The Nauvoo Expositor had been destroyed. Lawsuits had been filed. The Constable from Carthage had tried to arrest Jo and he refused to be carried to Carthage for the hearing, instead holding his own sham trials in an attempt to assuage the allegations against him and his co-conspirators. The state of Illinois was in turmoil as state militia leaders amassed their forces for a siege of Nauvoo. Nauvoo itself was under martial law and the Legion was building breastworks and digging trenches around vulnerable areas of the city in preparation for war. The anti-Mormons in Carthage and Warsaw had passed resolutions calling on the citizens of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa territory to commit a war of extermination against the Mormons if Jo couldn’t be apprehended and brought to Carthage. Governor Thomas Ford was camped out in Carthage where he’d set up his field headquarters from which to command the state militia in the case of bloodshed. More than anything, Ford wanted to resolve this issue amicably between the Mormons an anti-Mormons but the Mormon leadership and the anti-Mormon meetings and newspapers had escalated tensions for years that peaceful resolution seemed like a fleeting possibility. The only thing to keep all out war from breaking out was to get Joseph and Hyrum Smith in the custody of the state. Just them, not with 50 of their Danite buddies.
The letter we read from Governor Ford to Joseph Smith last week contained a crucial line in his concluding paragraphs.
In case the persons accused should make no resistance to an arrest, it will be against order to be accompanied by others. If it should become necessary to have witnesses on the trials, I will see that such persons as may thus be brought to this place from Nauvoo either for trial or as witnesses for the accused.
If the individuals accused cannot be found when required by the constable, it will be considered by me as an equivalent to a refusal to be arrested, and the militia will be ordered accordingly.
That was a straightforward order issued by the Governor of a State enforcing the legal orders of a legally appointed circuit court judge. There was no higher body available at the time to enforce the law. This may surprise some of you to hear, but the federal government was less powerful than state governments. Governors acted as presidents of their states and states held more power than the federal government of the United States. States are sovereign entities which had to give the federal government permission to exist by ratifying the constitution. The states predate the federal government. If you lived in the state of Illinois, Governor Ford had more power over your conduct than President John Tyler. It wasn’t until the 14th amendment ratified in 1868 resulting from the Civil War that states were incorporated under the power of the federal government. Prior to 1868, states and their legislative bodies held more power than the federal government. There also wasn’t an FBI, or any interstate police force for that matter, only state militias which could grant temporary authority to the President to operate as a federal militia, but only if circumstances required and only if the governors of those states agreed. Government had largely the same structure in the early to mid-19th-century, but the practices and power dynamics were very different.
That’s a roundabout way of saying that Joseph Smith had so aggressively flaunted the law that the Governor of his state had to step in and handle matters personally. That’s not getting called to the principal’s office for fighting on the playground, that’s getting called to… well I can’t use our current president as a good example… maybe like some tribunal at bohemian grove or something? but you see what I mean by this point. Governor Thomas Ford carried the weight of the entire government of Illinois with him and his voice was absolute in this conflict. He had total control over the state militias, including the Nauvoo Legion, and all law enforcement in the state was done so under the seal of the state executive. Governor Ford ordering Jo to comply with the original arrest warrant was literally the highest legal authority telling a regular citizen to follow the law. There was no going over his head. There was no ignoring the order. Defying the order carried with it the consequences of war.
Jo’s reply to Governor Ford wasn’t reassuring. Jo wanted to appeal the matter to the supreme court and speak with President Tyler directly in an attempt to go over Governor Ford’s head, while at the same time telling Ford “if anything wrong has been done on our part, and we know of nothing, we will make all things right if the government will give us the opportunity”. The problem is that Jo wasn’t happy with the consequences of his own actions, which Ford understood in totality, and he wanted to just keep going up the government ladder until he could get somebody to nullify those consequences by siding with him. However, a person can’t just appeal a case immediately to the Supreme Court, especially a criminal case that was handled at the municipal level. It would need to be judged against Jo and Hyrum in the circuit court at Carthage, then appealed to the state supreme court of Illinois, then to the district court, then finally petitions could be filed for cert to the supreme court. That process of appeals would take this case years to resolve but the law was so incredibly against Jo’s actions that the consequences and negative press of such a drawn-out process would grind the Mormon movement to a halt, especially as it was a criminal matter and Jo would be moved around in state custodies until it was ultimately resolved. With the general anti-rebellion bend of the federal government at the time, and Jo exhibiting all the tendencies of rebellion in the state, no system of government would allow him to continue ruling Nauvoo the way he was. Every day in Nauvoo, since its inception, was borrowed time, mortgaged against the general rule of law and the federal government, and the clock was finally running out. Everybody could feel it.
The Mormon leadership blatant abuse of power, however, didn’t stop them from packaging and maybe even personally believing this to be religious persecution. When John Taylor returned from Carthage, as one of the discreet messengers Ford called for, he related his meeting with the governor to Jo and all present in the city council that day. Here’s how he tells the story:
After waiting the Governor’s pleasure for some time we had an audience; but such an audience! He was surrounded by some of the vilest and most unprincipled men in creation; some of them had an appearance of respectability, but many of them lacked even that. Wilson, and I believe William Law were there, Foster, Frank and Chauncey Higbee, Mr. Marr, a lawyer from Nauvoo; a mobocratic merchant from Warsaw, Joseph H. Jackson, a number of his associates, and the Governor’s secretary, in all some fifteen or twenty persons, most of whom were recreant to virtue, honor, integrity and everything that is considered honorable among men. I can well remember the feelings of disgust that I had in seeing the Governor surrounded by such an infamous group, and on being introduced to men of so questionable a character; and had I been on private business, I should have turned to depart, and told the Governor that, if he thought proper to associate with such questionable characters, I should beg leave to be excused, but coming, as we did, on public business, we could not of course consult on our private feelings.
