Quest for Refuge
by Marvin S. Hill
“To the Wilderness for Safety and Refuge”
[p.153]The grief the Mormon people felt at the death of their prophet and his brother was more intense and enduring than anything they had yet experienced. Job Smith said that on the morning of 28 June when a horseman rode through Nauvoo shouting that the leaders had been assassinated “the weeping was general.”1 Eight thousand Saints turned out to mourn when the bodies were brought back to the city in rough pine caskets. Emma and Mary Fielding, Joseph’s and Hyrum’s widows, were devastated and wept bitterly at the public viewing.2 In utter despair, Lucy Mack Smith could only acknowledge the condolences of Sarah M. Kimball by holding her hand for a long time without speaking. Finally she managed, “How could they kill my boys O how could they kill them when they were so Precious! I am shure they would not harm any boddy in the world … there was poor Hyrum what could they kill him for he was always mild.”3
A “momentary panic ensued immediately after the tragical event,” according to the editor of the Times and Seasons, and “gloom overspread the minds of the Saints; they felt that every principle of humanity was violated, and that they were among a horde of savage barbarians.”4 George Morris said that some “could neither shed tears [p.154]nor speak,” while others prayed “for vengeance on their murderers.” Still others wanted to retaliate by “laying Carthage in ashes.”5
Most reacted like Henry W. Bigler who said, “At first I felt mad and could have fought a tiger, but soon I felt like weeping and a feeling of loneliness came over me.”6 As time passed many Saints felt as did Jacob Gibson in Philadelphia. He lamented that there was “no profit to lead no Sear to discern the calamities.”7 The question of who would succeed as church president and prophet deeply troubled the Mormon people in the months that followed 27 June 1844.
To Apostle Willard Richards at Nauvoo it seemed paramount following the funeral that the twelve be recalled from the east.8 These authorities were scattered from New York to Boston, preaching and campaigning for the fallen prophet. They did not hear of the murders until 9 July. Wilford Woodruff said he first read about them in the Boston Times that day.9 Heber C. Kimball, en route to New York to meet with the prophet’s brother, William, reported that the morning papers in Salem were filled with the news. His reaction was typical of the rest: “I was not willen to believe it, fore it was to[o] much to bare. … It struck me at the heart.”10
The next day, a Sunday, Brigham Young informed the Boston Saints of the deaths, explaining that the prophet had finished his work and left the keys to men on earth. Significantly, he did not say to whom.11 Young may have been referring to the secret conferral the previous March of special authority on the twelve to perform sacred temple rites.12 But at the time of this conferral, Young and others would not have imagined an inherent right of succession since prior to 27 June they did not expect Joseph’s death. To be sure, Smith had told the twelve that spring, “I may soon be taken from you,”13 but the twelve did not take this literally or they never would have left Nauvoo. Young said afterward that had Smith heeded “the Spirit of revelation in him he would never have gone to Carthage. … This he did through the persuasion of others.”14 Brigham did not see the martyrdom as foreordained but rather as the consequence of human error. As late as 24 July, the twelve were still hoping that the reported deaths were a mistake. Kimball said on the day they learned by letter that Smith had surrendered to state authorities, “[it] satisfide us that the Brethren ware dead.” Only then did they fully realize what had happened, and Kimball wrote, “O what feelings we had.”15
Years later Young admitted to his family his complete surprise. He said that when he first heard the news, he wondered whether the keys of authority were still with the church. Even when he decided [p.155]that the authority to preside over the church was still on earth, he did not know exactly where. He remembered, “I had no more idea of it falling upon me than of the most unlikely thing in the world. … I did not think it was with me.”16
Once Young and those of the twelve who were in the east had collected themselves, they instructed Orson Hyde to write to Smith’s first counselor, Sidney Rigdon, at Pittsburgh to have him and Apostle John Page meet them at Nauvoo. Hyde said they wanted to meet with Rigdon before any “action was taken before the public.”17 They made the long journey to Illinois still planning to include Rigdon in the difficult decisions which had to be made regarding succession and church leadership. Church stalwarts still in Nauvoo—W. W. Phelps, Willard Richards, and John Taylor—were thinking along similar lines for they informed the Saints in the city that “as soon as the ‘Twelve’ and the other authorities assemble, or a majority of them, the onward course … will be pointed out.”18 As yet, it had not been determined on whom Joseph’s mantle would eventually rest.
By the time the distant apostles reached Nauvoo on 6 August 1844, a crisis in leadership had developed. William Clayton perceived the essential problem as early as 6 July, noting in his journal: “The greatest danger that now threatens us is dissensions and strifes amongst the Church. There are already 4 or 5 men pointed out as successors to the Trustees and President & there is danger of feelings being manifest All the brethren who stand at the head seem to feel the delicacy of the business.”
Emma Smith feared the uncertainties of her claim on her husband’s property, some of which belonged to the church, and wished that Nauvoo stake president William Marks would be named immediately as Trustee in Trust and church president. Emma and Marks both bitterly opposed plural marriage, and Emma wanted him to lead the fight against it. But Clayton had won a degree of her confidence and did not trust Marks. Clayton feared that if Marks headed the church “the most important matters” would be endangered. To pacify Emma, Clayton was named acting trustee.19
Meanwhile, George Miller and Alexander Badlam began to advocate that the Council of Fifty was to head the church, a view with which Apostle Lyman Wight came to agree when he moved to Texas in October.20 To complicate the situation, Sidney Rigdon had hurried to Nauvoo ahead of the apostles and claimed a special revelation that he was to be the guardian of the church. Rigdon’s move caused him to shun the twelve when they arrived.21 Since Rigdon [p.156]and Marks opposed plural marriage,22 and the “most important matters” were at stake,23 the twelve were forced to advance their own claim to church succession. It did not help Rigdon with the twelve that he had been relatively inactive in church councils for five years and was blamed for the Missouri expulsion. Some of the brethren may even have considered him insane.24
No one at this point gave consideration to William Smith, the prophet’s youngest brother and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who had remained in New York with a sick wife. Samuel, another brother, may have been a contender, but he died on 30 July under circumstances some considered suspicious.25 Neither Lucy, Emma, nor William Smith made a proposal at this time that Joseph Smith III succeed his father.26 A boy of eleven years, he seemed too young for consideration. Lucy appeared willing to see what the twelve would do, giving them her early support.27 Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, two who might have had a claim earlier,28 were now out of the church.29
James J. Strang, a relative newcomer to the church, affirmed in August that he had received a letter from Joseph Smith written on 19 June naming him stake president at Voree, Wisconsin, and “leader of the flock” should Smith fall.30 Claiming to be a prophet and seer, Strang would in time prove to be a threat to the twelve, securing the allegiance for a time of William Smith, and perhaps others in the Smith family, William Marks, George Miller, and Apostle John E. Page.31 But he was of no concern to the twelve at Nauvoo when decisive actions were being taken.
Thus the struggle for the prophetic mantle turned out to be a tug-of-war between Rigdon and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It was a struggle that Rigdon had no chance to win, due to his personal limitations and the inherent theoretical weakness of his position. When the twelve arrived on 6 August, they listened to Rigdon present his claims to a large audience of Saints.32 Rigdon proposed that a meeting be held on the 8th to choose a guardian, but the twelve succeeded in converting this into a general church conference over which they would preside. They arranged to hear a report of Rigdon’s vision on 7 August at 4 o’clock at the Seventies Hall. The high council and high priests were invited.
