in every pie around the city. He’d aided and abetted with the enemies of the church, the Laws Higbees and Fosters, while simultaneously funneling information back to Joseph Smith about their conduct. In some kind of spy movie, he’s like a quadruple agent who we find out at the end that he was only in it for selfish motives to begin with. He’s just a really hard guy to nail down and he’s far from trustworthy.
What we do know is that Jackson first arrived in Nauvoo by way of the Mississippi River. He says he came “down” the river, which implies he started the trip upriver, in northern Illinois or Wisconsin. He says he stopped in Nauvoo on October 10, 1842, “partly to find business and partly to [gratify his] curiosity” about the Mormons. He took a job there working for a non-Mormon grocer named John M. Finch.
Jackson arrived in Nauvoo shortly after Porter Rockwell tried to assassinate Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs. Tensions between Mormons and Missourians were high, and the Mormons were on high alert for Missourian spies. Soon after Jackson’s arrival, several of Joseph Smith’s henchmen visited his boarding house “and asked all manner of questions in relation to my business in the city.” Jackson didn’t understand why he was being interrogated, so he refused to answer the questions. Afterward, he noticed that he was often followed, and a friend warned him that the Mormons suspected he was a Missourian spy.
One night sometime in November 1842, Jackson was helping his employer haul some goods from the river. Jackson was riding in a wagon after dark when suddenly a man in another wagon called out to him, “Jackson, is that you?” and asked him to come over. Jackson got out of the wagon and approached the stranger, who had also dismounted from his own wagon. When the two men got within five feet of each other, the stranger extended his arm toward Jackson and said, “damn you, I give you what you deserve,” and then fired a pistol at him. The bullet whizzed past his head. He was so close to the assassin that he had gunpowder burns on his face. His employer, John Finch, came running, and the assassin fled. However, if we compare his different accounts of this happening he states at one point that it happened on the road by a man who approached him, but another of his accounts claims he was on the wharf at Nauvoo unloading cargo from a boat.
Jackson never discovered for certain who had tried to kill him, but he believed that it had been done on orders from Joseph Smith. The Mormons in Nauvoo were skeptical of any outsiders and late 1842 was an exciting time for the kingdom on the Mississippi. However, just because somebody was a stranger to the city didn’t warrant them being assassinated by a Danite. If this assassination attempt did indeed happen, there’s more to the story that Jackson isn’t telling us. Nauvoo understandably had gotten a little hot for him, so he fled the city and spent the winter in nearby Carthage, Illinois.
There are some interesting Nauvoo court records from November 1842 that confirm Jackson’s story that he was in Nauvoo at the time. Jackson’s role in this story was pretty minor, but I think the story is worth telling because it illustrates how Joseph Smith had perverted the justice system in Nauvoo to be his own little banana republic court. The story concerns the case of City of Nauvoo vs. Amos Davis, and it begins on November 25th, when a non-Mormon named Amos Davis said some “abusive” or “depreciatory” things about Joseph Smith. We don’t know exactly what it was that he said, as is the case with almost all of these cases Jo filed, but on November 29, the City of Nauvoo charged Davis with violating the city’s “ordinance in relation to religious societies.” According to the ordinance, “should any person be guilty of ridiculing[,] abusing, or otherwise depreciating another in consequence of his religion[,] . . . he shall on conviction thereof, [. . .] be considered a disturber of the public peace, and fined in any Sum not exceeding five hundred Dollars, or imprisoned not exceeding six months, or both at the discretion of said Mayor, or Court.” Joseph Smith, who in addition to being mayor was also the city prosecutor, of course, considered Davis’s remarks to be a violation of the law and he was fined.
The court issued subpoenas for several witnesses, including Joseph H. Jackson. Jackson appeared before the court on November 30 to testify in the case as a witness for the prosecution. Chauncey Higbee served as attorney for the defendant, and George P. Stiles served as attorney for the prosecution. The case was judged by the Nauvoo city council, with William Marks as president pro tem. Unfortunately we have no record of what exactly the witnesses said. What we do know is that the defense attorney Chauncey Higbee argued that the prosecution had presented no evidence of a violation of the city ordinance, and that the case should be dismissed. “Joseph Smith the Prosecutor for the City, spoke at considerable length, by permission of the Court,” but the aldermen agreed with Higbee and ruled in favor of the defendant, with court costs to be paid by the plaintiff.
That was not the end of it, however. Joseph Smith wasn’t satisfied with the city council’s judgment, so he had the case retried. There are two docket records for this case. One version records the proceedings from November 30 and the court’s ruling in favor of the defendant. The second version completely omits the proceedings from November 30, as if they never happened. In this version, the trial was held on December 3. It seems like some of the aldermen wanted nothing to do with the retrial, because subpoenas were issued to all the aldermen to “enforce” their attendance as judges in the case. Aldermen Daniel Spencer and Gustavus Hills didn’t show up and had to be brought in by the city marshal, Henry G. Sherwood. Joseph H. Jackson was again subpoenaed as a witness, but this time he didn’t show up to testify, perhaps because he had left the city and gone to Carthage sometime between November 30 and December 3. This time around, the court ruled in favor of the prosecution and fined the defendant $50 and full costs of suit, under threat of six months imprisonment if he refused to pay the fine. It also put him under a $200 bond to guarantee his good behavior for the next six months.
Amos Davis appealed this case to the circuit court at Carthage, and on January 19, 1843, that court ordered the city of Nauvoo to “suspend all proceedings” in relation to the case and ordered “that the record & proceedings in said Cause [i.e., Case] be Certified to said Circuit Court, & to be in no wise omitted, at peril.” In other words, forward us the full record of the case, without omitting the proceedings from November 30. Well, guess what? On February 17, Nauvoo court clerk James Sloan forwarded to Carthage edited version of the docket record, with the proceedings from November 30 completely omitted. At the bottom of the trial record, he perjured himself by writing, “I James Sloan Clerk of the Municipal Court, within and for the said City, do hereby Certify that the foregoing is a true Copy from my docket, of the proceedings and Judgment in the above Case, and that the said transcript and papers contain a full and perfect statement of all the proceedings before said Court in said case.” So that gives you a pretty clear idea of what passed for a justice system in the city of Nauvoo. We’ve talked about it a lot on the show, it was Jo’s little personal court that would do whatever he wanted. Witnesses would be produced and justice was never served.
During this Amos Davis debacle, Joseph Jackson apparently spent the winter of 1842-43 in Carthage, Illinois, stewing on the Mormon attempt to assassinate him. He was certain that Joseph Smith himself was behind the assassination attempt, and he vowed revenge on the Mormon leader. He returned to Nauvoo in spring 1843 intending to infiltrate Joseph Smith’s inner circle, collect evidence on Smith’s villainy, and expose him to an officer of the law so he could be brought to justice. At least, that’s Jackson’s version of what happened.
