The Ottawa free trader. (Ottawa, Ill.) 1843-1916, January 10, 1845, Image 1
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January 10, 1845, The Ottawa Trader, page 1, Report of Gov. Ford in relation to the Mormon Disturbances.
OTTAWA, ILLINOIS, FRIDAY, JANUARY 10, 1845. VOL. V. NO. 30.
Report of Gov. Ford in relation to the Mormon Disturbances.
The special report in reference to the disturbances in Hancock county during the past year, promised by Gov. Ford in his message at the opening of the present session of the legislature, was laid before the two houses on the 23d ult. and has been printed. It is very long, and gives a minute and, we have no doubt, substantially correct history of all the material circumstances of the so-called "Mormon War," from its beginning down to "the latest news." Many of the facts contained in it, however, were laid before our readers at the time they transpired, and for this reason, the report being so lengthy, we have not deemed it necessary to publish it entire, and shall only give what we have considered the most important parts, not omitting the rest entirely, but condensing it, so as to preserve unbroken the chain of the narrative.
The Gov. commences by stating that, on the 17th of June last he had been waited upon by a committee from Carthage, with a request that the militia might be called out to assist in executing process in Nauvoo. From the affidavits that were laid before him, he judged that a case had arisen of considerable difficulty, and he determined to visit the section in person, he arrived at Carthage on the morning of June 1st, and found there an armed force assembled, and hourly increasing, and another force had assembled at Warsaw. The first thing he did was to place the militia assembled under the command of their proper officers; and next he despatched a messenger to Nauvoo informing the authorities there of the nature of the complaint made against them, and requesting that persons might be sent to lay before him their side of the question. A committee was accordingly sent, from whose admissions he had no difficulty in concluding as to the truth of the alleged violent destruction of the press and materials of the "Nauvoo expositor," with all its attendant circumstances of outrage. After stating the facts of the case, the Gov. thus comments:
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 exparte without notice to the owners of the property; in proceeding against the properly 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.
The destruction this press under the circumstances, necessarily produced great excitement.
The fact that the Mormons were a new religious sect, warring on old habits and opinions, tended to swell the excitement. But in addition to these causes, there were a great many reports in circulation in reference to the Mormons, that had a still greater influence in swelling the excitement, and the Gov. mentions them on this account, and not because he had any evidence of their truth. They are as follows:
It was asserted that Joseph Smith, the founder and head of the Mormon church, had caused himself to be crowned and anointed King of the Mormons ; that he had embodied a band of his followers, called Danites, who were sworn to obey him as God, and to do his commands, murder and treason not excepted ; that he had instituted an order in the church, whereby those who composed it were pretended to be sealed up to eternal life, against all crimes, save the shedding of innocent blood or consenting thereto.
That this order was instructed that no blood was innocent blood, except that of the members of the church ; and that these two orders were made the ministers of his vengeance, and the instruments of an intolerable tyranny, which he had established over his people, and which he was about to extend over the neighboring
country. The people affected to believe, that with this power in the hands of an unscrupulous leader, there was no safety for the lives or property of any one who should oppose him. They affected likewise, to believe, that Smith inculcated the legality of perjury, or any other crime, in defence, or to advance the interests of the true believers ; and that himself had set them the example, by swearing to a false accusation against a certain person, for the crime of murder. It was likewise asserted, to be a fundamental article of the
Mormon faith, that God had given the world and all it contained, to them as his saints ; that they secretly believed in their right to all the goodly lands, farms, and property, in the country ; that at present, they were kept out of their rightful inheritance by force ; that consequently, there was no moral offence in anticipating
God's good time to put them in possession by stealing, if opportunity offered; that in fact, the whole church was a community of murderers, thieves, robbers, and outlaws; that Joseph Smith had established a bogus factory in Nauvoo, for the manufacture of counterfeit money ; and that he maintained about his person,
a tribe of swindlers, blacklegs, and counterfeiters, to make it, and put it into circulation.
It was also believed, that Joseph Smith had announced a revelation from heaven, sanctioning polygamy, by some kind of spiritual-wife system, which I never could well understand ; but at any rate, whereby a man was allowed one wife in pursuance of the laws of the country, and an indefinite number of others, to be enjoyed in some mystical and spiritual mode ; and that he himself, and many of his followers, had practiced upon the precepts of his revelation, by seducing a large number of women.
It was also asserted, that Joseph Smith was in alliance with the Indians of the western territories ; and had obtained over them such a control, that in case of a war, he could command their assistance, to murder his enemies.