Wilford Woodruff considered what he heard from Rigdon to be a “kind of second class vision.” Rigdon maintained that he had been appointed “to lead the church,”33 that there were otherwise [p.157]no authorities to govern and that a guardian must be chosen to preside over a restructuring of the organization.34 At the church conference on the 8th, Brigham Young began his remarks by inquiring if the Saints wanted to choose a guardian or “a Prophet evangelist or sumthing els as your head to lead you. All that are in favor of it manifest by raising the right hand.”35 According to Wilford Woodruff, no hands were raised.36 Young then insisted that Rigdon could not continue to act as spokesman for or counselor to Joseph Smith in his absence without going beyond the veil where the prophet had gone. Rather the twelve held the keys of the kingdom to be “the Presidency of the Church.” He said that the Saints could not appoint anyone to stand ahead of the twelve unless the twelve ordained him themselves. Joseph Smith had “laid the foundation,” Young announced, “& we shall build upon it.”37 The church organization was already established and no innovations were needed.
Amasa Lyman spoke next, “I believe their is no power or offices or means wanted to carry on the work but what is in the Twelve.” W. W. Phelps rose and proclaimed, “The twelve are chosen to rise up and bear the Church off triumphant.”38 Young then asked the congregation if they wanted the twelve apostles “to Stand at the head, the first presidency of the Church and at the head of this kingdom in all the world.” Woodruff reported that the vote was unanimous in the affirmative, although there were those in the audience who favored Rigdon.39
The vote of the Saints was to retain the existing church order, which meant that its presiding officers were still in their places.40 No prophet was named to replace Joseph Smith. Brigham Young admitted as much in his “Epistle of the Twelve,” published in the Times and Seasons in August: “You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you; But you are not without apostles, who hold the keys of power to seal on earth that which shall be sealed in heaven and to preside over all the affairs of the church in all the world.” Young, who had great veneration for Joseph Smith, stressed that no one would take his place in the institution: “Let no man presume for a moment that his place will be filled by another; for, remember he stands in his own place, and always will; and the Twelve Apostles of this dispensation stand in their own places and always will, both in time and in eternity, who minister, preside and regulate the affairs of the whole church.”41
Thus Young revealed no plans to reestablish the First Presidency in 1844; the twelve were to remain as they were. Young did not [p.158]believe that his calling was of the same nature as the prophet’s. Concerning Joseph Smith, he said that God, not the people, had called him to be a prophet and that he was accountable to God and the angel who had delivered to him his gospel dispensation.42 Of his own authority to lead the church, Young said that it derived from the people of the church who were the “sole controllers of it.”43
Young made the same point in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in April 1852. He asked, “Who ordained me to be First President of this Church on earth? I answer, it is the choice of the people, and that is sufficient.”44 Young was a reluctant successor to Joseph Smith but assumed the reigns of authority because he feared the effects of division and plurality. He noted in his journal on 8 August 1844: “I perseved [perceived] a Spirit to hurry business, to get a Trustee in Trust and a Presede[n]cy over the Church Priesthood or no Priesthood right or wrong this grieved my h[e]art, now Joseph is gon[e] it seems as though manny wanted to draw off a party and be leaders, but this cannot be, the Church must be one or they are not the Lords.”
Rigdon, meanwhile, made himself increasingly unpopular at Nauvoo. On the Sunday following the special conference, he told a congregation that he had received the keys of David, the keys of conquest, and that the elders would soon sweep through the nation and conquer their enemies. He promised to go with them to England to take Queen Victoria “by the nose” and demand her dominions. He claimed to have seen everything to the time of Cog and Magog.45 The Saints, however, had heard enough of such talk, and the church counsellor lost even more credibility.
Rigdon met with the twelve on 3 September and told them that he had more power and authority than they.46 William Clayton noted that he “had come out full” against the twelve and “said he would not be controlled by them.” Clayton noted there was “considerable feeling prevailing” and that at least five elders sided with Rigdon, some of whom he ordained to be prophets, priests, and kings.47 Finally, when it was rumored that Rigdon was conspiring with apostates to bring mobs to the city, Young went to Rigdon’s house and demanded his preaching license.48 On 8 September Rigdon was excommunicated.49
Rigdon returned to Pittsburgh and in October began publishing a new periodical. In his first issues, Rigdon recalled that he and Frederick G. Williams were “equal with … [Joseph Smith] in holding the keys of this last kingdom,” according to an early revelation50; explained that he would carry out only those measures of [p.159]Smith’s “which are according to holiness”; alleged that Smith was a fallen prophet due to plural marriage and that “the Lord smote him for it”51; and reported that Brigham Young had scoffed at Rigdon’s prophecy that great battles were soon to be fought. Rigdon insisted that “all nations are in one general scene of confusion, consternation and dismay” and that “this nation will, at a period now future, divide into parties and … go to war … until the government shall lose its power.'”52
Rigdon soon won over some former Mormon leaders who had defected at Kirtland and Far West. William E. McLellin and George Hinkle had originally combined efforts in 1840 to form “The Church of Jesus Christ the Bride the Lamb’s Wife.” They had initiated a gathering at Buffalo, Iowa, and recently begun publishing their own journal. They had said they would practice all the ordinances which were mandatory in the New Testament53 and stay out of politics.54
By October 1844 the McLellin/Hinkle group had begun to quarrel over leadership.55 As a result Hinkle traveled east to investigate Rigdon’s church at Pittsburgh. In response, Rigdon conceived a new hierarchy for the kingdom, with himself as prophet and seventy-three kings and priests in command.56 Rigdon was finally claiming the mantle of Joseph Smith. John A. Forgeus, one of Rigdon’s converts, was excited about prospects under the new prophet, saying, “Zion will be redeemed by power, and a man will lead them like Moses.”57
In his periodical Rigdon began attacking plural marriage practiced by the twelve58 and won to his side such former Saints as Harvey Whitlock, E. B. Wingate, Thomas A. Lyne, Joseph M. Cole, and George Morey, as well as McLellin and Hinkle.59 One of the Mormon church’s most effective former missionaries was also converted for a time. Benjamin Winchester, living in Philadelphia, had been at odds with Joseph Smith and then the twelve over plural marriage60 and launched his own crusade even before he joined up with Rigdon. Apostle William Smith reported that Winchester had rented a lecture hall and “done the 12 all the harm he can.” Winchester spoke of Joseph, Hyrum, and the twelve and reportedly “sunk them as low as he had the power to do.” He charged Joseph with having an affair with Heber Kimball’s daughter and “implicated all the heads of the church.”61 Winchester was excommunicated at Nauvoo in September. By Christmas he was named by Rigdon as one of Rigdon’s new apostles. But Winchester was too restless to remain in one denomination very long and soon left.62
[p.160]Meanwhile, William Smith became a leading defender of the twelve in the east. Concerned that he might be denied a loftier position in church hierarchy, he wrote to Brigham Young in August 1844 that no one could take the place of his fallen brother, but that Young as head of the twelve was entitled to revelations from the martyred prophet. William reasoned that when Jesus Christ died, Peter, the chief apostle, became the head of the church. But he told Young that the church patriarch was next in authority to the chief apostle and stood “as father to the whole church.” William contended that the patriarch could also be a prophet and revelator but was not to govern the church.63 Because the office had belonged to his father and to his brother Hyrum it was intended to remain in the Smith family.64
In November William attacked Benjamin Winchester in a published pamphlet, saying that he was a disciple of William Law, a “wanton falsifier and base calumniator,” and was a companion of “bad women.” In response, Winchester brought suit against Smith, who was unable to find sufficient proof for his allegations and retracted.65 Toward the end of the year, Apostle Parley P. Pratt was named the principle church authority in the east,66 which did not set well with Smith. Smith complained that he had stood up against Rigdon, saving the eastern churches, and demanded equal rights with the apostle who was coming to supersede him. “I hold my office & power in spite of Earth or hell,” he warned.67
But Smith’s status in Zion was on the wane. As early as October Apostle Wilford Woodruff had written to Brigham Young from Boston that William himself had been preaching “spiritual wifery” and claiming the right to perform plural marriages. Woodruff complained that wherever William went the churches were disrupted and the “worst off.”68 In December Woodruff wrote Young that William had been working primarily for his own interests and gratifying his “propensities.” Woodruff accused him of using funds meant for building the temple and said that it was actually Jedediah Grant who had “saved the church in Philadelphia.”69
While Smith thus battled Woodruff, Pratt, and Young, William McLellin had a falling out with Rigdon and Hinkle. In December 1846, he wrote to David Whitmer at Richmond, Missouri, relating that he had heard from Leonard Rich and Benjamin Winchester that Whitmer had been ordained in 1834 to succeed Joseph Smith should he fall.70 McLellin believed that Whitmer was a prophet and seer [p.161]and that regardless of his personal reluctance he must assume the responsibilities of his calling. McLellin longed for the days of early Kirtland when, he believed, the church had been less worldly.71
With McLellin’s encouragement Whitmer wrote to Oliver Cowdery in September 1847 and convinced the former assistant president to resume his place in church councils next to David Whitmer.72 Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page were designated High Priests, while McLellin became a counselor, standing next to David Whitmer as Oliver Cowdery had stood to Joseph Smith, that is “to assist in presiding over the whole church.”73
Thus in the three years that had passed after the death of Joseph Smith, several independent churches had been organized from Mormon stock, each claiming to be the true successor with a prophet at the head. As Thomas Sharp had hoped, the Mormons became divided, some breaking off and settling elsewhere.74 But the majority, much to Sharp’s chagrin, remained in Nauvoo and accepted Brigham Young as their leader. The twelve were sustained at a general church conference in April 1845 as “the first presidency and leaders of the church,” the vote being apparently unanimous. Yet nothing was said about any of the apostles becoming a prophet.75
Within a month of this the twelve faced their most serious challenge. William Smith returned to Nauvoo on 4 May, saying that his wife had recovered sufficiently to make the long journey.76 Smith had been acknowledged in an earlier church conference as the patriarch “to the whole church,” to “preside over all other Patriarchs.”77 Despite the fact that Joseph Smith had once affirmed that “the Patriarchal office is the highest office in the church,”78 no such status was conferred on William when he was ordained on 24 May 1845.79
Yet there was some confusion in the matter. When W. W. Phelps described the office in the Times and Seasons prior to William’s ordination, he had said that William would inherit his father’s office as patriarch “over the whole church.”80 Apostle John Taylor published an immediate clarification in the next issue, insisting that William was patriarch to the church but not over it. He noted that neither Father Smith nor Hyrum had ever led the church.81 But the damage was done, and the mishandling simply emphasized the ambiguity regarding where the office stood in the hierarchy.
