Church Historians’ Excerpts from Ford’s History of Illinois
From the Manuscript History of Brigham Young and Other Original Documents
Conditions in Hancock County Reviewed by Governor Ford—The State Arms of the Legion Surrendered on the Demand of the Governor
The following lengthy excerpt from the History of Illinois by Thomas Ford, Governor of that State from 1842-6 was made by the Historians of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff—1862—and published in the Millennial Star of that year (Vol. 24, pp. 519-584 passim). It is taken from Ford’s History in unbroken quotation from page 329 to page 354. In a brief paragraph preceding this quotation (p. 328) the governor had said in commenting upon the character of the Mormon people: “Upon the whole, if one-half of these reports had been true [i. e. reports derogatory of their character] the Mormon community must have been the most intolerable collection of rogues ever assembled; or, if one-half them were false, they were the most maligned and abused.” The beginning of the Historians’ excerpt:
Review of Governor Ford’s Performances
“Governor Ford is certainly a man who performed mighty wonders. He not only compelled two innocent men, by virtue of his office as Governor of Illinois, to go before two different magistrates on the same charge, contrary to the Constitution and laws of the state; to surrender themselves into the custody of a mob magistrate (not the one who issued the writ); go to prison under a military guard on an illegal mittimus, granted contrary to law, without any examination; put in a criminal cell without having been examined for crime; brought them out of prison contrary to law; thrust them back again under the most solemn and sacred pledges of his personal faith, and the faith of the state, for their protection; guarded them with men whom he knew to be treacherous, and to have resolved on the death of the prisoners, until they were murdered in cold blood, and then professed to be ‘thunderstruck’!
It is our wish to do strict justice to the memory of this heroic governor, who, in addition to the above-named mighty achievements, on his deathbed bequeathed to the astounded world a volume of 447 pages, entitled, ‘History of Illinois from 1818 to 1847, containing a full account of the rise, progress, and fall of Mormonism’, etc., from which we copy the following:—
Governor Ford’s Statement
Cause of Popular Fury.
But the great cause of popular fury was, that the Mormons at several preceding elections had cast their vote as a 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 votes. 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.
This seems to me to be an unfortunate view of the subject, and more unfortunate in practice, as I am well satisfied that it must be the fruitful source of excitement, violence, and mobocracy, whilst it is persisted in. It is indeed unfortunate for their peace that they do not divide in elections, according to their individual preferences or political principles, like other people.
This one principle and practice of theirs arrayed against them in deadly hostility all aspirants for office who were not sure of their support, all who have been unsuccessful in elections, and all who were too proud to court their influence, with all their friends and connections.
Methods of Blowing up the Fury.
These also were the active men in blowing up the fury of the people, in hopes that a popular movement might be set on foot which would result in the expulsion or extermination of the Mormon voters. For this purpose, public meetings had been called, inflammatory speeches had been made, exaggerated reports had been extensively circulated, committees had been appointed, who rode night and day to spread the reports, and solicit the aid of neighboring counties. And at a public meeting at Warsaw, resolutions were passed to expel or exterminate the Mormon population.
This was not, however, a movement which was unanimously concurred in. The county contained a goodly number of inhabitants in favor of peace, or who at least desired to be neutral in such a contest. These were stigmatized by the name of Jack-Mormons, and there were not a few of the more furious exciters of the people who openly expressed their intention to involve them in the common expulsion or extermination.
A system of excitement and agitation was artfully planned and executed with tact. It consisted in spreading reports and rumors of the most fearful character.
Illustratons of False Reports.
As examples: On the morning before my arrival at Carthage [June 21, 1844], 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 offenses 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 inquiry 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.
Governor Ford’s Zeal for the Law!
As my object in visiting Hancock [county] was expressly to assist in the execution of the laws, and not to violate them, or to witness or permit their violation, as I was convinced that the Mormon leaders had committed a crime in the destruction of the press, and had resisted the execution of process, I determined to exert the whole force of the state, if necessary, to bring them to justice.