Upon the whole, if one half of these reports had been true, the Mormon community must have been the most intolerable collection of rogues ever assembled ; or, if one half of them were false, they were the most maligned and abused.
Fortunately for the purposes of those who were active in creating excitement, there were some truths which gave countenance to some of these accusations. I apprehend that it was sufficiently proved in a proceeding at Carthage, whilst I was there, that Joseph Smith had sent a band of his followers to Missouri to kidnap two men who were witnesses against a member of his church, then in jail, and about to be tried on a charge of larceny. It was also a notorious fact, that he had assaulted and severely beaten an officer of the county, for an alleged non-performance of his duty, at a time when that officer was just recovering from severe illness. It is a fact also, that he stood indicted for the crime of perjury, as was alleged, in swearing to an accusation for
murder. It is a fact also, that his municipal court, of which he was chief justice, by writ of habeas corpus had frequently discharged individuals accused of high crimes and offences against the law's of the state ; and on one occasion had discharged a person accused of swindling the government of the United Stales, and who had been arrested by process of the federal courts. Thereby giving countenance to the report, that he obstructed the administration of justice; and had set up a government at Nauvoo, independent of the laws and government of the state.
This idea was further corroborated in the mind of the people, by the fact that the people of Nauvoo had petitioned the last session of congress for a territorial government, to be established at Nauvoo, and to be independent of the state government. The Gov. says it is also true that some larcenies were committed, and that Mormons had been convicted of some, but he thinks in comparison with St. Louis or most other western cities the proportion of thieves in Nauvoo is less than in the cities referred to.
The report of an alliance with the Indians he says was a groundless calumny.
Another cause of excitement was a rumor that Hyrum Smith had offered a reward for the destruction of the press of the "Warsaw Signal ;" and another was a rumor that the Mormons threatened to burn the property and murder the families of all who assisted the constables against them.
But the great cause of popular fury was, that the Mormons at several preceding elections had cast their vote as an unit; thereby making the fact apparent that no one could aspire to the honors or offices of the country, within the sphere of their influence, without their approbation and voles. It appears to be one of the principles by which they insist upon being governed as a community to act as a unit in all matters of government and
religion. They express themselves to be fearful that if division should be encouraged in politics, it would soon extend to their religion, and rend their church with schism, and into sects.
The Gov. considers this a most unfortunate view of the case both for their own safety and the tranquility of the state, as it must array against them in deadly hostility all aspirants for office who were not sure of their support. It was by such men chiefly that the popular fury against them was excited, which reached such a height that, at public meeting at Warsaw, resolutions were passed utterly to exterminate the Mormons. Their
system of excitement was to spread reports of the most fearful character, of which the Gov. gives a few examples, viz:
On the morning before my arrival at Carthage, I was awakened at an early hour, by the frightful report, which was asserted with confidence and apparent consternation, that the Mormons had already commenced the work of burning, destruction and murder ; and that every man capable of bearing arms, was instantly wanted at Carthage, for the protection of the country. We lost no time in starting; but when we arrived at Carthage, we could hear no more concerning this story. Again, during the few days that the militia were encamped at Carthage, frequent applications were made to me, to send a force here, and a force there, and a force all about the country, to prevent murders, robberies, and larcenies, which it was said, were threatened by the Mormons. No such forces were sent; nor were any such offences committed at that time, except the stealing of some provisions ; and there was never the least proof that this was done by a Mormon. Again, on my late visit to Hancock county I was informed by some of their violent enemies, that the larcenies of the Mormons had become unusually numerous and insufferable. They indeed admitted that but little had been done in this way in their immediate vicinity. But they insisted that sixteen horses had been stolen by the Mormons in one night near Lima in the county of Adams. At the close of the expedition, I called at this same town of Lima, and upon enquiry, was told that no horses had been stolen in that neighborhood, but that sixteen horses had been stolen in one night in Hancock county. This last informant being told of the Hancock story, again changed the venue, to another distant settlement in the northern edge of Adams.
The Governor's object in visiting Hancock co. having been to assist in bringing to justice those engaged in the destruction of the press in Nauvoo, in his endeavors to attain this object, he determined not to make himself a mere catspaw by which the accused should be delivered into the hands of an infuriated mob. lie therefore, as a preliminary step, obtained a unanimous pledge from all the officers and men under his command to sustain him in protecting the prisoners from violence.