Just prior to William Smith’s ordination as patriarch, William Clayton had recorded in his journal that Smith had already turned against the twelve:
[p.162]Wm Smith is coming out in opposition to the Twelve and in favor of [George] Adams. The latter has organized a church at Augusta, Iowa Territory with young Joseph for President, Wm. Smith for Patriarch, Jared Carter for President of the stake and himself as spokesman to Joseph. William says he has sealed some women to men and he considers he is not accountable to Brigham nor the Twelve nor any one else. There is more danger from William than from any other source, and I fear his course will bring us much trouble.82
In light of this entry it appears that the ordination of William to the patriarchal office, twenty days after his return to Nauvoo, was a desperate effort by Brigham Young to appease William and to avoid an open break with the Smith family. Young may have advanced William as far as he dared in the organization without surrendering ultimate authority in the church.
At stake for William was more than a high church position. James Monroe recorded that William wished to gain some leeway in publishing church books, which might provide him with some additional revenue.83 Stewardship over church publications had belonged exclusively to Joseph Smith prior to his death but since then had been controlled by the twelve.
The relationship between William Smith and the twelve reached a critical point on 28 May, when William Clayton reported that Lucy Mack Smith had received and was circulating a revelation which seemed to designate William as the rightful successor to Joseph. Clayton said the revelation had been changed in critical places by William, but the situation was serious nonetheless.84 Brigham Young and the other apostles met at the home of Willard Richards on 29 May and “prayed that the Lord would overrule the movements of Wm Smith who is endeavoring to ride the Twelve down.”85
Young and the twelve allowed nearly a month to pass after this, perhaps hoping that the situation might improve. But when William had an altercation with the city police with respect to a prisoner he wished released, the brethren arranged to meet with him at the Masonic Hall on 25 June. William contended that the police had not shown him sufficient deference, and Young countered that William had intruded where he had no authority and had physically accosted a police officer. William wrote to Young prior to the meeting that he feared for his life since there were those in the city who wanted to “put me out of the way.”86 After hearing William’s explanation Young said that his excuse was “pathetic.” William reminded the elders that [p.163]they were dependent upon the Smith family for their priesthood, but Young shot back that they owed their priesthood to God. William then allegedly pronounced “fearful anathemas” on those who would not support him.87 Mary B. Smith, Samuel Smith’s daughter, wrote years later that William was told to leave the city at once, but this may be an exaggeration since he remained in Nauvoo for weeks afterward.88 Church historians recorded that things were patched up for the time being.89
The police at the meeting with William had been heavily armed, and this alarmed his mother. Lucy Mack Smith received a revelation on the 27th that things were wrong in the church. She recorded that a voice informed her that a snare was laid for her only remaining son, William. The spirit told her that Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr., as well as Hyrum, were the “first founders, Fathers and Heads” of the church and that she should now “arise and take thy place.” Her vision showed her a room full of armed men who menaced William, intending to crush him. Lucy was promised, nonetheless, that William “shall have power over the churches, he is Father in Israel, over the Patriarchs, and the whole church … he is President over all the church.” In a second vision Lucy received a visit from her son Joseph who informed her that “the day is coming when I shall have the sceptre of power over my enemies. Be patient.”90
Young wrote to Apostle Woodruff on the same day Lucy received her revelations, commenting that since his return to Nauvoo William had not acted “as we could have wished.” William “seems to think he ought to be president of the church,” that the calling to the office of patriarch had made him even more determined. Young observed caustically: “we think to the contrary knowing better.”91
On 28 June Uncle John Smith and his cousin, George Albert Smith, called on William to discuss Lucy’s visions but found that “he evinced a bitter spirit, declared himself President of the Church, and said he would have his rights.”92 Lucy was less belligerent. She said that she was satisfied with the leadership of the twelve,93 apparently deciding to be patient as her vision had advised. On 2 August Young and the twelve deeded a piece of land to Mother Smith in hopes that she would continue to be loyal to them.94 But William stated that he would acknowledge Young as church president only if the latter would grant him full freedom to perform all church ordinances as he pleased.95 Specifically, William wanted power to seal plural wives. Young did not want this rite performed indiscriminately or in a way that would advertise it beyond a small circle at Nauvoo.