Historian Kathleen Melanokos suggests an alternate possibility. According to Melanokos, “It seems likely that Jackson was a counterfeiter himself, for two reasons. First, he would later be named on the 1845 federal indictments for counterfeiting with other Nauvoo counterfeiters. Secondly, in his pamphlet, he described intimate familiarity with the deceptive methods of counterfeiters. … It is possible that Jackson went to Nauvoo specifically to engage in the bogus business, and only turned state’s evidence when it became expedient.” In other words, his friendship with Joseph may initially have been genuine rather than just a pose, as Jackson later claimed.
There are many ways to look at Jackson and his affiliation with the church. Joseph Smith and the refugee Mormon settlement attracted people like Joseph Jackson, an amoral opportunist. Did he actually join the Mormon settlement to expose Joseph Smith? Did he just do it after he saw how successfully John Bennett’s expose had sold in the second half of 1842? Did he join just to see what keys of ascendency may be unlocked to him once he gave loyalty to the prophet? Maybe he was just a grifter and the new Mormon settlement was his newest set of dupes he drifted toward.
Jackson was well aware that people might doubt his story about having intended all along to expose Joseph Smith, so he included in his expose, which we’ll discuss in a minute, an affidavit from Hancock County sheriff Harmon T. Wilson, which says that Jackson told him in the winter of 1842-1843 about his plan to infiltrate Joseph Smith’s circle and bring Smith to justice. Several private citizens also provided affidavits to the same effect. So that goes a long way to support Jackson’s story about his motivations.
However, it could also be construed as Jackson providing a possible way out. I mean, if he joined his wagon to the Mormon train and everything went sour, he could publish his expose and claim that was his motivation all along, but if Mormonism rose to the aspirations the leadership calculated, then Jackson could have become yet another trusted advisor of the prophet and anything he said to Sheriff Harmon Wilson or anybody else about exposing Joseph Smith would be forgotten. His deeds, or misdeeds, while affiliated with the Mormons, including manufacturing bogus, would never be brought to justice.
Whatever the case may have been, Jackson remains rather enigmatic a figure in Nauvoo history and his real intentions can never be solidly known, meaning his name can easily be cast in both negative and positive light to create competing narratives of his time in Mormonism. Unfortunately for all of us trying to figure out this guy, his actions leave his motivations up to interpretation. For example, back on episode 171, we talked about Daniel and his son, Philander, Avery being arrested in Illinois and being extradited to Missouri to answer for their crimes. The Mormons feared that this was a predictor of what the sheriffs would do if they ever got their hands on Joseph Smith so the city passed new ordinances to arrest any officer who enters Nauvoo for the purposes of arresting somebody in the city. The father-son Avery combination spent a few weeks in a Missouri prison just over the border from Warsaw awaiting their trial. If Daniel Avery stood trial in Missouri it would reveal a lot of information about Danites and robbery along the Mississippi. Jo didn’t want that to happen. Philander Avery escaped prison and told Jo what the state if Missouri had planned for his father, Daniel. Jo acted by calling on Joseph H. Jackson to interfere with the scheduled hearing in whatever way possible.
This happened in late December 1843. Philander Avery told Jo that a former Danite named Ebenezer Richardson and a young boy from Montrose named Mark Childs were to be witnesses at Daniel Avery’s trial. According to Joseph Jackson, “Joe selected several of his Danite Band” to kidnap the witnesses, “and placed Capt. [Jonathan] Dunham at the head.” Dunham was accompanied by fellow soon-to-be-policemen Hosea Stout, Abraham O. Smoot, and Daniel Carn; senior warden of the Nauvoo Masonic lodge Lucius Scovil; and former Missouri Danite captain Reynolds Cahoon. Jackson was ordered to go along as a test of his loyalty. If the witnesses couldn’t be brought alive, they were to be killed and their bodies dumped in a ravine. If they were successfully brought to Nauvoo, “the order of Joe was to tie an iron bar to his [Richardson’s] shoulders, and throw him into the Mississippi for catfish food.” The expedition, however, went awry when a Gentile posse intercepted the Mormons as they were transporting their prisoners back to Nauvoo. There was an altercation, and the Mormon enforcers narrowly escaped back across the river. They were met by Joseph Smith on the other side. “On arriving there, we found Joe partially dressed, wrapped in his mantle. He had heard the report of guns on the other side, and had got up at this early hour, which was for him very unusual, to see what had happened.” We can date this event because Joseph reported it in his journal: “About one o’clock in the morning I was alarmed by the firing of a gun, got up, and went down to the river bank to see the guard, and inquire the cause of it. To my surprise, they had not heard it, although I felt sure it was fired in Montrose. The morning proved it to be correct, some rowdies in Montrose had been firing in the night.” The gunshot was actually friendly fire as the former-Danite, Richardson, assumed the men were there to kill him instead of kidnapping him and he shot one of them in the arm. According to Governor Thomas Ford in his History of Illinois, “It was sufficiently proved in a proceeding at Carthage, whilst I was there, that Joe Smith had sent a band of his followers to Missouri, to kidnap two men, who were witnesses against a member of his church, then in jail, and about to be tried on a charge of larceny.”
Being trusted enough by the prophet to help his Danites to carry out a kidnapping mission to keep witnesses from providing evidence in a court of law means Joseph Jackson was very well-trusted by Joseph Smith for at least most of 1843. I mean, it’s sleazy and low, but Jackson and Jo were kindred spirits in many ways. Jo tested Jackson’s loyalty multiple times by giving him illegal missions like this. The first was to break Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell out of the Missouri prison; kidnapping this man and child was another. Apparently Jackson passed the test because they were successfully sequestered in Nauvoo and failed to testify at the trial. A few days later, according to Jackson anyway, Jo and Jackson had another meeting, this time concerning a growing trouble that would lead to the Expositor in June of 1844, but this meeting was in late December 1843.