The dehumanization of the enemies of the Kingdom of God was complete and absolute. Every person, regardless of their standing, occupation, perspective on the conflict, elected office, nothing mattered; all of them were the “vilest and most unprincipled men in creation,” which all but guaranteed each and every one of those men viewed John Taylor the same exact way and likely voiced their opinions quite loudly in the presence of Governor Ford. Even Joseph H. Jackson and 5 of the 7 printers of the Expositor were there. This was probably for the best because none of them were called to testify in the Nauvoo Municipal hearings concerning the criminal conduct committed against them by the Mayor and his cronies. Likely, John Taylor hadn’t interacted with any of these men since the Expositor was destroyed and to have all these men in the same place at the same time talking about the same issues certainly made for some heated conversation. The only cool head in the room was the guy in control, Thomas Ford, but even cool heads can heat up with enough friction. After setting the scene, John Taylor began to tell Ford his side of the story.
We then stated to the Governor, that in accordance with his request, General Joseph Smith had, in response to his call, sent us to him as a committee of conference; that we were acquainted with most of the circumstances that had transpired in and about Nauvoo lately, and were prepared to give him the information; that moreover we had in our possession testimony and affidavits confirmatory of what we should say, which had been forwarded to him by General Joseph Smith; that communications had been forwarded to his Excellency by Messrs. Hunter, James and others, some of which had not reached their destination; but of which we had duplicates with us. We then in brief related an outline of the difficulties, and the course we had pursued from the commencement of the troubles, up to the present, and handing him the documents, respectfully submitted the whole.
This is troubling to me because John Taylor didn’t provide any view into exactly what he said. Obviously his side of the story was consistent with the collected affidavits but beyond that, what did he tell Governor Ford about the municipal hearings that discharged Jo and his 17 co-conspirators? What did he tell Ford about the charges of the Expositor destruction causing riot? How did he respond to Ford when asked about martial law and arresting people in the city? What did Taylor tell Ford about the allegations of stolen property from the Expositor office? What did he say to Ford while in the presence of those men who suffered the criminal acts of the Nauvoo elite? It’s a disappointing account and I can’t find any other document which sheds further light on the situation. I can, however, turn to Governor Ford’s report to the state legislature in December which recounted the events from his point of view concerning this meeting.
History of Illinois p. 325
It appeared clearly both from the complaints of the citizens and the acknowledgments of the Mormon committee that the whole proceedings of the mayor, the common council, and the municipal court, were irregular and illegal, and not to be endured in a free country; though perhaps some apology might be made for the court, as it had been repeatedly assured by some of the best lawyers in the State who had been candidates for office before that people, that it had full and competent power to issue writs of habeas corpus in all cases whatever. The common council violated the law in assuming the exercise of judicial power; in proceeding ex parte without notice to the owners of the property; in proceeding against the property in rem; in not calling a jury; in not swearing all the witnesses; in not giving the owners of the property, accused of being a nuisance, in consequence of being libelous, an opportunity of giving the truth in evidence; and in fact, by not proceeding by civil suit or indictment, as in other cases of libel. The mayor violated the law in ordering this erroneous and absurd judgment of the common council to be executed. And the municipal court erred in discharging them from arrest.
So, in some ways, the meeting with John Taylor confirmed to Governor Ford what he suspected was the cause of the fury between the Mormons and anti-Mormons. The citizens made complaints of what happened and Taylor was part of the “Mormon committee” which acknowledged the proceedings of the mayor, Joseph Smith. Truth has a way of finding its way through all the noise when sought by a tempered and intelligent mind like Governor Ford’s. He added a poignant remark about the fury rising from the destruction of the Expositor, not the allegations printed by it.
As this proceeding touched the liberty of the press, which is justly dear to any republican people, it was well calculated to raise a great flame of excitement. And it may well be questioned whether years of misrepresentation by the most profligate newspaper could have engendered such a feeling as was produced by the destruction of this one press. It is apparent that the Mormon leaders but little understood, and regarded less the true principles of civil liberty. A free press well conducted is a great blessing to a free people; a profligate one is likely soon to deprive itself of all credit and influence by the multitude of falsehoods put forth by it. [apparently Governor Ford couldn’t have foreseen the existence of FOX news.] But let this be as it may, there is more lost to rational liberty by a censorship of the press by suppressing information proper to be known to the people, than can be lost to an individual now and then by a temporary injury to his character and influence by the utmost licentiousness.
It’s better to have freedom of press and let truth come from the aggregate than have censorship of single newspapers when one guy is offended. I love Ford’s take on the law and ideology of the freedom of press here as it stands as the best argument when claiming that Jo and Hyrum absolutely deserved to be in Carthage jail for their crimes of a tyrannical nature. Regardless of what John Taylor told Governor Ford during this meeting surrounded by enemies of the church and Joseph Smith, Ford had a clear view of the legality of the situation and who was responsible for illegal acts.
Continuing with Taylor’s account of the meeting:
During our conversation and explanations with the Governor, we were frequently rudely and impudently contradicted by the fellows he had around him, and of whom he seemed to take no notice.
He opened and read a number of the documents himself, and as he proceeded, he was frequently interrupted by--: “That’s a lie”—"That’s a God damned lie”—“That’s an infernal falsehood”—“That’s a blasted lie,” &c.