[p.164]In August William presented Young with a bill for $74.24 for his expenses, but the president of the twelve refused to honor it, saying that William had already received more assistance than the rest of the twelve combined. He said that should William receive a house as had his mother, it would belong to the church. He questioned William about why he wanted sealing authority, which was the greater concern to Young.96
On the 17th William and John Taylor exchanged bitter remarks when William protested that he could not be seen with a woman in his carriage without gossipers spreading it all over town. Taylor responded that just because Jacob had many wives, we should not infer that every man is so entitled, an allusion to William’s demand for sealing authority. William was furious and vowed that he would disrupt the rest of the meeting.97 On the 20th William wrote privately to a friend that “some people would fain make us believe that the Twelve are the perpetual heads of this church to the exclusion of the Smith family.” William believed that “the Twelve are however the Presidents for the time being” and predicted that soon a mob would come and destroy the city.98
By the end of the month William had decided to leave Nauvoo, despite Willard Richards’s letter urging him to stay.99 He fled to Augusta, Iowa, where on 25 September he wrote to Young that a mob was searching for him and that he could not get back to the city.100 A few weeks later he described his true feelings in a letter: “Brigham is a tirant and usurper & he shall not prosper in his fals claims. … And no man need tell me that B. Young does not clame to be the prophet, Seer and perpetual head of this church.” William said that his calling “lawfully and legely belongs to Lidle Joseph But I shall say no further only I am not a Brighamite.” Smith promised: “I shall not resign the Smith family rights to be a slave to usurpers.”101
William began drifting from one small gathering of Saints to another, looking for those who would support family claims and provide him a more lofty place in the church organization. He joined James J. Strang for a time and promised, with John C. Bennett’s urging, to bring the rest of the family with him to Voree.102 Later, in 1849, he joined Isaac Sheen in a new reorganization and was named prophet with the keys of Elijah, Elias, and John.103
Although Brigham Young would never have acknowledged William Smith as church president, he was not opposed to the idea that one day a descendent of Joseph would be. Speaking at the Bowery in Salt Lake City in 1863 Young said that Smith had told him, “I shall [p.165]have a son born to me, and his name shall be called David; and on him, in some future time, will rest the responsibility that now rests on me.” Young continued that “if [the] one that the prophet predicted should step forth to become the leader of this church, he will come to us like a little child, saying, ‘God says so-and-so through me.'” Young declared that in that event “I will be as ready to receive him as any man that lives.”104
Meanwhile Young was ardently defending his own calling, saying in October 1844, “if you want to know whose right it is to give revelations, I will tell you, it is I.” Young explained that according to the New Testament, the Lord set apostles ahead of prophets in the church “because the keys and power of the Apostleship are greater than that of the Prophets.”105 Thus Young believed that he was the proper successor to Joseph Smith and had the right to receive revelations for the church but was reluctant to claim such at this time, preferring instead to rest his authority again on his apostolic calling and the approval of the Saints.
Once he had left Nauvoo and the objection that would be raised there to anyone claiming to be Joseph’s successor, Young became bolder and reorganized a first presidency with himself as head. In late 1846 he urged fellow apostles to support him in calling two counselors to fill positions next to him. Young argued that the proper function of the twelve was to direct missionary efforts only, that Joseph had never been formally ordained to his office as prophet, seer, and revelator but that his authority had come from his own apostleship. Thus Young argued that he could make the reorganization without additional power being bestowed. His strongest opponent in this move was Apostle Orson Pratt, who contended that the twelve could not ordain one of their members to an office higher than their own. Young overcame Pratt’s objections by reassuring him that he had received revelations “as plain as ever Joseph had.”106
Despite this, Young still would not call himself a prophet. He told the Saints in April 1852: “A person was mentioned today who did not believe that Brigham Young was a Prophet, Seer and Revelator. I wish to ask every member of this whole community, if they ever heard him profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, as Joseph Smith was? He professed to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, called and sent of God to save Israel.”107 After several more years as church president Young was somewhat more affirmative: “I have never particularly desired any man to testify that I am a prophet; nevertheless, if any man feels joy in doing this, he shall be blest for it. I have [p.166]never said that I am not a Prophet; but, if I am not, one thing is certain, I have been very profitable to this people.”108
Whatever Young’s opinion, to the people at Nauvoo who in 1846 went west, Young had become a prophet indeed. Hosea Stout spoke for them when he paid Young’s taxes for the police—”as a token of respect due him from us as a prophet and leader to this people.”109 Nevertheless, the Saints longed for a prophet who would speak definitively and say “thus saith the Lord.” George Miller argued this point repeatedly to Brigham Young in Nauvoo in 1846, insisting “no prophet, no church.”110 It was a conviction that had given birth to Mormonism in the beginning and was the one belief upon which all the groups that had looked to Joseph Smith for leadership ultimately agreed.111 To “discern the calamities,” to offset pluralism and secularism, to counsel and command them, the Latter-day Saints demanded a prophet like Joseph.112
The Mormon people had other worries after the death of Joseph Smith. They had to survive continuing anti-Mormon attacks and for this looked in part to Governor Thomas Ford, despite their belief that he had betrayed their trust in not protecting their leaders at Carthage. On 29 June Ford issued a proclamation to the people of Illinois, saying that if his pledge of safety for the Smiths was broken, it was the responsibility of the militia at the jail.113 Ford said he was determined to keep the peace. He sent emissaries to Nauvoo and Warsaw to determine whether further hostilities were planned.114 On the 30th he wrote to Brigadier General Deming at Carthage that he believed the Mormons “will not commit any further outbreak” but that some in the county “are in favor of violent measures.” He said that they had circulated thousands of rumors to rally a larger military force. Ford continued, “I am afraid the people of Hancock are fast depriving themselves of the sympathy of their fellow citizens, and of the world. I strictly order and enjoin you that you permit no attack on Nauvoo.”115
Ford perceived that most of the people of the state considered the murders at Carthage an atrocity. The editor of the Quincy Whig said they were “dreadful,”116 while the editor of the Illinois State Register condemned them as “cold blooded and cowardly.”117 Even George Davis, editor of the Alton Telegraph, strongly pro-Whig in his politics, wrote that the old citizens had been wrong in taking the law into their own hands, however right their cause.118
Despite this negative reaction in the press, the old citizens were still bitterly hostile toward Mormons. On 2 July, Jonathan Dunham, [p.167]commander of the Nauvoo Legion, informed Governor Ford that citizen militia were still milling around Warsaw and Golden’s Point, waiting for an opportunity to attack Nauvoo.119 Upon learning this, Ford called out the militia from Marquette, Pike, Brown, and Schuyler counties for a twelve-day campaign.120 According to the editor of the Missouri Republican, many of the mob had come across the border from his state, being “very bitter” against the Saints and wanting to protect the anti-Mormon headquarters at Warsaw.121 The editor of the pro-Democratic Quincy Herald praised Ford’s efforts to maintain civil order and said he believed that the murders were the work of a “few desperate characters,”122 thus minimizing the general civil disorder which actually prevailed in the county.
In a letter to Ford on 3 July, members of the Warsaw Committee of Safety, which had planned the murders, wrote that they were determined to drive the Mormons from the county. They said that they had employed every means to remedy the evils of Mormon political solidarity but were disfranchised by their more numerous enemies. They reaffirmed that the Saints disregarded legal process and contended that the two groups could therefore not coexist in the same region.123 Ford responded by saying that the public found their “base deed” abhorrent, adding, “I know of no law authorizing their expulsion.”124
Thomas Sharp, who had participated in the assassination, was temporarily placed on the defensive by public reaction. He admitted that the killings brought on “us the severest censure of nearly the whole newspaper press.” Sharp maintained that the lives of the anti-Mormons had been endangered and that they owed allegiance to the law only insofar as it protected them. He said they regretted taking the law into their own hands, but “sooner or later it would have to be done.” The Warsaw editor admitted that troops from his town and Green Plains had participated in the murders, feeling that the governor had “trifled” with them in disbanding the militia. He said they had feared that the Nauvoo Legion would attempt to rescue the Smiths that night. The old citizens had to act “or surrender all their dearest rights and leave the county.”125 Levi Williams, one of the more militant anti-Mormons, confessed that the real motive was that the Saints “ruled the county, elected who they pleased, and the old citizens had no chance; that it was the only way they could get rid of them.”126
The editor of the Quincy Whig regarded the issues between the Saints and the older citizens as unresolved and irreconcilable. He [p.168]said that nothing had been settled by the murders. The old citizens acquired rights of priority by settling the county first, and the Mormons had come in and attempted to reorganize everything to their liking. They combined religious, civil, and military authority in the hands of one or a few men. Such a society could not be tolerated by those abiding existing laws. He warned that “what has been will be again.”127
Governor Ford had similar fears. In a letter to Willard Richards and W. W. Phelps on 22 July, he said that he had learned that Mormons believed there had been a universal reaction in the state in their favor but warned that this was not so:
The naked truth is, that most well-informed persons condemn in the most unqualified manner the mode in which the Smiths were put to death, but nine out of every ten of such accompany the expression of their disapprobation by a manifestation of their pleasure that … [they] are dead. … The unfortunate victims of this assassination were generally and thoroughly hated throughout the country, and it is not reasonable to suppose that their death had produced any reaction in the public mind resulting in active sympathy; if you think so you are mistaken.