“Joe and I had a long talk concerning Law, in which he avowed . . . his determination to put Law out of the way[.] . . . He then determined on calling out the police, as it was publicly called but Danites in private[.] . . . He determined to keep forty of them on duty, (twenty at a time) under pay of the city. The reason for this proceeding as given to the people, was, that he thought it necessary to have a city watch; but the real object as disclosed to me, was, to murder his enemies. . . . Not only was his design to remove William Law, but also William Marks [whose daughter had told her parents of attempted seduction by Joseph]. . . . Now said he, ‘I will work it this way: I will keep twenty on watch under the command of Capt. Dunham, who will select five to do the work, and these men will both be missing, and then I’ll make a great noise about it, and call it persecutions[.’] ‘Now,’ said he, ‘aint’ this a d--d good plan to get rid of traitors?’ . . . He then said that he intended to keep up this watch until he had rid the city of his enemies, and there were some in the country whom he also intended should go by the board. He said that the church had already suffered enough from persecutors, and that he would submit no longer -- men must cease their persecutions, or he would give them a dose that would stop them.” Jackson spoke in opposition to the plan. “Joe accused me of tying his hands, and said that he could do nothing if opposed.”
It's hard to tease out the truth in this portion of Jackson’s expose. Did the meeting actually happen? Did he really oppose Jo’s plans? Did Jo actually tell Jackson that he was tying his hands by opposing the assassination of William Law? Was Jo just telling this to Jackson to test his loyalty again? We simply have no way of telling exactly what happened. Lending credibility to Jackson’s version of the story, Jo did organize a platoon of the Danites under the direction of Jonathan Dunham to be sworn in as officers of the city. In conjunction with this was Jo’s unofficial army of young men soldiers, the whistling and whittling brigade. These were the young men who would sit on street corners in downtown Nauvoo and keep watch on anybody walking through the city. If there was somebody they didn’t recognize, they were to collect as much information as they could and funnel it back to the prophet. If he gave the order, they’d surround the person while whistling and whittling sticks with their bowie knives as intimidation. This is how criminal empires work.
These policemen patrolled Nauvoo and fed everything they knew back to the criminal kingpin himself. It’s at this point that Jackson may have tried to dabble on both sides of the veil. Somebody notified William Law that Jo was plotting to kill him. Law brought the case up in court in early January 1844. We discussed this back on episode 178 about William Judas Law when Jo named a “Brutus or a Judas” within his ranks. Jo intimidated William Law on the stand at the Nauvoo Municipal Court hearing, and Law initially refused to talk. Eventually Law bowed to the power of the tyrant and told the tribunal that a man named Eli Norton had told him about the assassination attempt against his life. Norton wasn’t a member of the newly-commissioned Nauvoo Police force, but he was friends with a guy named Daniel Carn who was. Apparently, Eli Norton learned about the assassination plot from Daniel Carn, who was supposed to be one of the guys who tied the stick to Law’s shoulders to turn him into catfish food.
During the hearing, William Law said just enough to get him out of the situation. However, he and his brother, Wilson, confronted Joseph Smith 2 days later in the presence of Jackson who reported the confrontation in his expose.
Joseph “became very angry that any should have any fears or suspect that he would encourage such a thing, and said that he had a good mind to put them (the police) on us anyhow, we were such fools, or words to that effect.” This remark infuriated the Laws and “some hard words passed between us[.]” According to Joseph Jackson, Smith’s remark “so exasperated Wilson Law, that he drew his pistol, and made Joe swallow his words in a hurry. So great was the excitement, that it was with difficulty that William Law and Hyrum Smith, could prevent Wilson from firing.”
Wilson Law nearly shot Jo in January of 1844, Charles Foster nearly shot Jo only 3 months later. Joseph Smith knew how to make enemies. Throughout the growing tensions between Jo and the Laws, Joseph H. Jackson was actually inducted into the city police force, meaning the Danite squad tasked with patrolling the city for anybody who may oppose the prophet. Notably, some Mormon historians like Brian Hales will claim that within only a week of Jo and Jackson meeting that their friendship had suffered irreparable damage and they were growing enemies beginning sometime in spring of 1843. That isn’t the case. Jackson was elevated to higher and higher levels of trust and loyalty in Mormonism throughout all of 1843 and early 1844. Jackson was also probably feeding information to the Laws as they grew to be public enemies #1 of the prophet. Jackson hedged his bets and tried to play on all sides of the growing conflict. As of late January 1844, Jackson was referred to as Colonel Jackson by Joseph Smith in his journal.
However, it may be the case that Jo was smart enough to keep his friends close and enemies closer, and by elevating Jackson to the Nauvoo police force could keep closer tabs on him. By late February 1844, according to Jackson anyway, Jo had conceived of a plan to get rid of Jackson. This was recorded as part of Jackson’s expose without any other corroborating documents, but apparently Jo orchestrated a scenario in the Quorum of Apostles to get rid of Jackson and make it look like an accident common of frontier American life.
The Twelve met “according to Joseph Council” to discuss “selecting a company to explore Oregon and California, and select a site for a new city for the Saints.” Dunham and Phineas Young volunteered to go. Among the others selected were James Emmett and Daniel Spencer. (See also entries for February 23, 1844 and August 4, 1845.) Joseph H. Jackson claimed he was warned by “a certain lady . . . who had heard Joe, Hyrum, and Dr. Richards in conversation” that the sole purpose of this expedition was to have Jackson killed. He was to be put in charge of it (as a former resident of California). The company would “get started, and [the Danites would] kill me; and then [the company would] return [to Nauvoo] and report that the Indians had shot their pilot, and they were obliged to return. . . . [A]s soon as I refused to go to California, the whole matter dropt, and I heard no more of the expedition.”
Understandably, when Jackson learned of the plot to kill him hatched by the prophet and Quorum of Apostles, that was his point of no return. He knew Nauvoo was coming to a breaking point and if the rumors of his past life before Nauvoo are any indicator, he had quite a drive for self-preservation and could recognize when situations were getting out of control. Notably as well, Jackson wasn’t inducted into the Council of Fifty, which was formed of the most-trusted elites just half a month after the plan to kill him was formed. A person like Jackson rising through the ranks of the Mormon kingdom, we’d expect to see him inducted into the super-secretive society, but his absence reveals skepticism of his loyalty by the prophet.
This skepticism seems to have run both directions. Jo was skeptical of Jackson but Jackson knew all along that Jo couldn’t be trusted and it was around this time that Jackson likely began devising his exit strategy, possibly in collusion with the Laws, Fosters, and Higbees who were all devising their own strategies. Look, the Fosters Higbees and Laws were never good friends with Joseph H. Jackson, but it seems like one of those enemy of my enemy situations here. By late March, Jo preached on the stand that there was a plot to kill him.
I have been informed by two gentlemen that a conspiracy is got up in this place for the purpose of taking the life of President Joseph Smith, his family, and all the Smith family, and the heads of the Church. . . . The names of the persons revealed at the head of the conspiracy are as follows:—Chancey L. Higbee, Dr. Robert D. Foster, Mr. Joseph H. Jackson, William and Wilson Law. And the lies that C. L. Higbee has hatched up as a foundation to work upon are—he says that I had men's heads cut off in Missouri, and that I had a sword run through the hearts of the people that I wanted to kill and put out of the way. I won't swear out a warrant against them, for I don't fear any of them: they would not scare off an old setting hen. I intend to publish all the iniquity that I know of them. If I am guilty, I am ready to bear it. There is sometimes honor among enemies.