Smith and the rest were informed of this pledge, and a constable with ten men was despatched to Nauvoo to arrest them. At this time martial law had been proclaimed in Nauvoo, and the city bore the appearance of a vast military camp. On the arrival of the constable, however, martial law was immediately abolished, and Smith and the common council signified their willingness to surrender, and to proceed to Carthage at 8 o'clock next morning, But no attempt was made to arrest any of them, and at the hour named, the constable and posse returned to Carthage and reported that the accused had fled. The Gov. then says:
I immediately proposed to a council of officers, to march into Nauvoo with the small force then under my command, but the officers were of opinion that it was too small, and many of them insisted upon a further call of the militia. Upon reflection I was of opinion that the officers were right in the estimate of our force ; and the project for immediate action was abandoned. I was soon informed however, of the conduct of the constable and guard, and then I was perfectly satisfied that a most base fraud had been attempted ; that in fact it was feared, that the Mormons would submit ; and thereby entitle themselves to the protection of the law. It was very apparent that many of the bustling active spirits, were afraid that there would be no occasion for calling out an overwhelming militia force ; for marching it into Nauvoo ; for probably mutiny when there ; and for the extermination of the Mormon race. It appeared that the constable and the escort were fully in the secret, and acted well their part, to promote the conspiracy.
Seeing this to be the case, the Gov. delayed any further call of the militia, to give the accused another opportunity to surrender. He also demanded the surrender of the state arms in the possession of the legion. These consisted of three pieces of cannon and 25O stand of small arms, of which all but about 30 stand of small arms were promptly delivered up.
On the 23d of June, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and all others demanded, came into Carthage and surrendered themselves prisoners to the constable on the charge of riot, and voluntary entered into recognizance for their appearance at court. All were then discharged but the two Smiths, who were retained in custody on a charge of treason.
Capt. Singleton was ordered to Nauvoo to guard the city and take command of the legion.
The examination of the Smiths was, for want of witnesses on both sides, postponed by the justice, and they were, for greater security, committed to jail. With these proceedings the governor had no power to interfere.
The force at this time assembled at Carthage amounted to twelve or thirteen hundred men, and some four or five hundred were assembled at Warsaw. It was the general desire of that portion resident in Hancock county to be marched into Nauvoo, to ferret out bogus makers, is they pretended, and to strike terror into the Mormons by a display of the force of the state, and thereby prevent them from taking vengeance on their enemies. To this arrangement the Gov. at one time agreed, and the morning of the 27th of June was
appointed for the march. But during the two or three days that preparations were making for the expedition, it became apparent, from the increasing excitement of the troops, that, if they were marched into Nauvoo, it would be impossible to keep them from committing acts of hostility, and thus bring on a bloody collision. On the morning appointed for the march, therefore, another council of officers was convened, mid tho propriety of the contemplated expedition again discussed. A majority of the officers were still in favor of it. The Governor, however, after weighing things, determined not to be governed by the advice of his officers, and he ordered the troops to be disbanded, both at Carthage and Warsaw, with the exception of three companies. With one of these companies he proposed to go to Nauvoo in person, and make the search for the counterfeiting establishments, and to address the people, and warn them of the certain consequence to their city if they committed violence on the persons or property of those who had taken part against them
Tho other two companies, one of which was the Carthage Greys, he left to guard the jail, and as the Governor, for selecting the company named as one for his duty, has been subjected to some censure, we will let him give his reasons for making the selection in his own words.
Although I knew that this company were the enemies of the Smiths, I had confidence in their loyalty and integrity ; because their captain was universally spoken of as a most respectable citizen, and honorable man. The company itself, was an old independent company, well armed, uniformed and drilled ; and the members of it were the elite of the militia of the country. I relied upon this company especially, because it was an independent company, for a 1ong time instructed and practised in military discipline and subordination. I also had their word and honor, officers and men, to do their duty according to law. Besides all this the officers and most if the men resided in Carthage ; in the near vicinity of Nauvoo; and, as I thought must know that they would make themselves and their property, convenient and conspicuous marks of Mormon vengeance, in case they were guilty of treachery.
I had at first intended to select a guard from the county of McDonough ; but the militia of that county were very much dissatisfied to remain ; their crops were suffering at home ; they were in a perfect fever to be discharged ; and I was destitute of provisions to supply them for more than a few days. They were far from home, where they could not supply themselves. Whilst the Carthage company could board at their own houses, and would he put to little inconvenience, in comparison.