Ford told the Mormons that he could not raise a sufficient military force to protect their people from attack.128
Three days later Ford wrote to correct misunderstandings in the minds of the old citizens. He told them that they had placed themselves in the wrong with the public and that current threats of expulsion or extermination of the Mormons did not help their situation. The governor said that the Mormons had submitted to the law and kept the peace and that the public would not tolerate expulsion. He warned that if necessary he would use the force of the state to prevent it. He cautioned against mob activity at Lima or Macedonia, where a small number of Mormons lived.129
Ford’s letter was published in the Warsaw Signal with a reply by Sharp on 10 July. Sharp wrote that it was too late for the old citizens to reconsider their course of action, that they had resolved in June to exterminate the Mormon leaders and that the “essential part” had been carried out. “As to the balance,” he explained, “we are content to await the result of certain circumstances.” The circumstances to which he alluded hinged on the reaction of Illinoisans to the propaganda and civil disorder planned by Mormon antagonists. Miner Deming, a general in the state militia and sympathetic non-Mormon, [p.169]accurately assessed the disposition of anti-Mormons in a letter to his parents written in August:
We have had war, murder, politics and animosity bitter and desperate in Hancock, without stint for the last three months. … The excite[men]t has been far greater than the a[nti]-masonic that once raged furiously in N[ew] York. The exterminators are of the two, more fanatical than the Mormons and less regardful of the law. They threaten death to all who have enough daring or humanity to oppose them. … The Mormon question since the murder of the Smiths has become political and the venum of party spirit breathes in detraction. … there were some 2 or 300 engaged in the murder and they with their friends and the alliance of the Whig party in the county, who mean to sustain and protect the murderers makes a strong party that by threats, violence & desperation aim at supremacy above the law and justice.130
The most immediate concern of the old citizens was the county elections scheduled for 6 August 1844. Sharp and his friends feared the prosecution of the murderers131 should the election of a pro-Mormon sheriff encourage Ford to proceed. The governor had delayed legal action thus far because he suspected the state militia might not cooperate and because he hoped that federal troops would be sent for support. He learned on 10 August that no federal troops would be made available.132
But a clean sweep by the Mormon candidates in the elections,133 as well as the victory of Miner Deming as county sheriff, bolstered Ford’s determination to prosecute. Deming had written to Ford on 3 July that “it is necessary for the honor of the State and the vindication of your character … that the truth in the matter should be fully known.”134 Franklin Worrell, on guard at the jail and subsequently accused of firing blanks at the mob,135 immediately perceived the danger. He wrote defiantly to Thomas Gregg, a Whig sympathizer, on the 8th: “We are badly beaten in this county … I hope Deming will attempt to arrest some of the mob if he does—we will have some more sport—& no mistake.”136
Ford suggested to W. W. Phelps in September that the Saints should initiate legal complaints against the supposed murderers before a non-Mormon justice of the peace. If there was any resistance by the accused, he promised to intervene. Ford said he would “make the trial to sustain the laws and ascertain how far I will be seconded [p.170]by the militia.” He indicated that he would bring only the main instigators to trial.137
The anti-Mormons now sought to intimidate Ford, Deming, and the county commissioners who were to choose the grand jury. They called for a military encampment at Warsaw from 27 September to 2 October to “keep a proper military spirit among the several companies.” Four out of ten leaders who called for this “wolf hunt” were later indicted for the murders.138 Ford responded by asking for 2,500 volunteers to prevent the military assembly in Hancock County.139
Thomas Sharp turned to ridicule, insisting that the assembly was not anti-Mormon in purpose. Whig editors took up the theme, hoping to make Ford’s call for militia seem foolish. Ford found that he could muster only 450 of the men he asked for, but before they reached the county the “wolf hunt” was called off.140
John Taylor, who had been wounded at the jail, swore before a justice of the peace that Levi Williams and Thomas Sharp were responsible for the murders. On this basis, with a military force now at his back, Ford was able to demand the surrender of the two anti-Mormon leaders. But he was unable to apprehend them when they fled to Alexandria, Missouri. Ford offered a $200 reward for their capture.
Ford then opened lengthy negotiations to bring the men back for trial. He promised that they could appear before a non-Mormon judge for their preliminary hearing and that they would be guaranteed bail. As a result Sharp and Williams surrendered and were brought before a grand jury in October. At these proceedings they were indicted for the murder of Joseph Smith, as were John Wills, William Voras, William Grover, Jacob C. Davis (a state senator), Mark Aldrich, and two men named Allen and Gallaher, who were never apprehended nor brought to trial.141
Mormon apostles John Taylor and Willard Richards, both eye witnesses, never testified in court, fearing that “they would have murdererd us.” Taylor told Deming in March that “it was no use any one coming with a writ for me for I will not go.” Taylor said the trial would be rigged and the murderers set free.142 He went into hiding to avoid attempts to subpoena him.
The trial opened on 19 May 1845, and many witnesses were heard, mostly from Warsaw and Carthage. Only three witnesses sympathetic to the Mormons were brought to court, and their testimony [p.171]was so clouded by inconsistencies and exaggerations that it was easily discredited by opposing attorneys and then dismissed by Josiah Lamborn, the prosecutor. Since the jury was selected solely from by-standers who were from Carthage, and since Mormons would not testify, the verdict of not guilty on 30 May was inevitable.143
The not guilty verdict further disillusioned Mormons with the legal process. According to the editor of the Nauvoo Neighbor, had the accused been found guilty, “it would have been a novel case. … The murderers can rest assured that their case, independent of earthly tribunals, will be tried by the Supreme Judge of the universe, who has said vengeance is mine and I will repay.”144 A full year after Joseph Smith’s death, in June 1845, Brigham Young recalled the trial verdict with anger: “this matter was decided as we supposed it would be, for we consider that it belongs to God & his people to avenge the blood [of his] servants. We did not expect that the laws of the land would do it.”145
Because Thomas Sharp had been granted bail, he had been free during the trial to continue his anti-Mormon crusade. On the eve of the trial, 14 May, he had headlined an article in his paper, “HORRIBLE MURDER. TWO MORMONS ARRESTED,” recounting how an old man named Miller and his son had been killed in Lee County, Iowa, by men traced to Nauvoo. Sharp prophesied that new waves of violence were imminent. He had held his peace of late but now must speak out. The people of Hancock “never can be at rest, until Nauvoo is made desolate, or filled up with a population of a character entirely different from those who now occupy it.” Sharp declared a continuing war on the Mormons.146
On 4 June Sharp complained of new outrages at Nauvoo against non-Mormons, saying that Porter Rockwell had warned at least one outsider to stay away from Nauvoo.147 A week later he published a letter from a follower of Rigdon alluding to the polygamist relations of Nancy Hyde, Orson’s wife.148 In the following issue he said that “some features in the doctrines of Mormonism … have a tendency to corrupt the morals and to degrade the character of its adherents.” He said that one such doctrine was that the land of the Gentiles would one day belong to the Saints, and complained that “there are many who think it but a small sin to shorten the Lord’s time.”149
On 24 June violence erupted when Sheriff Deming was accosted at the county clerk’s office by an older citizen named Sam Marshall, who said he was opposed to Mormon thieving. Deming had sold some of Marshall’s land for back taxes, but Marshall showed him a receipt [p.172]and demanded payment. Deming found that the description of the land on Marshall’s receipt did not match the land he had sold. Marshall grabbed Deming by the collar, choking and pushing him. Surrounded, Deming drew his pistol and shot Marshall in the stomach.150 Deming was convinced the attack had been calculated to provoke him, “to get him in a quarrel by insult and abuse, hoping to get him out of the way.”151
The Quincy Whig accused Deming of being “vain, conceited, pompous, and an instrument of God and his right hand friends the Mormons.” The editor wrote, “We can expect such violence until the Mormons are removed from the state.”152 Thomas Sharp also identified the incident as Mormon related.153 The Warsaw and Whig newspapers would allow nothing to pass that might serve as a means to agitate the Mormon question.