With Jackson named among the enemies who would publish the prospectus of the Nauvoo Expositor only barely a month after this screed, he was officially marked. However, there are some interesting details in Jackson’s expose which merit mentioning. It’s clear to me that Jackson counted some members of the Council of Fifty as friends and was able to get information from them even if he himself wasn’t allowed to attend the meetings. This data to which I’m referring strikes at some of Jo’s greatest ambitions of global domination.
On March 14th, the second meeting of the Council of Fifty, a guy named Uriah Brown was inducted into the Council. Uriah Brown was a non-Mormon, one of only 2 members of the Council of Fifty who weren’t actually Mormons. Uriah Brown was an inventor who had an offer for Jo’s Mormon theocracy revolution. We discussed this back on episode 71 when we had Tom and Cecil from Cognitive Dissonance podcast on the show to talk about the worst POTUS candidate ever. I’m going to read a pretty large chunk and this is straight from a footnote of the Council of Fifty Minutes on the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
“[Uriah] Brown was a non-Mormon friend of JS and the first of three non-Mormons added to the Council of Fifty in 1844. JS explained that these men had been included to demonstrate that the kingdom of God operated on “the broad and liberal principal that all men have equal rights,” regardless of religious denomination. During the War of 1812, Brown had invented a naval weapon—described as “Greek fire”—that would propel liquid fire at enemy ships. The weapon had elicited occasional interest by the U.S. government. It is unclear whether Brown’s weapon influenced JS’s decision to add him to the council. In January 1843 JS reviewed plans for the weapon with Brown and informed him that “he had thought that the Lord had designd the apparatus for some more magnificnt purpose than for the defence of nations.” Joseph H. Jackson, an enemy of JS, later claimed that JS persuaded Brown to attempt to sell the weapon to Russia while secretly planning to use the weapon as a bartering tool to negotiate an alliance with the Russian emperor. However, there is no discussion of the weapon in the council record during the Nauvoo era and scant discussion elsewhere, so the reliability of Jackson’s accusation is difficult to assess. In 1851 the Council of Fifty discussed an offer by Brown, who had been dropped by the council in 1845, to sell the weapon to Brigham Young so that it could be used to defend Mormon settlements in the Great Basin. During that discussion, Almon Babbitt identified the weapon with “the Russian mission.” Babbitt also recalled JS’s “favorable reception [of] the invention” and stated that he was “in favor of carrying out the views of Joseph and thinks it a matter worthy of our notice,” though neither Babbitt nor anyone else at the 1851 meeting indicated what JS’s intentions may have been for the weapon. (Council of Fifty, “Record,” 11 Apr. 1844; JS, Journal, 8 Jan. 1843; Jackson, Narrative, 30; Minutes, 25 Aug. 1851, Council of Fifty, Papers, 1845–1883, CHL.)”
That’s on their own website. That’s straight from the Joseph Smith Papers site linked in the show notes. According to Joseph H. Jackson’s expose, Jo added Uriah Brown to the Council of Fifty because he had devised plans to construct a submarine with a flamethrower mounted on it which he wanted to sell to Russia in order to gain credibility with the czar and overthrow the American government. The fact that this weapon system isn’t recorded in any Nauvoo meeting minutes of even the most secretive councils and only later alluded to by the Utah Territory presidency under Bloody Brigham Young illustrates to us that there were plans much greater than available documents reveal. We only learn of this Russia collusion and weapon of mass destruction plan from Jackson which leads most historians to regard it as bunk, but the fact that Bloody Brigham approached Uriah Brown half a decade after Jo’s death to inquire about the availability of the weapon system is evidence enough for me that such a plan was in place and Jackson had access to those plans without being able to attend the council meetings himself.
Jackson was continuing to play all sides of the rising conflict though. According to Jo’s mom, Lucy Mack Smith, her biographical sketches discuss Jackson as an enemy of her two sons and the larger church. While she’s not very solid on dates in her reminiscences, we can nail down a rough date of March 1844 when the described event transpired. According to Lucy, Joseph H. Jackson took a bit of a shining to Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff’s daughter, Lovina, who was a teenager at the time.
“About this time, a man by the name of Joseph Jackson, who been had been in the place several months, became enamored of Hyrum’s Miss Lovina Smith, Hyrum’s oldest daughter, and asked her father’s permission to marry her. Being refused, he went and requested Joseph to use his influence in his (Jackson’s) favor. This Joseph refused to do. He next applied to Law (who was our secret enemy) for assistance in stealing Lovina from her father; and from this time forth, continued seeking out our enemies till he succeeded in getting a number to join him in a conspiracy to murder the whole Smith family: they commenced holding secret meetings; one of which was attended by a man named Eaton, who was our friend, and he exposed the plot. This man declared that the Higbees, Laws, and Fosters, were all connected with Jackson in his opperations; there was also another individual named Augustine Spencer:— a disolute chaaracter, although a member of an excelent family, [p. 308] — who, I believe, was concerned in this conspiracy. About the time of Eaton’s disclosures, this Mr. Spencer went to the house of his brother Orson [Spencer], and abused my Sons and the church at such a rate, that Orson finally told him that he must either stop or leave the house. Augustine refused— and they grappled. In the contest Orson was considerably injured. He went immediately to Joseph’s, and stating the case, asked for a warrant. Joseph advised him to go to Dr [Robert D.] Foster; who was Justice of the peace. He therefore went and demanded a warrant of Foster; but was refused. For this refusal, Foster was brought before Esq [Daniel H.] Wells, and tried for nonperformance of duty. At this trial Joseph met Charles Foster, the Doctor’s brother, who attempted to shoot Joseph, as soon as they met; but was prevented by Joseph’s catching his hands, and holding him by main force, and in this way he was compelled to confine him above an hour in order to preserve his own life. Jackson and the apostates continued to gather strength till finally they established a printing press in our midst. Through this organ they belched forth the most intolerable, and blackest lies that was ever palmed upon a community. The city council, being advised by men of influence and standing to have this scandelous press removed, took the matter into consideration; and finding that the law would allow them to do so, they declared it a nuisance, and had it treated accordingly. At this the apostates left the city in a great rage, [p. 309] swearing vengeance against Joseph, and the city council; and, in fact, the whole city. They went forthwith to Carthage, and swore out writs for Joseph, and all those who were in any wise concerned in the destruction of the press. But having no hopes of Justice in that place, the bretheren took out a writ of habeas corpus, and were tried before Esq Wells [an] in Nauvoo. With this the apostates were not satisfied: they then called upon one Levi Williams, who was a bitter enemy to us, whenever he was sufficiently sober to know his own sentiments; for he is drunken, illiterate, ignorant brute, that never had a particle of character or influence, until he began to call mob meetings, and placed himself at the head of a rabble like unto himself to drive the Mormons; when he was joined by certain unmentionable ones in Warsaw and Carthage; and, for his zeal in promoting mobocracy, he became the intimate acquaintance, and confidential friend of some certain preachers, lawyers, doctors, Squires, and representatives; and finally of Joseph Jackson and the apostates: and now as Col. Levi Williams, he commands the Militia (alias mob) of Hancock county:— On this man I say they called for assistance to drag Joseph and Hyrum, with the rest of the council to Carthage. Williams swore it should be done; and gathered his band together. Joseph, not choosing to fall into the hands of wolves or tigers, called upon the Legion to be in readiness to defend the city and its Chartered rights.”