What exactly the men were objecting to… we’ll never know. We’ve read a number of those affidavits the past few weeks on the show and I’ve repeatedly pointed out that there’s absolutely no corroboration for what specific affidavits said beyond just the person saying it in the presence of White-out Willard Richards acting as a clerk for Nauvoo and Jo’s chief propaganda minister. It’s clear to me that the people attending this meeting bristled similarly against the various accusations but without any specifics provided by John Taylor, I can’t begin to tease apart whether Taylor was right or whether the anti-Mormons in the meeting calling him a liar were right. There just isn’t enough data in the historical record to figure it out but we can be certain that the most dangerous falsehoods are those which are buried within the truth, which is probably the best way to describe the Mormon affidavits Governor Ford read in this meeting. The majority of the content was probably true, but little falsehoods peppered into the account would infuriate anybody trying to convince Governor Ford that the Mormon leadership was lying. Governor Ford was too smart to immediately believe either side. He was doing his job the right way when the right way wasn’t always a clear path. He even states in his History of Illinois concerning this time that “[d]uring this time also, I had secret agents amongst all the parties, observing their movements; and was accurately informed of everything which was meditated on both sides.” Because Ford couldn’t trust either the Mormons or the anti-Mormons, he put spies all around the two cities to feed untainted information to him to cut through the chaos rising up all around him.
Taylor continues recounting the meeting:
These men evidently winced on an exposure of their acts; and thus vulgarly, impudently and falsely repudiated them. One of their number, Mr. Marr, addressed himself several times to me, while in conversation with the Governor. I did not notice him until after a frequent repetition of his insolence, when I informed him that my business at that time was with Governor Ford; whereupon I continued my conversation with His Excellency.
Good job John Taylor. You do you buddy. This guy kept accosting him while he was trying to tell Governor Ford about what was going on and he just told him to shut up and let do the business he was here to do in the first place. That detail is a testament to how inflamed the people were and how high tensions really were. It was a miracle to have all these men in the same room without a brawl. If not for Governor Ford being there, a brawl would have happened, thus sparking the Illinois-Mormon war the way the Gallatin election day fight set off the powder keg of the Missouri-Mormon war back in August of 1838.
During the conversation the Governor expressed a desire that Joseph Smith and all parties concerned in passing or executing the city law in relation to the press, had better come to Carthage, that however repugnant it might be to our feelings, he though it would have a tendency to allay public excitement and prove to the people what we professed, that we wished to be governed by law.
We represented to him the course we had taken in relation to this matter, our willingness to go before another magistrate, other than the municipal court; the illegal refusal of our request by the constable, our dismissal by the municipal court, a legally constituted tribunal, our subsequent trial before Esq. Wells at the instance of Judge Thomas (the circuit judge) and our dismissal by him. That we had fulfilled the law in every particular; that it was our enemies who were breaking the law and, having murderous designs, were only making use of this as a pretext to get us into their power.
Taylor’s argument to Governor Ford here is predicated on the idea that the Mormons were on the right side of law. As soon as we can judge that the Nauvoo city council acted against the law, everything Taylor just said is completely moot. We’ve dealt with each and every one of these arguments the past few episodes since the Expositor was destroyed and Taylor had no legal ground to stand on, although he was simply parroting the Mormon version of events. Governor Ford was no idiot and responded accordingly.
The Governor stated that the people viewed it differently, and that notwithstanding our opinions, he would recommend that the people should be satisfied.
What is that satisfaction? Get Joseph and Hyrum Smith before the circuit court at Carthage under charges of riot and other illegal acts and let everybody testify to the facts in court, where this issue really belonged. However, John Taylor’s point that everything was merely a murderous design, that the anti-Mormons were using these legal issues “as a pretext to get us into their power” holds some truth. The Nauvoo government committed crimes at the direction of Joseph Smith, but rest assured, the Mormons had made enough enemies in the surrounding cities that surrendering to arrest and extradition to Carthage would open up Jo and Hyrum to vigilante justice. Arresting people for the purpose of making them vulnerable to a vigilante mob to lynch them is reprehensible, but does that then grant license to ignore those arrest orders? That really was a fundamental question at issue here. If Jo’s life would be threatened by adhering to the law, should he adhere to the law? When taken in isolation it isn’t such an easy question to answer but when viewed in the larger context of Jo’s growing tyrannical and revolutionary tendencies, this instance of him refusing the arrest warrant was merely a final straw breaking the camel’s back, culminating half a decade of lawlessness.
We then remarked to [the Governor], that should Joseph Smith comply with his request, it would be extremely unsafe, in the present excited state of the country to come without and armed force; that we had a sufficiency of men and were competent to defend ourselves; but that there might be danger of collision, should our forces and that of our enemies be brought in such close proximity.
This is a super interesting point by John Taylor. If Jo surrenders and comes into Carthage without an armed guard, he’s as good as dead. If he’s allowed an armed guard, we’re competent enough to fight off vigilantes. What would you do in Governor Ford’s situation? Let Jo come in armed and give him a chance to defend himself, or bet on your own ability to control the public and arresting posse to not take vigilante justice as soon as he enters the city? If you allow an armed posse of Mormons to walk into Carthage when all the anti-Mormons are armed as well, how would you possibly keep violence from breaking out resulting in a few hundred corpses and all-out war? It’s a tough situation but Ford made the decision best calculated to keep tensions where they were instead of boiling out of control.
He strenuously advised us not to bring any arms, and pledged his faith as Governor, and the faith of the State, that we should be protected, and that he would guarantee our perfect safety.
There is a small sentence here that was removed from the official History of the Church but was restored through Dan Vogel’s tireless research from the original source of John Taylor’s Manuscript Autobiography.