Shortly afterwards, when thieves broke into the home of George Davenport in Rock Island on 4 July and robbed and murdered him, rumors spread that the Mormons had done it. In Camden, William Dickson wrote to his son, a minister, that the murderers were generally believed to be Mormons: “it is hard to tell what will become of these Mormons. They have got to be subdued, either by the sword or the Gospel, & I have no idea that it will be the later.”154 When the editor of the Quincy Whig learned from the Chicago Democrat that a group of non-Mormons had been arrested for the crime, he reported it,155 but the damage had been done. Non-Mormons in outlying areas of the state were becoming agitated.156
Sharp reported violence in Warsaw on election day, when thirty to forty Mormon elders came to Warsaw to vote against two candidates whom the anti-Mormons had put up for election at the last minute. The citizens of Warsaw had held secret meetings to choose their candidates, but the Mormon candidates easily carried the county despite these efforts.157
Sharp did not like the newly elected sheriff, J. B. Backenstos, any better than Deming. He complained that Backenstos had defamed the older citizens by declaring that they had stolen from each other and accused the Mormons. Sharp said the sheriff was a “despicable puppy.”158 Privately, Brigham Young acknowledged that there were bands of “consecrating thieves” at Nauvoo, sometimes with church leaders in command, who “pretend to say they have a right to consecrate, from the Gentiles.” Young said he did not want them publicly exposed so as to jeopardize the lives of thousands of innocent Saints but that those who continued to steal would be [p.173]excommunicated.159 Young wanted to avoid open conflict with the Gentiles until the temple was finished and they had conducted the ceremonies that would bind the people together. He told Wilford Woodruff that they would not leave Nauvoo before the temple endowments were performed, which would begin in two months.160 On 28 August he sent word to make preparations for a company of 3,000 to journey to Upper California next spring.161
Young’s resolve to avoid trouble with the anti-Mormons was tested in September. On the 9th, while the older citizens were holding a meeting in the school house at Green Plains, shots were fired. Sharp admitted later that no one knew who was responsible, but leaders at Green Plains, with Levi Williams in command, decided to retaliate against the Mormons and burned several houses at Morley’s settlement. Sharp said that only two or three houses were burned,162 but the Nauvoo Neighbor reported first that eight and then forty-four houses and an out house were destroyed.163
The day the burnings began, a church council resolved to send 1,500 emigrants to the Great Salt Lake Valley as soon as possible and appointed a committee of five to gather vital information.164 Special efforts were made to see that several of the Council of Fifty would be in this group.165
Sheriff Backenstos issued a proclamation requesting all citizens to assist him in dispersing the mob operating in the southwestern part of the county.166 On 11 September a church council encouraged Backenstos now to “quell” the mob but said nothing about using Mormon troops. William Clayton noted in his diary that the council was praying to “manage affairs with the mob so as to keep them off till we can get ready to leave.” Letters were sent to outlying Mormon settlements advising them to sell out and gather to Nauvoo.167 Young told Solomon Hancock to move to Nauvoo but to be ready for a much longer move in the spring.168
Mormon leaders learned on 11 September that Miner Deming had died of a sudden illness. This “causes us sorrow,” said Young.169 Deming’s wife informed her sister that when the news reached Warsaw, they “threw up their hands and shouted as if they had gained a political triumph.”170 The next day Young told Solomon Hancock to move the women and children from “Yelrome,” a code name for the Morley settlement. The brethren were to stay to save the grain. Young told Hancock to let the sheriff worry about the mob or to “see whether he and the ‘Jack Mormons’ so called, the friends of law and [p.174]order, will calmly sit down and watch the funeral procession of Illinois liberty.”171
Sheriff Backenstos asked Young on the 14th for Mormon militia to fight the mob, but Young answered that he preferred to let them burn houses, “until the surrounding counties should become convinced that the Saints were not the aggressors.”172 On the 15th Backenstos wrote to Young that Levi Williams had called out the Warsaw militia, and said, “We must whip them.” But Young told the impetuous sheriff to wait a few days to see what might happen.173
The anti-Mormons now sought to place greater pressure on Mormon leaders to force them from the state. They brought charges against several of the leaders for treason, for conspiring with Joseph Smith, for having an arsenal, and for meeting with the Indians. Constable Michael Barnes of Carthage came to Nauvoo with writs for the arrest of Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Willard Richards, and others.174 Clayton remarked that “there seems to be a desperate effort to break us up.”175
On the 16th an event occurred for which the anti-Mormons had been waiting. After being harassed and ridiculed at Carthage, Sheriff Backenstos decided to move to Nauvoo. En route he was followed by armed men and took refuge with a friend at Warsaw overnight. The next morning, starting out in his buggy, he was chased by ten or twelve men on horseback, with Franklin Worrell of the Carthage Greys in the lead. At this point Backenstos encountered Mormon militia who were escorting burned out Saints back to Nauvoo. He appealed to them for assistance. Backed by these men, he demanded that his pursuers halt. When they continued approaching, he ordered the Mormons to fire. Porter Rockwell responded by shooting Worrell from the saddle. Thomas Bullock believed that Worrell was the one “who first went to the stairs” at the Carthage jail “& had the knife in his hand to cut off Joseph’s head.”176
Sharp immediately denounced the “MURDER OF ONE OF OUR BEST MEN” and called again, “TO ARMS! TO ARMS!”177 He said the citizens must have revenge. When Backenstos burst into a church council at Nauvoo to report what had happened, the brethren were stunned. Kimball wrote in his diary, “My Father in Heaven wilt Thou help Thy people and deliver us from our enimies.”178 The Saints feared instant retaliation.
The editor of the Missouri Republican hurried to the scene and witnessed a “state of excitement of which it is very hard to give a just description.” He found that the anti-Mormons had justified in their [p.175]minds the use of any amount of violence to drive the Mormons out. He said he stood on a small knoll as Backenstos and the troops of Levi Williams confronted each other ready for a fight and was disappointed when one did not develop. The Mormons were holding back, trying to avoid another provocation. The editor said he loathed men who would stand by and watch mobbers burn their homes without retaliating. “There is no such thing in the Mormon dictionary as the word courage,” he lamented. But he said that it was Levi Williams and his men who finally fled across the river, making excuses as they did so.179
Brigham Young wanted to avoid past mistakes by shunning warfare that the Mormons could not win. On the 16th he sent a committee of five with a letter to Levi Williams offering exodus in the spring in return for a cessation of house burnings and other violence.180 He told Backenstos that he should keep a small force at Carthage to prevent easy access to Nauvoo but that he should bring his main force back home. Young wrote, “The time will come that … [the mob] may be dealt with according to the law of God and not endanger the lives of the Saints.” On the 19th the citizens of Carthage voted for peace.181
There was some bitterness among the brethren as a result of the course they had to take. William Clayton recorded that at a meeting at Bishop George Miller’s, they prayed “the Lord would preserve his servants and deliver those who had been active in the mob that killed Joseph and Hyrum into our hands that they might receive their just deserts.”182
By the 21st Governor Ford had learned of Backenstos’s drive to purge Carthage of insurgents and had dispatched a military force to the county under John J. Hardin to take Backenstos into custody. Ford said that anti-Mormons intended to kill him and that citizens from Adams, Brown, Marquette, McDonough, and Henderson counties had met and demanded his arrest. Ford warned the sheriff that the alternative to surrender was an immediate attack on Nauvoo.183
When citizens from Macomb came to Nauvoo on the 22nd, they inquired whether Young and his people really intended to leave the state. Young replied that they were not bound to do so because Levi Williams had not accepted their terms, but that they would in fact leave if the law suits against church leaders were dropped and the Saints received a fair price for their property. Young said they would be happy to be paid in groceries, oxen, wagons, and mules. Above all, he said, they wanted peace until their departure.184
[p.176]The citizens of Quincy held a meeting on the 22nd to evaluate the Mormon situation. A majority voted that they were against the Mormons and that the latter must leave. Calvin A. Warren and O. H. Browning, lawyers who had defended the accused murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, were leaders at the Quincy meeting.185 That same day Constable Michael Barnes came from Carthage and took several church leaders into custody for destroying the Nauvoo Expositor. After a preliminary hearing the prisoners were released. The prosecution confessed that they had no direct evidence that the accused were involved in the press’s destruction.186
By the end of September it was becoming clear throughout the state that tolerance of Mormons had run low. The editor of the Sangamo Journal headlined on 1 October: “PUBLIC SENTIMENT IS DECIDEDLY AGAINST THE MORMONS—THEY MUST GO!” The editor of the Quincy Whig urged non-Mormons of every party, also on 1 October, to “all be united—put by everything like party or sect—and our state will be relieved of a great grievance now and hereafter.” In a conversation with Brigham Young two weeks later, Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat, and John J. Hardin, a Whig, told the church leader that the prejudice against his people was so great that they could not protect them, and that it was “advisable for us to remove as the only conditions of peace.” Young told a committee from Quincy that his people would leave when “grass grows and water runs.”187
Meanwhile at Carthage on 1 October, citizens from several counties met to consider whether they would wait for a voluntary exodus by the Saints in the spring or drive them out at once. After considerable discussion they decided to accept Young’s offer to leave if no legal processes would be served on Mormon leaders and if the older citizens would help in the sale of Mormon property. The non-Mormons demanded that the Mormon s not press legal action against the house burners and that Mormon “lawlessness” must cease or vigilantes would march on Nauvoo. County officers elected by Mormon vote in August would have to resign, including the county sheriff, commissioners, and coroner.188 The anti-Mormons wanted complete political control of Hancock County, even without an election.