Lucy gets us to the exact location our timeline currently rests, in June of 1844 with Jo calling out the Nauvoo Legion to answer for the riot caused by burning the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor. I want to tease out a few details from Lucy’s account though because they’re important and she sort of glossed over them. She claims Jackson was the head of the band of anti-Mormons in the city which was comprised of the Fosters, Higbees, and Laws. Jackson, however, was never named as one of the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor. He was a man who had a certain particular relationship with the English language which could have been for the Expositor’s benefit, but he wasn’t named in the prospectus or the Expositor itself at any point, nor is he attributed anywhere in the paper as a source of information about the outrages the Expositor reports. Jackson would never choose to be a silent partner in such an endeavor as he was a man who glorified in his own infamy. Unless, however, he was still trying to play all sides of the conflict and the Laws, Fosters, and Higbees regarded him as not trustworthy enough to be part of their clan.
Notably as well, Lucy talked about Charles Foster pulling a pistol on Joseph Smith when he, his brother Robert, and William Law refused to aid the city marshal in arresting Augustine Spencer. However, Lucy said it was her son who parried the gun and disarmed Wilson. However, Jo’s journal says it was Robert Foster who removed the pistol from him. Another statement to the facts claimed it was Pistol Packin’ Porter who disarmed and subdued Charles. Memory is a fickle thing, especially when moms are telling the world about their little angels who could do no wrong.
Also the concept that Jackson was after Hyrum’s daughter is quite striking. Her claim that he went to Joseph to get his help in soliciting Hyrum’s daughter for a plural wife means that even in March of 1844 he felt comfortable enough around Jo to make such a request while he was simultaneously meeting with the Fosters, Higbees, and Laws. It just looks like the guy was hedging his bets in all directions with the expectation he could jump on whichever ship wasn’t sinking at a moment’s notice.
Oddly enough, as evidence of the fact Jackson was playing both sides, we find out from the History of the Church, that it was actually Jackson who told M. G. Eaton about the plot to assassinate Jo by the Fosters, Higbees, and Laws. According to an affidavit filed on March 27, 1844 by Abiathar B. Williams:
During the time we were walking, said Joseph H. Jackson said that he was then coming direct from Mr. Law's; that there was going to be a secret meeting in the city of Nauvoo, probably tomorrow evening: but, as it was not decided, he could not say positively as to the time; but he would inform me in season. The said Joseph H. Jackson said that Doctor Foster, Chauncey L. Higbee, and the Laws were red hot for a conspiracy, and he should not be surprised if in two weeks there should not be one of the Smith family left alive in Nauvoo. After we arrived at Mr. Loomis', near the Masonic hall, in the city of Nauvoo, he related some things which he stated that Dr. Foster had said relative to his family. This he did in the presence of Mr. Eaton and myself, and strongly solicited myself and Mr. Eaton to attend the secret meeting and join them in their intentions.
Jo had stated in his March 24th sermon that Jackson was named among those who was trying to get up the plot, yet he also funneled that information to a Jo crony, M.G. Eaton, who then fed that information back to Jo. The reasoning provided by Eaton that Jackson used for telling him about the plot was to tell Eaton to jump ship because it’s asinkin’, the city’s on fire, and in two weeks every Smith will be dead. What’s incredibly fascinating about all of this is that M.G. Eaton was a friend of Jackson’s in the bogus business. He’d previously lived in New York but fled the state on counterfeiting charges. MG Eaton, Peter Haws, and Joseph Jackson were three of the primary bogus coin makers in Nauvoo and across the Mississippi in the Mormon settlement in Iowa.
However, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith didn’t believe that the Laws were conspiring with Jackson, he instead laid the conspiracy to kill Jo and the whole Smith family at the feet of Jackson. “Messrs. Laws have done a great deal of good & when we can see any thing in the conspiracy it was presumed that the rascal Jackson who presumed upon them. & I do not believe that the Messrs. Laws would do any thing against me—it was the rascal Jackson who did it—he did it & I wo[ul]d. not believe Jackson if he was to swear on a Stack of Bibles as big as Mount Etna”. Does the size of the stack of bibles make the swearer more true? Like if the stack Jackson swore on was as Big as the Himalayas would you believe him? What if the stack was as big as the moon? Is an oath on one of those bible passages painted on a grain of rice automatically false? Whatever.
Soon after Hyrum made this speech in the High Council at Nauvoo, he received an anonymous letter on May 12. “supposed to have been written by Joseph H. Jackson, threatening his life, and calling upon him to make his peace with God for he would soon have to die.” The letter itself is no longer extant so we can’t tell if it is indeed Jackson who wrote it or what it said, but it seems plausible. This was on May 12th, 2 days after the prospectus of the Nauvoo Expositor had been printed and it seems Jackson was ready to hitch his wagon to the dissenter party.
For the remainder of May and June 1844, Jackson seems to bounce back and forth between Carthage and Nauvoo quite a bit. In late May Jo took a posse of Danites with him to Carthage to testify to his character, only a week and a half before the Expositor was published. They stopped for the night at Hamilton’s hotel where they found Charles Foster and Jo talked with him for a while. “I had considerable conversation with [Charles Foster], and he appeared to be more mild than previously, and as though he was almost persuaded that he had been influenced to some extent by false reports.” We know that is an inaccurate account of the conversation which transpired because this is the Foster who’d pointed a double-barreled pistol at Jo only a month before. But then Jo reports the information Foster told him. “that there were some persons who were determined I should not go out of Carthage alive. Jackson was seen to reload his pistols, and was heard to swear he would have satisfaction of me and Hyrum.” And indeed, when Jo, Hyrum, and their Danite posse left Carthage to return to Nauvoo on May 28th, “there were many people about in small groups. Jackson stood on the green with one or two men some distance off.” They couldn’t strike because the tyrant was surrounded by his underground bank of shadow enforcers. It was a suicide mission to strike then and there.