What gave me greater confidence in the selection of this company as a prudent measure, was that the selection was first suggested and urged by the Brigadier General in command, who was well known to be utterly hostile to all mobocracy and violence towards the prisoners ; and who was openly charged by the violent party, with being on the side of the Mormons. At any rate, I knew that the jail would have to be guarded as long as the prisoners were confined ; that an imprisonment for treason might last the whole summer and the greater part of the autumn, before a trial could be had in the circuit court ; that it would be utterly impossible in the circumstances of the country, to keep a force there from a foreign country, for so long a time ; and that a time must surely come, when the duty of guarding the jail would necessarily devolve on the citizens of the county.
It is true, also, that at this time I had not believed or suspected, that any attack was to be made upon the prisoners in jail. It is true that I was aware that a great deal of hatred existed against them, and that there were those who would do them an injury if they could. I had heard of some threats being made, but none of an attack upon the prisoners whilst in jail. These threats seemed to he made by individuals, not acting in concert. They were no more than the bluster which might have been expected ; and furnished no indication of numbers combining for this or any other purpose.
Having ordered the guard, the Governor, with Capt. Dunn's company of dragoons, left for Nauvoo. After they had proceeded about four miles Col. Buckmaster intimated his suspicions to the governor, from having seen some persons converse together with an air of mystery, that an attack was meditated on the jail, The Gov. thought a regard for his safety and his companions would prevent the attack at least while they were in Nauvoo ; but still he regarded Col. B's suspicions so far as to determine to return again the same day to Carthage. They arrived at Nauvoo about 4 o'clock. The people were immediately assembled together, and the Gov. delivered to them a long address, at the close of which a vote was taken, and the people unanimously voted that they would strictly observe the laws, even in opposition to their leaders. The Gov. and party then departed for Carthage. They had proceeded about two miles, when they met two individuals, one of them a Mormon, who informed them that the Smith had been assassinated in jail at 5 or 6 o'clock that day. The Gov. continues:
The intelligence seemed to strike everyone with a kind of dumbness. As to myself, it was perfectly astounding; and I anticipated the very worst consequences from it. The Mormons had been represented to me as a lawless, infatuated, and fanatical people, not governed by the ordinary motives, which influence the majority of mankind. If so, most likely, an exterminating war would ensue, and the whole land would be covered with desolation.
Acting upon this supposition, it was my duty to provide as well as I could for the event. I, therefore, ordered the two messengers into custody, and to be returned with us to Carthage. This was done, to get time to make such arrangement as could he made ; and to prevent any sudden explosion of Mormon excitement, before they could be written to, by their friends at Carthage. I, also, despatched messengers to Warsaw, to advise the citizens of the event. But the people, there, knew all about the matter, before my messengers arrived. They, like myself, anticipated a general attack all over the country. The women and children were removed across the river ; and a committee was despatched that night to Quincy for assistance. The next morning, by day light, the ringing of all the bells in the city announced a public meeting. The people assembled in great numbers, at an early hour. The Warsaw committee stated to the meeting, that a party of Mormons had attempted to rescue the Smiths out of jail ; that a party of Missourians, and others had killed the prisoners to prevent their escape ; that the governor and his party were at Nauvoo, at the time, when intelligence of the fact was brought there ; that they had been attacked by the Nauvoo Legion, and had retreated to a house, where they were closely besieged. That the governor had got out word that he could maintain his position for two days, and would be certainly be massacred, if assistance did not arrive by the end of that time. It is unnecessary to say, that this entire story was a fabrication. It was of a piece with the other reports, put into circulation by the anti-Mormon party, to influence the public mind, and call the people to their assistance. The effect of it, however, was, that by ten o'clock, on the 28th of June, between two and three hundred men, from Quincy, under the command of Major Flood, embarked on hoard of a steam boat, for Nauvoo, to assist in raising the siege, as they honestly believed.
As for myself, I was well convinced that those, whoever they were, who assassinated the Smiths, meditated in turn, on my assassination by the Mormons. The very circumstances of the case, fully corroborated the information which I afterwards received, that upon consultation of the assassins, it was agreed amongst
them, that the murder must be committed whilst the governor was at Nauvoo ; that the Mormons would naturally suppose that he had planned it ; and that in the first outpouring of their indignation, they would assassinate him, by way of retaliation. And that thus they would get clear of the Smiths and the governor, all at once. They, also, supposed, that if they could so contrive the matter, as to have the governor of the state assassinated by the Mormons, the public excitement would be so greatly increased against them, and would result in their expulsion from the state at least.