We had, at that time, about five thousand under arms, one thousand of which would have been amply sufficient for our protection.
The anti-Mormons were less than a thousand in number by this time. Governor Ford puts that militia number around 1300 a few days from this point as people arrived in Carthage from all over the state as well as from Iowa territory and Missouri. The posse Taylor clearly wanted to bring Jo and Hyrum to Carthage wasn’t some hundred to two hundred armed men, but an armed force large enough to completely overwhelm the anti-Mormon forces if a fight broke out. How would the Carthaginians react to Jo and Hyrum leading their own army larger than the standing army in Carthage into the city to adhere to the arrest warrant? How could violence possibly be avoided?
Taylor wraps up his account of the meetings.
At the termination of our interview, and previous to our withdrawal, after a long conversation and the perusal of the documents which we had brought, the Governor informed us that he would prepare a written communication for General Joseph Smith, which he desired us to wait for. We were kept waiting for this instrument some five or six hours.
About 5 o’clock in the afternoon we took our departure, with not the most pleasant feelings. The associations of the Governor, the spirit that he manifested to compromise with those scoundrels, the length of time that he had kept us waiting, and his general deportment, together with the infernal spirit that we saw exhibited by those whom he admitted to his counsels made the prospect anything but promising.
Governor Ford’s lack of willingness to compromise shouldn’t strike us as surprising when the Mormon leadership was clearly in the wrong here. It’s like Book of Mormon archeology; the church leadership will always be wrong until they change their behavior; there is no compromise when one side is simply wrong. The middle ground between right and wrong on issues, whether the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the tyranny of burning down a printing press, is nonexistent. You don’t compromise with people about whether or not water is wet. People are largely made out of water and carbon; no they aren’t, humans are fairy dust made in a cauldron in the sky by a white guy with a beard! One side can be totally wrong about something and Governor Ford’s unwillingness to compromise on Joseph going to court in Carthage exhibits that he knew who was wrong in this conflict.
John Taylor told Jo this story about the meeting, which Jo received late that night and stayed up until midnight writing his reply to Governor Ford. We read through and discussed both of those letters near the end of last week’s episode.
Willard Richards recorded in his journal how the leadership dealt with this issue.
I [Joseph Smith] had consultation for a little while with my brother Hyrum, Dr. Richards, John Taylor, and John M. Bernhisel, and determined to go to Washington, and lay the matter before Prest. Tyler.
Jo had met with a president before to address grievances and was told by Martin Van Buren that he could do nothing for the Mormons. Did he really believe this time would be different when the circumstances were fundamentally different? During that meeting with Van Buren, the Mormons had just been chased out of Missouri; they were living in tents and wagons on the banks of the Mississippi, destitute refugees seeking welfare from the government to merely survive, yet Van Buren’s hands were tied. In this case, though, the Mormon leadership had acted out of tyranny to silence critical voices of the movement; they’d flaunted the law and declared Nauvoo a sovereign city-state, an overt act of treason. Did they really believe that John Tyler would act differently than Martin Van Buren given these circumstances? Or, and this is how I personally view it, was this just a ploy to generate more of the persecution complex? Being turned away by one president generated hours of persecution narrative in the following 4 years from Nauvoo pulpits that solidified the concept of persecution in the minds of every Mormon. Being turned away by another president would be yet more ammunition for the Mormon leadership that they were persecuted and their government refused to do anything for them. Therefore, the government has been corrupted by the adversary and only we can save it while the constitution hangs by a thread. It was a calculated measure, the impact of which would never be realized.
Jo and his closest confidants knew that it was getting too hot in Nauvoo. A meeting with the President was an actionable item, however, Governor Ford was headed to Nauvoo to arrest Jo the next day with a posse of 30 men. This was not a large enough force for the Nauvoo Legion to consider a declaration of war; these 30 men were headed there to arrest Joseph and Hyrum and nothing else. If they were impeded in any way, Governor Ford would consider it an act of aggression and war would break out. If Jo and Hyrum weren’t there on the morning of the 23rd of June, Ford told Jo explicitly in his letter that it would “be considered by me as an equivalent to a refusal to be arrested, and the militia will be ordered accordingly.” Jo and Hyrum were going to Carthage the morning of the 23rd or Nauvoo would be at war. I cannot stress enough how much these Mormon vs. anti-Mormon settlements were on a knife-edge of war. Any move could be construed as aggression and that would justify the militia to siege and attack the city of Nauvoo. Jo and Hyrum were pinned.
Jo called a huddle with his older brother and a few friends to workshop this and figure out exactly how they were going to survive the next 12 hours without being arrested.
At sundown, I asked O. P. Rockwell if he would go with me a short journey, and he replied he would.
Abraham C. Hodge says’ that soon after dark, Joseph called Hyrum, Willard Richards, John Taylor, W. W. Phelps, A.C. Hodge, Jno. L. Butler, A. Cutler, Wm. Marks, and some others into his upper room and said, “Brethren, here is a letter from the Governor, which I wish to have read.” After it was read through Joseph remarked [defeatedly], “There is no mercy—no mercy here.” Hyrum said, “No; just as sure as we fall into their hands we are dead men.” Joseph replied, “Yes; what shall we do, brother Hyrum?” He replied, “I don’t know.”