The Saints accepted the inevitable in their General Conference on 6 October, voting to “move west in masse.”189 Young told them that “the ranklings of violence and intolerance and religious and political strife that have long been walking in the bosom of the nation, together with the occasional scintillations of settled vengeance, and [p.177]blood-guiltiness [will no] long[er] be suppressed. … The direful eruption must take place.”190 The Saints were preparing to leave Illinois and the United States, convinced that the nation was falling into ruin. Parley Pratt spoke candidly at the conference regarding his view of Mormon destiny: “We know that the great work of God must all the while be on the increase and grow greater. The people must enlarge in numbers and extend their borders; they cannot always live in one city, nor in [one] county; they cannot always wear the yoke; Israel must be the head and not the tail.”191
On the 10th rumors circulated that John Hardin’s men, now stationed in Nauvoo, had sworn to take Porter Rockwell into custody for shooting Worrell or “unroof every house in Nauvoo.” It was said that three hundred volunteers were ready to come to Nauvoo. Clayton wrote that “there seems to be no disposition abroad but to massacre the whole body of this people, and nothing but the power of God can save us.”192
Many in Illinois doubted that the Mormons intended to leave. The editor of the Illinois State Register said that there remained a great deal of excitement among non-Mormons.193 To calm the Mormons John Hardin rode out of Nauvoo in search of house burners. But Young wrote to Woodruff that Hardin’s men accomplished nothing against the mobbers “and never will.” Young wrote that 150 Mormon homes had been destroyed, but he still hoped to remain in Nauvoo until 1 May.194 Meanwhile, Governor Ford wrote to Hardin to praise his work in keeping the peace and persuading the Saints to leave the state “voluntarily.”195
In the weeks that followed an uneasy peace settled on Hancock County, preserved only by the small force of men under Major William B. Warren, whom Hardin left in charge. There were occasional burnings of Mormon houses196 and tension between church leaders and troops stationed in the town. Mormons called these troops a “legalized mob”197 and urged Governor Ford to remove them from the city.198 The governor replied that they kept theft under control.199
Testimony of Mormon counterfeiting in Iowa brought an indictment against the twelve apostles by a Hancock County grand jury in late October, and only Governor Ford’s fear that legal proceedings against them would delay the exodus prevented action by county officials.200 When citizens of Carthage learned of this, they said they were ready to march. The presence of Warren’s men prevented this.201 Ford wrote to Backenstos that he feared a possible federal [p.178]indictment against the twelve and that U.S. president James K. Polk might use the army to prevent the Saints from going west. Ford said the government had doubts about Mormon loyalty should a war break out with England over Oregon, as national leaders feared.202
In fact, federal officers accompanied by the Quincy Rifles arrived at Nauvoo on 5 November with writs for counterfeiting against Mormon leaders.203 Young was furious. He told authorities there must be no more writs or they would not leave.
On 15 November a Mormon named Edmund Durfee was shot and killed as he struggled to put out a fire near his barn. The assailant, a man Ford termed a “swarthy, grim and sanguinary tyrant,”204 boasted that he could hit a Mormon on the first shot. The suspect was arrested after a state authority threatened to unleash Backenstos.205 The editor of the Quincy Whig said he believed Durfee was killed by a drunk, not an anti- Mormon.206 The Whigs were anxious to avoid conflict and allow the Mormons to leave the state, and nothing more was said in protest of the arrest.
In mid-November the editor of the Times and Seasons assured neighboring communities that 3,285 families were ready to leave Nauvoo, with 1,508 wagons built and 1,982 more in process.207 On 1 December the editor published Orson Pratt’s farewell address to Saints in the east, expressing openly his deep resentment at the forced exodus. He said that the choice his people faced was either “DEATH OR BANISHMENT” beyond the Rockies and that the latter seemed preferable:
It is with the greatest joy that I foresake this Republic; and all the Saints have abundant reasons to rejoice that they are counted worthy to be cast out as exiles from this wicked nation. … If our heavenly father will preserve us, and deliver us out of the hands of the bloodthirsty Christians of these United States, and not suffer any more of us to [be] martyred to gratify holy piety, I for one shall be very thankful.208
For Pratt, religious bigotry, not fear of political domination, was the root of anti-Mormon opposition. That Joseph Smith and the twelve concentrated political power in their own hands did not seem menacing to the Saints, who saw their leaders as pure and incapable of tyranny.
Brigham Young believed that what was happening to the Saints proved people could not govern themselves. He told Wilford Woodruff on 19 November: “we have verily seen the fraility of all [p.179]government and long to see the Kingdom of God spread its domain over the whole earth & reign predominant.”209
The Saints were anxious to leave. Jeremiah Willey told his brother at the end of the month that they would soon journey “beyond this government.” He said, “this land is no longer my home.”210 Willard Richards told Benjamin Wiley that “the commandment to every man and every woman is to come out of Babylon, that you may not be partakers of her plagues.”211
On 23 December a grand jury of the U.S. Circuit Court at Springfield returned an indictment against the twelve apostles for counterfeiting. At two o’clock that afternoon state militia came to Nauvoo with writs against them. Quickly sizing up the situation when the troops arrived, G. D. Grant turned to William Miller outside the temple and addressed him as Brigham Young, asking if he would like a ride in his carriage. An officer immediately placed Miller under arrest and reached Carthage with his prisoner before realizing his mistake.212
Young remained in hiding in Nauvoo and addressed the Saints at length in the temple on 2 January 1846, promising that things would be different: “We will go to a land where there are at last no old settlers to quarrel with us—where we can say that we have killed the snakes & made the roads, and we will leave this wicked nation, to themselves, for they have rejected the gospel, and I hope and pray that the wicked will kill one another & save us the trouble of doing it.” Continuing in this vein he said:
The U.S. Government says if we let the Mormons go out from this Nation they will give us trouble—well perhaps their fears will come upon them—Where is there a city of refuge, on the face of the earth but this? … they have got writs out for me, but they have not got me yet, and when they do get me they will get some thing else, I assure you. From [President James K.] Polk, down to the nastiest Bogusmaker, or whiskey seller—it was resolved to break up the Mormons this fall.