Instead, Jackson chose to assassinate the prophet with an expose he wrote and published in the Warsaw Signal 4 days later. There was a problem with Jackson trying to play all sides of the conflict because he’d lost credibility with all sides. The Expositor publishers didn’t want anything to do with him. People he considered his secret allies fed his confidential information back to the prophet. He’d become an enemy of the prophet and couldn’t get himself a wife of the patriarch’s oldest daughter. He was generally distrusted by everybody with whom he’d shared time and correspondence for the past 2 years of his life. However, just because he wasn’t trustworthy doesn’t mean he couldn’t be used by the anti-Mormon group to turn up the heat on the prophet. He wrote his expose for the Warsaw Signal which turned up the heat and in some ways set the stage for the Nauvoo Expositor, published only a week later, to have greater impact.
Carthage, June 1, 1844.
Mr. Editor: --
Having been a short time since a rather conspicuous character in this community, on account of my connection with Joseph, I am anxious to convey to the public through your columns, the motives that actuate my conduct, and thus clear away false impressions which my former conduct has tended to produce. In hopes that the following plain statement of facts, which can be substantiated by unquestionable testimony will produce this effect, I submit it for the information of your readers.
In the fall of 1842, I visited Nauvoo and although I have no knowledge of having done any thing which should have aroused suspicion, I was informed that I was regarded with distrust by his holiness and marked down accordingly as a spy. A short time after this, I had proof that this information was authentic; for incontestable evidence was given of the hostile designs of Joe towards me.
One evening after dark, as I was riding in a wagon with a friend, we met another wagon coming from an opposite direction. A voice from the latter cried out as we passed, "Jackson is that you," I answered in the affirmative. "I wish to see you," said the stranger. I got out of the wagon, and walked to meet the individual who accosted me, who had also left the wagon in which he road. The wagons passed on and we neared each other, when suddenly the stranger fired a pistol -- the ball whizzed by my head, and the assassin fled. I saw no more of him; but the effect of this incident was to make me resolve to be avenged, if the cunning of man could accomplish what I so much desired. I saw plainly from what I had heard, that Joe Smith was the instigator of the villain who attempted to take my life without provocation, and I thought to myself that it should not be my fault, if he were not made to smart for his villainy.
Shortly after this I quit Nauvoo, and spent the winter in Carthage. In the spring of 1843 I told Harmon T. Wilson, that I was determined to head Joe and in order to do so that I would go to Nauvoo, insinuate myself into his favor, win his affection and confidence, and that if he really was a villain I would find it out, and at a proper season I would disclose all to him, that as an officer of the law, he might have an opportunity to bring the scamp to justice. Accordingly I returned to Nauvoo I sought Joe's favor -- he protested he was a man of God: I told him I knew his heart, that his religion was a humbug and I wanted to hear none of it. I represented myself as an outlaw and fugitive from justice -- ready to do whatever he commanded. For a long time, he persisted in his professions of holiness, but finally seeing that I was not gullible enough to believe his [sanctified] professions, and having succeeded in making him believe that I was a proper tool for his uses, he gave in, and acknowledged to me his proper character and principles. He admitted himself an atheist, and the. Book of Mormon a humbug;- and that the original was written by Lyman Spalding, whose heirs now have it in their possession.
By degrees, I entwine, myself completely into his confidence. I seemed ready to perform whatever I was commanded, and to the world kept up the appearance that I was in reality what I seemed to be. I succeeded in my object -- every plot, every plan, every secret movement of the villainous system by which Joe deludes and strips his followers, was made known to me; and before God I say, that a more detestable miscreant treads not the earth. Steeped in blood and crime, guilty by his own admissions, of almost every act of wickedness, that the machinations of hell can suggest to mortal man, he stands before the Devil, but even as the rival of his Satanic Majesty.
But the limits of this communication will not allow me to particularize; suffice it to say, that Joe disclosed to me while in his confidence, that he did send O. P. Rockwell to Missouri: to assassinate Gov. Boggs. He stated too the particulars. I was sent on the mission to liberate him after he had been taken. I know all the facts in relation to this affair, and will soon disclose them to the world. After Rockwell had returned, Joe offered me $3000; if I would do what Rockwell had failed to do, to wit: take the life of Boggs. I consented; -- I visited Missouri, for the purpose of keeping up appearances with him, and on my return excused myself for not having done, what I would have shrunk with horror from doing; by telling him that Boggs was not at home.
This alone brands Joe as an assassin but this is not all I know of his murderous purposes. He attempted to hire myself and others, to take the life of some of our most valuable citizens. I will not at present name them; but I will say from what I know, that his enemies are not safe. He has a ruffian band around him ready to execute whatever he commands and who are only deterred by the fear of detection. The fact that Joe is engaged in counterfeiting, also came to my knowledge while in his confidence; besides this, a baser and more unscrupulous seducer lives not -- I could name his victims, but regard for their feelings deter me.
The limits I have prescribed for this communication, compels me to desist from further remarks at this time. I know that my life is sought by Joe; but I also know, that should I be suddenly cut off, my death will be attributed to the proper source, and amply revenged. I have said enough already, to convince the world that while in Nauvoo my motive was not that which was then attributed to me. -- The fact that I made known to H. T. Wilson my object in going there will unfold the mystery of my conduct.