Jo and Hyrum had been defeated. Only 2 weeks after the Expositor was destroyed and the brothers had committed an act of overt tyranny, incited a riot, declared martial law for their own protection, set up nightwatches and men to guard every location of value or interest in the city, including the Nauvoo Neighbor printing press and Jo’s Nauvoo Mansion; they had a letter from Governor Ford telling them to surrender or Nauvoo would be at war. Just like the letter Jo received from General Lucas on the night of Oct 31, 1838, telling him and the Mormon leadership to surrender or Far West would be laid to ashes; this letter from Governor Ford contained the ultimatum that would result in the deaths of hundreds or thousands of Mormons if his demands weren’t met. This is one of those times in history where I simply wish I could be a fly on the wall or a cockroach under the floorboards for just a few hours to see this meeting. What actually was said, we’ll never know because all of this is junk George A. Smith made up in 1856 from conversation with W.W. Phelps and John Taylor who were actually there. Still, the meeting did happen that night and I wish I could witness it and learn what was really said. Regardless, this was the outcome of the meeting.
All at once, Joseph’s countenance brightened up, and he said, “The way is open—it is clear to my mind what to do; all they want is Hyrum and myself: then tell everybody to go about their business, and not to collect in groups, but scatter about; there is no doubt they will come here and search for us: let them search; they will not harm you in person or property, and not even a hair of your head. We will cross the river tonight and go away to the West.”
Oh, real original Jo, run away. Just like Kirtland when your bank failed and the leadership wanted to hold an inquisition about your sexual exploits of Fanny Alger; just like Missouri when you waged war against the state and were locked up in prison for murder and treason; just like Colesville New York when you were held on trial for disorderly conduct when the townsfolk nearly lynched you after the court discharged you for lack of jurisdiction; just like Harmony Pennsylvania when your father in law wouldn’t just accept your lies and wanted to help you get started in an honest business if you’d just give up the gold bible speculation. There was, however, a major flaw with running away this time. Governor Ford told Jo explicitly if the arresting posse couldn’t find Hyrum and Jo when they arrived in Nauvoo on the 23rd, the militia would be called out. If the militia descended on Nauvoo without the Legion’s commander-in-chief there to react, what were they supposed to do? The city was under orders of martial law and they’ve been building defenses and digging trenches for a couple days now. Was the city just expected to surrender in Jo’s absence? Jo claiming that the militia won’t harm the Mormons in person or property clearly didn’t understand that that was literally the point of calling out a state militia in the first place, to put down domestic rebellions. If Jo wasn’t there to keep his Legion from reacting with force to the state militia walking into Nauvoo, war would break out and Nauvoo would be ransacked and destroyed just like Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahmen after the Mormons surrendered in the Missouri-Mormon war. This plan to run away to the West was purely self-serving; solely for the preservation of Jo and Hyrum.
But, the decision was made, let the consequences follow.
[Joseph] made a move to go out of the house to cross the river; when out of doors he told Butler and Hodge to take the Maid of Iowa [steamer], get it to the upper landing, and put his and Hyrum’s families and effects upon her; then go down the Mississippi, and up the Ohio river to Portsmouth, where they should hear from them. He then took Hodge by the hand and said, “Now, bro. Hodge, let what will come, don’t deny the faith, and all will be well.”
Not only were Jo and Hyrum running, they were running tonight and Jo told some of his pawns to go collect their families and effects and transport all of it up the Ohio river where they’d rendezvous at some undetermined point in the future. (Brian please bleep these) Fuck Nauvoo. Fuck my 20,000 followers. Fuck the law because my life is in real danger. Oh yeah, Bro. Hodge, you’re still useful to me so do what I told you to do and don’t deny the faith. Seriously, what the hell does this say about Joseph Smith as a person if this was his reaction to a boiling conflict; a conflict he’d created in the first place?! The chips are down, his people are in real danger of warfare, extermination, and lots of death and he chooses to run? This is a pattern exhibited at every point in Jo’s life, when the pressure gets to high he runs away instead of confronting the consequences of his own actions. Do what is right let the consequence follow. I remember singing that in primary and walking to Sacrament meeting to sing praise to the man who died as a martyr. This is not honorable behavior; this is pure and brazen cowardice when the chickens come home to roost. Nauvoo was on the precipice of war and Governor Ford told Jo explicitly that if he didn’t agree to be arrested and ran away then it meant war. Jo ran. This guaranteed the Illinois militia would invade Nauvoo within 48 hours once the 30-man arresting posse left Nauvoo with empty handcuffs and carried the intel that the prophet had absconded back to Governor Ford in Carthage.
A few affairs needed to be set in order before he and Hyrum could cross the Mississippi that night.
About 9 p.m., Hyrum came out of the Mansion, and gave his hand to Reynolds Cahoon, at the same time saying, “A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph, and the Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life; good-bye, brother Cahoon, we shall see you again.” In a few minutes afterwards, Joseph came from him family; his tears were flowing fast; he held a handkerchief to his face, and followed after brother Hyrum without uttering a word…
[Joseph] told Stephen Markham that if I and Hyrum were ever taken again, we should be massacred, or I was not a prophet of God. “I want Hyrum to live to avenge my blood, but he is determined not to leave me.”
That last bit was added by George A. Smith in 1856. It’s weird how you can make a dead person a true prophet 12 years after a prophecy had come true, especially when you control everything history knows of their words. Regardless, the plan was in place, get Jo and Hyrum across the Mississippi, send Hodge to gather the Smith families and enough provisions to make the journey west, rendezvous somewhere up the Ohio river, then set out for the Rocky Mountains where the new Mormon settlement under Joseph Smith could be reconstructed without any interference from any governors, constables, justices, or any law whatsoever for that matter. Jo and Hyrum were departing that night for the Great Basin. They’d make camp somewhere along the banks of the Mississippi for the night. Hodge would find them the next morning with their horses in Montrose Iowa, then the brothers with their families would depart across land to cover Nebraska, Wyoming, cross the Rockies, and arrive in Mexico in a few months’ time. Bloody Brigham Young, Uncle John Smith, W.W. Phelps, and a few others would organize the Mormon wagon trains in the following months to make winter camp in Nebraska for the 2-month journey to Mexico during spring.