Upon the first hearing of the assassination of the Smiths, I was sensible that my command was at an end ; that my destruction was meditated as well as that of the Mormons ; and that I could not reasonably confide longer, in the one party or in the other.
The question then arose, what would be proper to be done. A war was expected by every body. I was desirous of preserving the peace. I could not put myself at the head of the Mormon force, with any kind of propriety, and without exciting greater odium against them than already existed. I could not put myself at the head of the anti-Mormon party, because they had justly forfeited my confidence, and my command over them was put an end to, by mutiny and treachery.
I could not put myself at the head of either of these forces, because both of them, in turn had violated the law, and, as I then believed, meditated further aggression.
It appeared to me that, if a war ensued, I ought lo have force in which I could confide, and that I ought to establish my head quarters at a place where I could learn the truth as to what was going on.
For these reasons I determined to proceed to Quincy, a place favorably situated for receiving the earliest intelligence, for issuing orders to raise an army, if necessary, and for providing supplies for its subsistence. But first I determined to return back to Carthage, and make such arrangements as could be made for the pacification and defence of the country.
When I arrived there about ten o'clock at night, I found that great consternation prevailed. Many of the citizens had departed with their families, and others were preparing to go. As the country was utterly defenceless, this seemed to me to be a proper precaution. One company of the guard stationed by me to guard the jail had disbanded and gone home before the jail was attacked, and many of the Carthage Greys departed soon afterwords.
Gen. Deming volunteered lo remain, in command of a few men, with orders to guard the town, observe the progress of events, and to retreat if menaced by a superior force.
Here also I found Dr. Richards and Mr. Taylor, two of the principal Mormon leaders, who had been in the jail at the time of the attack, and who voluntarily addressed a most pacific exhortation to their fellow citizens, which was the first intelligence of the murder which was received at Nauvoo. I think it very probable that the subsequent good conduct of the Mormons is attributable to the arrest of the messengers and to the influence of this letter.
Having made these arrangements. I departed for Quincy. On my road thither, I heard of a body of militia marching from Schuyler, and another from Brown. It appears that orders had been sent out in my name, but without my knowledge, for the militia of Schuyler county. I immediately countermanded their march, and they returned to their homes. When I arrived at Columbus. I found that Capt. Jonas had raised a company of one hundred men, who were just ready to march.
I arrived at Quincy on the morning of the 20th of June, about 8 o'clock, and immediately issued orders, provisionally, for raising an imposing force, when it should seem to be necessary.
I remained at Quincy about one month; during which time a committee from Warsaw waited on me with a written request that I would expel the Mormons from the state. It seemed that it never occurred to these gentlemen that I had no power to exile a citizen ; but they insisted that, if this were not done, their party would abandon the state. The requisition was refused, of course.
During this time the Gov. had secret agents amongst all parties, and obtained information through them that the anti-Mormons had not relinquished their determination to expel the Mormons, but had deferred further operations until fall, after they had finished their summer's work.
About the beginning of Sept. indications began to show themselves that the attack on the Mormons was to be renewed. A large military encampment a appointed to come off on the 26th of Oct. at Warsaw, and a great wolf hunt was advertised to take place at the same time, and it was openly avowed that the Mormons were the wolves to be hunted. The Gov. considered it his duty to be on the ground with a force sufficient to meet any emergency. A call on the militia was made and answered by 500, who were placed under the command of Gen. Hardin, and marched to Hancock Co., where they arrived on the 25th of October. The result was, the designs of the anti-Mormons were abandoned, and, as the Gov. believes, the shedding of much blood was prevented. The cost of this expedition, he thinks will not exceed $9,000.
In conclusion, the Gov. recommends the abolition of the Nauvoo legion, who, he says, are not superior in discipline to our common militia, and he recommends that Nauvoo be formed into a brigade by itself. The Nauvoo charter, under the Smiths, he say was greatly abused, but he can not see how so large a city can do without some chartered privileges; he therefore recommends, that if only the obnoxious parts of the charter be repealed and the rest let stand, thus placing the Mormons on equal ground with other cities. This he thinks would be republican, and cannot be denied without injustice.
History of Illinois, by Thomas Ford (former Governor of Illinois)
(Chicago: S. C. Griggs & Co. 1854)
Message of the Governor of the State of Illinois, in relation to the Disturbances in Hancock County, December 21, 1844, by Illinois. Governor (1842-1846 : Ford) Springfield: Walters & Weber, Public Printers, 20pp