J. H. JACKSON.
Here we can see Jackson’s way of writing his expose. This wasn’t his full-length pamphlet expose, that wouldn’t be published until August of 1844, a little late for what it contained about Joseph Smith because the dude was already dead, but this was the first of his exposes and we can see how he tries to remove any wrongdoing on his part. He does this with the reasoning that he needs to explain his conduct and justify why everybody hates him. Then he tells truths about Jo mixed with probably falsehoods. He claims Jo told him outright that he was an atheist, a slur of the day and still to some extent today, and that he admitted the Book of Mormon was written by Lyman Spalding, also known as Solomon Spalding, whose heirs now hold the manuscript. Yeah I think I’m safe in saying this was just a lie. Jo kept a lot of secrets even though he was quite a talker. To let Jackson in so quickly after so recently being burned by Wreck-it Bennett just strains credulity. Then Jackson becoming aware that bogus making was going on? He was literally one of the 3 guys running the operation! He didn’t become aware of it to the same extent that I became aware this week that I do a podcast. His whole life was marked by counterfeit and finding the Mormons a recipient population to counterfeit was a fish jumping out of a lake into an ocean. The female victims he refuses to name who’d become prey of the prophet? Yeah he was probably just as horrible with women as Joseph Smith. They were kindred scoundrels in that regard so his sensitive reporting of this sensitive matter rings hollow to me. Jo offering $3k to Jackson to carry out the mission that Porter failed is incredibly likely. In Jackson’s August expose he goes into a lot more detail about what happened there. The three thousand dollars, likely paid in either inflated land deeds or in bogus anyway, was a reasonable amount for assassinating a political opponent. Port got the nicest carriage in town upon his return from his assassination attempt because Jo knew that to keep loyal followers you have to keep them comfortable. Then Jackson claiming that Jo hired him and others to kill other members of their society, that’s the Laws for sure because Jackson was the one who told William Law that Jo wanted him dead which allowed William Law to bring a legal complaint against Joseph Smith. How Jackson chose to wrap the editorial is quite fascinating to me. If I die, you know who did it. If anybody questions my motive, talk to Sheriff Harmon T. Wilson who I told about my spy plan before I did it. This reveals that he legitimately feared for his life.
Look, Jackson was a complicated guy. After he published this and the Nauvoo Expositor was published, he’d finally declared which side he was on in this whole affair. Notably, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith talked about Jackson extensively during the city council meetings about how to deal with the Nauvoo Expositor. Hyrum was possibly lying, possibly telling the truth, it’s tough to know but he told the city council about Jackson and how horrible of a man he was.
Mayor said that William Law had offered Jackson $500 to kill him. Councilor Hyrum Smith continued—Jackson told him he (Jackson) meant to have his daughter, and threatened him if he made any resistance. Jackson related to him a dream, that Joseph and Hyrum were opposed to him, but that he would execute his purposes; that Jackson had laid a plan with four or five persons to kidnap his daughter, and threatened to shoot any one that should come near after he had got her in the skiff; that Jackson was engaged in trying to make bogus, which was his principal business.
Should we trust these accusations about Joseph H. Jackson? Was Jo telling the truth about William Law trying to hire him to kill the prophet for $500? Was Hyrum telling the truth about him wanting to kidnap his daughter? Was Jackson a predator who would take Lovina Smith against her and her father’s will? Or, were Lovina and Jackson actually friends or dating but Hyrum didn’t like Jackson and was saving his oldest daughter to be sealed to somebody else? The truth is, we can’t trust anything any of these guys said about each other. There may be some truth in a later statement during the same city council meeting by Lorenzo Wasson who said “Joseph H. Jackson had told witness that bogus-making was going on in the city; but it was too damned small business. Wanted witness to help him to procure money, for the General (Smith) was afraid to go into it; and with $500 he could get an engraving for bills on the Bank of Missouri, and one on the State of New York, and could make money.” Making counterfeit bogus with the Bank of Missouri stamped into it would have been really helpful for all of Emma’s supply trips to St. Louis to procure supplies for the Red Brick Store so of course Jo and Emma were both plugged into the bogus business as it was probably a primary source of income for both of them. This is yet another case where any accusations of immoral or illegal behavior lobbed at Jackson splash damages the prophet and his closest circle.
There’s so much more about Jackson to incorporate into the timeline, especially as we get through the remainder of June 1844. There was a confrontation between a Missourian and a Mormon in Carthage and Jackson stopped the Missourian from killing the Mormon by repeatedly stabbing him and he figures even more into the eventual assassination at Carthage. But what do we make of him?
Joseph H. Jackson had a relatively short stint with the Mormons in Nauvoo. He was so clearly an opportunist and didn’t seem to hold to any ideology of any sort. His history before Nauvoo is a mystery, he drops completely from the Mormon radar after his expose following the assassinations of Jo and Hyrum; he’s an incredibly enigmatic figure. However, in some ways he followed the same path blazed by opportunists before him. I can’t help but notice many parallels between him and John C. Wreck-it Bennett. The primary difference is that it seems Jackson was at least honest with himself about the fact that he was a scoundrel and pariah, whereas Bennett put on a face of respectability and arrogance about conducting similar misdeeds as Jackson did. What Jackson’s motivations were for joining the Mormons in the first place may have been similar simplistic reasons used by many to join the settlement. It provided plenty of opportunities, especially for those unscrupulous folks who sought only their own aggrandizement. Maybe the rumors of multiple wives played to Jackson’s interests and he sought elevation to acquire a few of his own.
Another set of questions arise here and they center around how honest Jo was with Jackson and how accurate was Jackson at recounting their interactions and what Jo told him? We’ll do a deep-dive into Jackson’s full pamphlet expose in coming episodes but the details contained therein paint a picture of Joseph Smith as a genuinely evil person. What complicates this analysis even more is that Jackson speaks to what I know of Joseph Smith quite accurately, albeit in ye olde 19th-century language. To anybody reading his exposes, especially at the time, he fed the hungry wolves the scent of recently-killed flesh. It could be that Jackson was simply attempting to capitalize on the public fury motivating the anti-Mormons to a military campaign against the Nauvoo settlement, just adding energy into the already destructive feedback loop that would result in the deaths of 3 Smiths and the exile of Mormons from the state of Illinois in only half a decade’s time. Besides all of this, Jackson made his living in Nauvoo from one of the greatest acts of deception in our society, counterfeit. That’s how he paid his bills, making fake money known as Nauvoo bogus, usually printed to look like Bank of Missouri or Bank of New York coins. If a person’s chief source of income is lies, can we trust anything they say?
These complicated factors make Jackson a complicated figure in Mormon history. He has all the trappings of a typical anti-Mormon so nothing he says will be believed by the majority of people who study Mormon history regardless of how reliable it is. But then to believe everything Jo and Hyrum ever said about Jackson leaves a very simplistic view of good guys and bad guys in Nauvoo when the world can never be boiled down to that childish dichotomy. He was a lowly criminal actor within a massive criminal system and to distrust his statement while believing the statements of the criminal kingpins is pathetically motivated reasoning.
I see Jackson as the kind of criminal who you could always count on to steal your wallet but will usually tell you the truth about the gossip going around town. Joseph Smith strikes me as the criminal who wears a suit, buys your mortgage from your bank, raises your rent, then forecloses on you all while smiling and shaking your hand saying he knows what’s best for you. A person stealing your wallet is criminal and it sucks, but it doesn’t leave you and your family homeless and completely ruin your life while you call that person your god because he wouldn’t possibly lie to you. The wallet thief gets the press, gets thrown in jail, and lives the rest of his life committing petty crime. The mortgage thief never has an article written about him, never goes to jail, and gets richer every day by continuing to commit these legal crimes until he gets elected president. Both are opportunists, but the former suffers from a lack of scope of their crimes.