All the plans devised by Jo and his Council of Fifty were now either altered or cast away. No longer would Jo continue to run for President of the United States, at least not for a few more election cycles. Nauvoo would be abandoned. The unfinished Nauvoo Temple would be sold for whatever they could get to pay the expenses of the Mormon resettlement. Once in Mexico, Jo would organize a meeting with the next President, whether it be John C. Calhoun or James Polk, again seeking redress for the Mormon grievances resulting from their extermination from Illinois and he’d make the journey without passing through Illinois, Iowa, or Missouri as arrest warrants would immediately be executed the second he step foot in any of those states. The Mormon revolution machine could complete construction in Mexico; outfitted to revolutionize this depraved secular nation into a totalitarian Mormon theocracy. It didn’t matter how many Mormons survived, converts were cheap and plentiful. As long as Jo and Hyrum survived these immediate threats to their lives, the Mormon theocracy stood a chance. Running away was an act of spinelessness was a sacrifice of the wellbeing of thousands of Mormons for Zion. Zion would be constructed come hell or high water, and the corpses of thousands of oppressed Mormons would serve as its foundation. We just need to keep Jo and Hyrum alive for the plan to work.
Jo also needed plants all over America who could tow the party line and return to Nauvoo to coordinate the exodus once the fire in Illinois had died down a bit.
Between 9 and 10 p.m., Joseph, Hyrum, and Willard [Richards], while waiting on the banks of the river for the skiff, sent for W.W. Phelps, and instructed him to take their families to Cincinnati by the second steamboat arriving at Nauvoo, and when he arrived there to commence petitioning the President of the United States and Congress for redress of grievances, and see if they would grant the Church liberty and equal rights. Joseph then said, “Go to our wives, and tell them what we have concluded to do, and learn their feelings on the subject; and tell Emma you will be ready to start by the second steamboat, and she has sufficient money wherewith to pay the expenses. If you ascertain by tomorrow morning that there is anything wrong, come over the river to Montrose to the house of Captain John Killien, and there you will learn where we are.
All those plans I talked about a minute ago, those were too far in the distance to be orchestrated. For the time being, survival by any means necessary was the plan. It’s also quite notable that Jo sent Phelps to tell Emma that he’s running away. The wharf where they were waiting to board the skiff was like 3 blocks from the Mansion, Jo could have walked over there and told her himself, but he probably thought Emma might convince him to not run and her cool head in these situations would get him killed. Also, it reads as if Jo wanted Emma and the kids to go with the Phelps to D.C. in order to petition Congress and the President for redress while Jo and Hyrum were high-tailing it to the Rockies. Emma had a habit of cleaning up her husbands messes, what was another meeting with another president on his behalf? Plus, she has enough money to buy passage for everybody. Wow, Jo… such a fantastic husband.
He so clearly had only his own interests in mind here. This isn’t a Monty Python movie where he’s bravely fleeing with Hyrum behind him clacking coconut halves together; this is a total lack of taking responsibility for actions. This is Jo running away from the music instead of facing it. There’s no honor among cult leaders. There’s no sacrifice made for the greater good here; this is pure narcissism and self-preservation. If it isn’t clear by this point, I can’t seem to stress that point enough. Jo never willingly complied with the law. He wasn’t martyred. He was hopelessly craven and boldly arrogant to think that running would somehow work.
How did Emma react to Phelps telling her about the plan for them all to go to D.C. told to her at midnight not by her own husband as he was prepping to cross the Mississippi to go into hiding? Not great. Emma was so clearly tired of the nonsense through which her husband constantly dragged her and the kids.
W. W. Phelps says that… Emma refused to go, but that Hyrum’s wife and the Doctor’s wife agreed to follow counsel.
But Jo wouldn’t receive that intel until the next day because he was continuing to prepare for his river cross. Notably though, Jo also understood that his plans to run away may not play out. If he landed in jail and survived to the criminal trial for riot, a lot of his conduct would be called into question and documents would be sought by the prosecuting attorneys. In one of the most symbolic gestures of Jo’s entire life, he gave instruction to William Clayton, Quilliam Claypen as we call him, which would live in infamy from that time forward.
One o’clock night. J.P. Green [(Nauvoo city marshal)] called me [William Clayton] up saying I was wanted at J’s. I immediately went down and found Prest. J. and Dr Richards preparing to leave the place. The Govr has sent 30 men to take them to Carthage and if they offer any resistance he intends to call out the Militia of the State and take them by force or arms. Joseph whispered and told me either to put the r[ecords] of K[ingdom] into the hands of some faithful man and send them away, or burn them, or bury them. I concluded to bury them, which I did immediately on my return home.