Young promised that where they were going, pluralism and secularism would not exist. “One thing I will do,” he said, “I will not have divisions & contentions. I mean that there shall not be a fiddle in this Church but what has holiness to the Lord upon it.”213
Joseph L. Heywood pleaded with Young afterward to leave for the west as soon as possible. He said, “However agreeable it might [p.180]be to your brethren here to have your society … your safety will be greatly endangered.”214
Sam Brannan, writing from Washington, D.C., informed church leaders at the end of January that Amos Kendall had told him the federal government meant to station troops west of Nauvoo and demand their arms.215 Hearing this, the elders huddled and decided to leave as soon as possible, believing that “if we are here many days our enemies have resolved to intercept us whenever we start.”216 Young told the Saints at the temple on 3 February that he was going to gather his family and head west.217
The next day, on a cold winter’s morning, the first wagons left Nauvoo, crossing the river for the Iowa side. By the end of the day, it was reported, 1,700 wagons had made the journey.218 Hosea Stout, one of the policemen in Nauvoo, crossed and recrossed the river several times in the days that followed, preparing himself and others for the exodus. On the 16th he posted a white flag in front of his tent in Iowa, saying that it was a “token of peace.” But he wrote in his journal that it “refused to waive in the air notwithstanding there was a light breeze.” Stout saw the flag as symbolic: it “seemed to say that it would not proclaim peace in the United States when there was naught but oppression and tyranny towards the people of God by the ruler of the government and the saints fleeing from her borders to the wilderness for safety and refuge from her iron yoke.”219
Thomas Ford indicated that over the next three months as many as 16,000 Saints may have left Nauvoo, with about 1,000 remaining who were too poor to make the move.220 To the old citizens this was not enough, and on 6 June they met to declare that the Mormons were stalling and vowed to take up arms.221 Sharp wrote in July that “THERE IS NO PEACE FOR HANCOCK WHILE A MORMON REMAINS.”222 Ford said that the anti-Mormons took “measures to get up a new quarrel with the remaining Mormons.” They seized a few Mormon men and whipped them. When writs were issued out of Nauvoo to apprehend the perpetrators, counter writs were dispensed at Carthage, and a posse of several hundred rounded up to attack the Mormon city.223 A special committee was sent ahead to Nauvoo to require a pledge that the Saints would not vote in the coming August elections as a condition of peace. But on election day the elders changed their minds and voted Democratic.224 Although furious, the anti-Mormons soon learned that they had carried the county anyway. Sharp told readers that at last the old citizens had gained [p.181]the advantage so long held by the Mormons. They would not have to resort to extra-legal means to have their way.225
“It is with much satisfaction that I am enabled to state,” Ford told the legislature on 7 December 1846, that the “people called Mormons have removed from the State.” Ford continued to maintain that the removal had been voluntary, although he confessed that a small remnant were later expelled by force “in a manner which reflects but little credit on the State or its institutions.” Ford said that if the Mormons had remained in Illinois, their presence would have been a continued source of war, “encouraging anarchy and disregard for law, subversive of republican government.”226
In truth, the Mormon experience in Illinois had been disruptive to Saints and citizens alike. In gathering by the thousands and voting en bloc, the Saints had sought power, but the more political power they gained the more they were hated. Illinoisans preferred power diffused and constantly reallocated. They despised the newcomers for balancing one party against the other for political advantage. They instinctively feared a society where church leaders commanded voting behavior and military force. Other irritants were Joseph Smith’s claim of sovereignty for Nauvoo under the Nauvoo Charter and of exemption from legal process, as well as Mormon thieving and counterfeiting in retaliation for property losses. These things gave Thomas Sharp issues to win the noncommitted in Illinois. Plural marriage was a factor, but it was not decisive any more than it had been in Kirtland or Missouri. Anti-pluralism was the main cause of persecution.
But the Mormon experience also pointed to basic limitations within the American democratic political order before the Civil War. As Alexis De Toqueville perceived, there was no appeal of a minority against the will of American democratic majority.
When an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain states even the judges are elected by the majority.227
[p.182]When Stephen A. Douglas and John J. Hardin told Brigham Young that the state could not protect them and that they had no choice but to take their leave, the two Illinois leaders spoke truthfully. Once Thomas Sharp had won his propaganda campaign, the issue was effectively decided. Brigham Young thus made the only decision open to his people if they intended to remain a gathered and largely theocratic society: to remove to an unsettled area where they could become the old citizens, establish their peculiar institutions, and demand the rights of priority for themselves.
Before they could secure a more tranquil place for their society within the confines of the American Republic, however, they would have to give up their unique political party, their plural marriages, their army, and their loyalties to a theocratic political king. dom. By 1907 or so this would be effected and the Mormons would become a somewhat grudgingly accepted denomination among many, thus enabling them to make their own distinctive contribution to the pluralism that nurtures American freedom.
12. Ronald K. Esplin, “Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity,” Brigham Young University Studies 21 (Summer 1981): 319-20. Esplin’s argument does not carry its point because his sources date from August 1844 and after, thus relying on recollections after the apostles had assumed the succession. A better indication of what church leaders in Nauvoo thought after the assassinations is found in William Clayton’s diary, 12 July 1844, LDSCA, where he indicates that Joseph Smith had said “that if he and Hyrum were taken away Samuel H. Smith would be his successor.” If Joseph Smith ordained the twelve to succeed him, Bishop Newell K. Whitney and William Clayton knew nothing about it in July, as Clayton’s diary makes clear. But when Samuel died on 30 July everything changed, and the twelve’s claims were as good as any at this time.
17. Jedediah M. Grant, A Collection of Facts, Relative to the Course Taken by Elder Sidney Rigdon, in the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 22.
31. Klaus J. Hansen, “The Making of King Strang: A Reexamination,” Michigan History 46 (Sept. 1962), 201-219; and Roger D. Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmtic Prophet (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 79.
50. Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ 1 (1 Jan. 1845): 75. Compare Kirtland Council Minute Book, 18 March 1833, LDSCA, where Rigdon and Williams are said to be equal with Joseph Smith in holding the keys of the kingdom and in the presidency of the high priesthood of the church.
103. Melchizedek and Aaronic Herald 1 (1 May 1849): 2. Shelah Lane (Sheen) provides an account of William’s revelation of 13 March 1849; compare Launius, 82-85, for some of William’s subsequent activities leading to the rise of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the 1860s.
156. A former resident of Hancock County, the Reverend B. F. Morris, wrote of the situation in a letter to the editor of the Indiana Blade, which Sharp reprinted. Morris reported that the older citizens were “only waiting for some attrocious and lawless act of the Mormons to raise en masse, and expel them.” He said the Saints were aware of this feeling and “just now are more quiet and orderly.” But Morris complained of the deplorable state of society, saying that nearly every man was armed, “not knowing when or by whom he may be attacked.” One older citizen told him that “every tie that binds man to his fellows, seems to be broken.” Morris concluded that “the [p.266]influence on social life, on education, morals, and the interests, of pure Christianity is deeply withering” (Warsaw Signal, 13 Aug. 1845).
176. For Backenstos’s account, see JH, 16 Sept. 1845; for Sharp’s version, see Warsaw Signal, 24 Sept. 1845. See also “Journal of Thomas Bullock,” 5 Sept. 1845, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
208. Ibid. (1 Dec. 1845): 1042-43. Compare Eugene Campbell, “Pioneers and Patriotism: Conflicting Loyalties,” in Davis Bitton and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, eds., New Views of Mormon History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 307-22, for a balanced assessment of Mormon attitudes toward the United States at this time.
216. Ibid., 2 Feb. 1846. Thomas Bullock in his journal for 17 Feb. 1846 recorded, however, that Senator Hoge in Washington, D.C., wrote that Congress said the Mormons had a right to leave the U.S. “if they pleased.” But by this time the exodus was underway.