Joseph Jackson made his money by literally making his money. Joseph Smith made his money by creating an entire society which relied upon his every word to survive, and he fed the sheep just enough drivel to keep them hungry for more. Both are profoundly dishonest but only one requires religion to work. What’s even more interesting to me is that the issue with bogus money and Jo hiding his fugitive cousin, Jeremiah Smith, from the law for his counterfeiting in New York, were the most effective accusations against Jo by the Nauvoo Expositor. At least, they were the accusations which stuck the most and were immediately dealt with. In many ways, these were the two tangible crimes the people could hold on to which personified the problems with the Mormon criminal empire. It wasn’t bound to the same system of rules the rest of society adheres to and therefore needed to be brought down.
It’s amazing to me that people will tolerate criminality until there’s a simplistic example or personification of the larger problem which is easily comprehensible. Bogus was something the Mormons and non-Mormon settlements outside Nauvoo constantly groaned under, but until Jackson was outed as the primary bogus maker, nothing was actually done about it beyond harboring resentment. Joseph Smith chairing his own court hearings and producing witnesses to come to any conclusion in his court which would benefit him the most was a problem people groaned about, but until Jeremiah Smith was seeking refuge in Nauvoo, the people didn’t have a personification of the problem to grasp. JOSEPH SMITH WAS THE PROBLEM, not Jeremiah Smith or Joseph H. Jackson. The criminal empire of Mormonism was the problem, not the ancillary victims or beneficiaries of it. As a society, we don’t have the tools to put an entire system on trial, only individuals within that system. We don’t have a succinct way of determining the utility or benevolence of a large system with thousands of participants and infinite moving parts, we can only deal with people operating inside that system. What’s even crazier to me is that the Nauvoo Expositor, and even Jackson’s expose, discussed polygamy and the horrible decrepit conditions women were kept in to serve the highest-ranking men of the society, but absolutely nothing was done to solve those problems. Hundreds of victims of a patriarchal system, thousands of instances of rape over years, all these criminals got off scot free.
Look at the church today. Sitting on a dragon’s lair of ill-gotten wealth sucked from millions of people who’ve been lied to systematically for a century and a half, perpetuating colonialism and racial and religious supremacy, flaunting taxes while exercising a heavy hand in national and worldwide politics, exchanging money with people in hostile foreign countries with absolutely no traceability, and shielding sexual predators for generations, providing opportunities for them to continue their predatory practices and harboring these fugitives because they’re just good guys. Once in a while an accountant or bishop will be prosecuted with the church’s law firm defending them, making a slap on the wrists seem to great a punishment because it’s a religion. But at the end of the day, we don’t have a way to put an entire system on trial. We don’t have a way of adjudicating whether or not Mormonism is an acceptable organization to keep around or if it should be broken to pieces for constant and flagrant abuse of laws and legal protections religions get. It’s not criminal to run a cult, whether religious or political, and that is one of the greatest trappings of society today. We don’t have a way to keep systems like this in control, so we instead make sacrifices of individuals within the system. John D. Lee was executed by firing squad for killing 120 people in a meadow in the Utah territory, but the system which radicalized him, the people who brainwashed him to believe that in some world it was the right thing to do to kill those people, they never took the stand and Lee wasn’t even executed until nearly 20 years after the crime was committed because Mormonism shielded him from justice. The guy actually responsible for it has statues and universities bearing his face and name.
It does no good to attack individuals within a system without putting the system itself on trial but we as a society haven’t yet developed those tools. I would argue that attacking individuals within a criminal system is actually counterproductive to stopping abuses committed by that system. Case in point, Joseph Smith was a criminal kingpin and became the victim of vigilante justice when the standard justice system was unable to prosecute him, but Mormonism went on unfettered and continued its abuses. The people felt justice had been served to some degree. Similarly, Joseph Jackson may have been one of the primary bogus makers in Nauvoo, but attacking him only caused him to switch sides to antagonizing the Mormons and forced him into hiding to escape the legal system. Once he fled and dissociated from Mormonism, bogus-making continued in his absence. Notably as well, in late 1845, when the Nauvoo Charter was revoked and the schism crisis was in full swing, Bloody Brigham Young was about to be arrested for counterfeit money but resolved it was time for the Mormons to flee Illinois, and he quickly set up shop in modern-day Omaha, Nebraska, known as Winter Quarters, and the following year he led hundreds of Mormons into the Great Basin where a new era of genocide and theocracy could kick off unfettered by any system of justice.
So, while Jackson is the personification of it, counterfeit and bogus was just one small criminal aspect of Nauvoo Mormonism, he was only a symptom of the much larger problem; that of a corrupt superstructure which never answered for its crimes.
Thank Christopher Smith. Check out Wall Street Petting Zoo, Dreams from My Brain, and the Sunstone History Podcast to hear more from him or check the show notes for his facebook and twitter.
Did you hear the latest?
Oh dear, what did he do now?
He actually tried to extort a president of another country to attack his political opponent!
Oh, yeah. I read the transcript of the call… So… what’re you going to do about it?!
He should be impeached!
Yeah, but what are you going to DO about it?
He has to answer for high crimes and misdemeanors!
Yeah yeah yeah, I agree, and he’s a criminal, the whole party is corrupt, and this is one simple thing we can all grasp and get our heads around. What are you GOING TO DOOOO About it so he doesn’t get us all killed?!
… I’m gunna write an angry tweet and tag him.
Okay. You’re gunna get us all killed.
 Melanokos book
 Joseph H. Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures and Experience of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo, Disclosing the Depths of Mormon Villainy (Warsaw, Ill.: Signal Office, 1844), 4-5, http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1840s/1844Jack.htm.
 https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/subpoena-29-november-1842-city-of-nauvoo-v-davis-for-slander-of-js-b/1 ; https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/subpoena-30-november-1842-a-city-of-nauvoo-v-davis-for-slander-of-js-c/1
 https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/docket-entry-30-november-1842-city-of-nauvoo-v-davis-for-slander-of-js-b/1 ; https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minutes-30-november-1842-city-of-nauvoo-v-davis-for-slander-of-js-b/1
 https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/docket-entry-between-30-november-and-circa-3-december-1842-city-of-nauvoo-v-davis-for-slander-of-js-c/1 ; Jackson subpoena: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/subpoena-3-december-1842-b-city-of-nauvoo-v-davis-for-slander-of-js-c/1
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