This is a relatively benign order outside of context and without knowing what r of K means. But, when we consider to what Jo was referring, Claypen’s role, and what was expected to happen, this passage shifts into incredible focus. This is when Joseph Smith ordered William Clayton to burn or bury the minutes of the Council of Fifty, Jo’s theocratic government system with its own constitution; the body which would replace Congress and the Senate following the Mormon American revolution. We did a 3-part series on the Council of Fifty and we’ve read huge chunks from the minutes on the show since its inception in March of 1844. Most pages are relatively inconsequential, however, there are quite a few select pages containing the most treasonous accounts of conversations shared among members of the Council. Page after page contains details of where the next Mormon settlement would take place, letter exchanges between leaders all over the nation seeking out a suitable location for a sovereign Mormon empire, a new constitution, deliberations over petitions sent to Congress declaring Nauvoo a sovereign city-state, tactics for federating the displaced natives and freed slaves into a Mormon super-army, details of a conceived mission to Russia to form a shadow alliance with the czar, and, most importantly, the first page of entries which contain the very day and proceeding of Joseph Smith being anointed prophet, priest, and king over all the world. There was enough material to bury Joseph and every single member of the Council of Fifty with charges of treason and rebellion while many of them were officers in the Nauvoo Legion. A court martial for all the Council of Fifty members with the “r of K” as Clayton wrote in his journal, would immediately result in the death penalty for every one of the men. I think it says a lot that Jo told Quilliam Claypen to burn or bury the minutes as he was in the act of abandoning his theocracy experiment in Nauvoo to head to Mexico where no laws could touch him. The Nauvoo experiment had failed, though not as spectacularly as Far West in Missouri, and it was time to burn or bury everything and start anew in a place where outlaws are the rulers.
Luckily for historians of today, Claypen resolved that the Council of Fifty minutes were too valuable to burn and that anybody sent away from Nauvoo with them tucked under their frock was a significant liability. He buried them immediately after the instructions were given and they would remain in his garden for roughly 2 weeks before they were exhumed, nearly destroyed by the high water table in springtime Nauvoo. He would spend the following week reconstructing the minutes from what survived, his own journal, and his memory, which was transported across the plains and retained in church archives away from prying eyes and the cries of historians screaming “suppression of documents” until 2016. They suppressed this document for 170 years and Clayton’s personal journal from this time is STILL suppressed in the church vault. Sorry for the little tangent, but that’s a super important entry from Claypen’s journal and it reveals to me that even Jo wasn’t 100% confident on his running for the hills plan.
With those final instructions from Jo to Quilliam, it was time for Jo, Hyrum, and White-out Willard embark on the skiff, rowed by Pistol Packin’ Porter, and cross the Miss.
About midnight, Joseph, Hyrum, and Dr. Richards called for O. P. Rockwell at his lodgings, and all went up the river bank until they found Aaron Johnson’s boat, which they got into, and started about 2 a.m. to cross the Mississippi river. O. P. Rockwell rowed the skiff, which was very leaky, so that it kept Joseph, Hyrum, and the Doctor busy bailing out the water with their boots and shoes to prevent it from sinking.
They crossed the Miss and continued their journey up the river toward Montrose, Iowa, a Mormon settlement just up the river a couple miles.
Sunday, 23.—At daybreak arrived on the Iowa side of the river. Sent O. P. Rockwell back to Nauvoo with instructions to return the next night with horses for Joseph and Hyrum, pass them over the river in the nigh secretly, and to be ready to start for the Great Basin in the Rocky Mountains.
The plan was in place and all pieces needed to simply fall into their respective places and the Great Basin would be the new home of the Mormons. However, Jo, Hyrum, and White-out Willard had been up for close to 24 hours straight and needed a place to sleep and make a base camp for their trip to Mexico. Up for 24 hours and still going strong, I wonder what Dr. Richards kept in his medical bag. Hey, if cocaine made slaves work 20 hours a day with only some johnny cakes for food, then it was good enough for Jo to be able to run his city and go to war with the state of Illinois.
Joseph, Hyrum, and Dr. Richards walked up to Captain John Killien’s house, where they arrived at sunrise, but he not being at home, they went from thence to brother William Jordan’s. About 9 a.m. Dr. Bernhisel came over the river to visit Joseph.
This was a minor issue as messengers expected Jo, Hyrum, and White-out Willard to be at John Killien’s house, but instead he was at William Jordan’s. Therefore, Pistol Packin’ Porter was sent back to Nauvoo to let the few important people know where Jo was staying and get the horses ready for the trek to the Rockies, which he would transport to Jo and Hyrum under the cover of nightfall that very night.
But, during this morning trip to William Jordan’s farm, something crucial happened in Nauvoo around 8 a.m. The arresting posse of 30 men, on special order from Governor Ford, entered the city, greeted with the glares of every citizen of the city, to arrest the prophet and his older brother. Governor Ford told Jo in his last letter that if the constable didn’t find the suspects in Nauvoo the militia would be called out. The 30 men searched the city and asked everybody they saw where Jo and Hyrum were. The criminals couldn’t be found.
Early in the morning a posse arrived in Nauvoo to arrest Joseph; but as they did not find him they started back to Carthage immediately leaving one man of the name yates behind them, who said to one of the brethren, that Governor Ford designed that if Joseph and Hyrum were not given up he would send his troops and guard the city until they were found, if it took three years to do it.
Jo and Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith defied the arrest orders, the consequences were known before they left town, but they still left. The trip from Carthage to Nauvoo took most of a day and the posse wouldn’t return to Carthage empty-handed until that afternoon, at which point the solution was already laid out for Governor Ford; he would have to call a contingent of the state militia to enter the city and put it on lockdown until Jo and Hyrum were found. Would the Nauvoo Legion allow this to happen or would this refusal be the first act in the forthcoming Illinois-Mormon war? Jo and Hyrum’s refusal to be arrested forced Governor Ford to show his hand; to step up to keep his word. The bets were on the table and the Mormons called the hand, now it was time to see who had the winning cards. The Illinois militia would be on the outskirts of Nauvoo before nightfall.
The word “honor” carries a lot of weight to it, as does the accusation of cowardice. Personally, I struggle with the word “honor”. It’s loaded. It’s can be interpreted in many ways. Often, honor is coupled with movements which have been on the wrong side of history. Honor the motherland. The Medal of honor because you killed more people than your fellow soldiers. Honor thy father and mother, even if they’re wrong about everything in the world. But those expressions of honor are external. Honoring a movement or group of people you had no say in being a part of. Those expressions of honor require commitment to an external movement or group, often requiring an abandonment of individuality to uphold. When it comes to Joseph Smith in this circumstance, honor carries a different context. It was honor internally focused; honor for something he’d built for nearly a decade and a half. Honoring his own legacy and movement. Honoring the cult he’d constructed which sought to be the final kingdom this world would ever need.
Abandoning the Mormons in Nauvoo with total war on the horizon, when he was the only person who could prevent that war, was an act of absolute cowardice and dishonor. At no other point in their entire 14 years of existence did the Mormons need their leader more than June 23rd 1844. At no other point in his entire public life did Joseph Smith display more cowardice than this night of June 22nd-23rd. Abandoning your squad in the heat of battle is one form of dishonor but this was the general abandoning his entire army the morning before battle, an army, might I add, that he had personally recruited for over a decade, many of the members of which are his personal friends. This is Chingin Khan running away from the quarizmian shah after pursuing him for years. This is Hannibal bring his troops across the alps only to abandon them upon their entry into Rome. This is George Washington beginning the siege of Boston only to run away screaming holding his pantaloons at the first cannon shot. This is Helaman marching his 2,000 stripling warriors to the gates of Zarahemla, realizing how fortified the city is, then jumping on his tapir and galloping off leaving a trail of piss behind him.
Besides, the most absurd part of this is that Joseph Smith had the protection of his almighty god on his side. How could he be a true prophet of god if he never gives his god a chance to rescue him from certain death? He was anointed King of the world as god’s chosen servant, god would never let the king of the world die to a ruthless mob of vigilantes! Unless… and bear with me on this one… he didn’t actually believe a lot of the crap he spewed from the pulpit. His last public speech he asked if the Mormons were with him while clothed in general’s military uniform and holding his sword to the sky; of course they answered in the affirmative and he said good, because I’d have gone to the west and raised a more righteous people. Now, when shove comes to punch he runs away and tells his closest friend to burn or bury their theocratic constitution? Absolute dishonor.
This series of events shows to me that Joseph Smith wasn’t a leader, he was an opportunist with a penchant for being better than everyone else around him. He refused to own up to his own actions. He ran from the consequences of his decisions. He turned good people into villainous mobocrats and made people who were monsters his closest confidants.
He had a duty. He had an obligation to the people he’d riled up for war for years now, many of whom he’d dragged through a war already. When the time came to show his true colors, Jo was yella. He was a damned coward who only talked a big game and clearly didn’t truly believe he possessed any magic powers over his enemies.
So then, what do all of Jo’s actions for the past 4 years in Nauvoo amount to? He’s a peacock with its feathers out while a dog is barking at it. He’s a kid on the playground pounding their chest yelling “come at me bro” while surrounded by 12 of their friends. He’s a man banging together pots and pans while a pack of hungry wolves circles him, never realizing he shouldn’t have been alone in the forest to begin with.
It’s posturing. It’s ego masturbation. It’s not for his 20,000 followers, it’s all about him. That’s what Mormonism was. It’s about him, it always has been. What’s even more baffling is that he had the bigger gun in this standoff. The Nauvoo Legion outnumbered any force of the Illinois militia at least 5 to 1. The Mormons had the larger city with more provisions. They had access to the Mississippi to move those provisions and soldiers around quickly. They had the strategic and literal high-ground along with a massive stone building which would serve as an amazing fort against cannon fire and they even had their own cannons. The Mormons could pillage the local settlements for provisions, thereby winning the war of attrition against the Illinois forces. By every single calculus the Mormons win this war and if somehow they commit some massive blunder, the wide-open plains of the Iowa territory opened into Native reservations where they’d retreat and find the welcoming arms of many Native Americans looking to take vengeance against the white settlers for stealing their land and committing genocide against them. Every single way you look at the Illinois-Mormon war, the Mormons win, likely overwhelmingly.
But then, why didn’t it go down this way? Well, Joseph Smith is the trolly problem that derails and kills everybody. He’s the zombie cat in a box. He’s the puzzle that will never be finished. He’s the general who never fired a gun. He’s the broken condom still in its wrapper. He’s the revolutionary who never caused a revolution.
He’s a narcissistic coward, fueled by an insatiable drive for self-aggrandizement, with an uncanny sense of self-preservation. He’s a walking paradox of posturing and fickleness and if you try to predict his actions based on his public declarations, he’ll prove you wrong every time. He was dangerous.
Joe Smith, the most successful imposter in modern times; a man who, though ignorant and coarse, had some great natural parts, which fitted him for temporary success, but which were so obscured and counteracted by the inherent corruption and vices of his nature, that he never could succeed in establishing a system of policy which looked to permanent success in the future. His lusts, his love of money and power, always set him to studying present gratification and convenience, rather than the remote consequences of his plans. It seems that no power of intellect can save a corrupt man from this error. The strong cravings of the animal nature will never give fair play to a fine understanding, the judgment is never allowed to choose that good which is far away, in preference to enticing evil near at hand. And this may be considered a wise ordinance of Providence, by which the counsels of talented but corrupt men, are defeated in the very act which promised success… He always quailed before power, and was arrogant to weakness.
For all the years his ignorance and arrogance extricated himself from situations just like this, the fact that in 4 days he’ll be lying dead in a courtyard is a testament to how tenacious society can be when facing an absolute tyrant.
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