But seeing the great excitement in the public mind, and the manifest tendency of this excitement to run into mobocracy, I was of opinion that before I acted I ought to obtain a pledge from the officers and men to support me in strictly legal measures, and to protect the prisoners in case they surrendered; for I was determined, if possible, that the forms of law should not be made the catspaw of a mob, to seduce these people to a quiet surrender, as the convenient victims of popular fury.
Illinois Militia Promise to Sustain Legal Procedure Only.
I therefore called together the whole force then assembled at Carthage, and made an address, explaining to them what I could, and what I could not legally do, and also adducing to them various reasons why they, as well as the Mormons, should submit to the laws, and why, if they had resolved upon revolutionary proceedings, their purpose should be abandoned.
The assembled troops seemed much pleased with the address, and upon its conclusion the officers and men unanimously voted, with acclamation, to sustain me in a strictly legal course, and that the prisoners should be protected from violence.
Upon the arrival of additional forces from Warsaw, McDonough, and Schuyler, similar addresses were made, with the same result.
It seemed to me that these votes fully authorized me to promise the accused Mormons the protection of the law in case they surrendered.
They were accordingly duly informed that if they surrendered they would be protected, and if they did not, the whole force of the state would be called out, if necessary, to compel their submission. A force of ten men was despatched with the constable to make the arrests and to guard the prisoners to headquarters.
Martial Law in Nauvoo.
In the meantime, Joe Smith, as Lieutenant-General of the Nauvoo Legion, had declared martial law in the city. The Legion was assembled, and ordered under arms. The members of it residing in the country were ordered into town. The Mormon settlements obeyed the summons of their leader, and marched to his assistance. Nauvoo was one great military camp, strictly guarded and watched, and no ingress or egress was allowed except upon the strictest examination.
In one instance, which came to my knowledge, a citizen of McDonough, who happened to be in the city, was denied the privilege of returning until he made oath that he did not belong to the party at Carthage, that he would return home without calling at Carthage, and that he would give no information of the movement of the Mormons.
However, upon the arrival of the constable and guard, the mayor, Joseph Smith, and common council at once signified their willingness to surrender, and stated their readiness to proceed to Carthage next morning at eight o’clock. Martial law had previously been abolished.
The hour of eight o’clock came, and the accused failed to make their appearance. The constable and his escort returned. The constable made no effort to arrest any of them, nor would he or the guard delay their departure one minute beyond the time, to see whether an arrest could be made.
Upon their return they reported that they had been informed that the accused had fled and could not be found.
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.
A Base Fraud Attempted.
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 probable 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 state of the case, I delayed any further call of the militia, to give the accused another opportunity to surrender, for indeed I was most anxious to avoid a general call for the militia at that critical season of the year.
The whole spring season preceding had been unusually wet. No ploughing of corn had been done, and but very little planting. The season had just changed to be suitable for ploughing. The crops which had been planted were universally suffering, and the loss of two weeks, or even of one, at that time, was likely to produce a general famine all over the country.
The wheat harvest was also approaching; and if we got into a war, there was no foreseeing when it would end, or when the militia could safely be discharged.
In addition to these considerations, all the grist-mills in all that section of the country had been swept away, or disabled, by the high waters, leaving the inhabitants almost without meal or flour, and making it impossible then to procure provisions by impressment or otherwise, for the sustenance of any considerable force.
This was the time of the high waters, of astonishing floods in all the rivers and creeks in the western country. The Mississippi river at St. Louis was several feet higher than it was ever known before; it was up into the second stories of the warehouses on Water Street. The steamboats ran up to these warehouses, and could scarcely receive their passengers from the second stories. The whole American [Missouri] bottom was overflowed from eight to twenty feet deep, and steamboats freely crossed the bottom along the road from St. Louis to the opposite bluffs in Illinois. Houses and fences and stock of all kinds were swept away, the fields near the river, after the water subsided, being covered with sand from a foot to three feet deep, which was generally thrown into ridges and washed into gullies, so as to spoil the land for cultivation.
Families had great difficulty in making their escape. Through the active exertions of Mr. Pratt, the mayor of St. Louis, steamboats were sent in every direction to their relief. The boats found many of the families on the tops of their houses, just ready to be floated away.
The inhabitants of the bottom lost nearly all their personal property. A large number of them were taken to St. Louis in a state of entire destitution, and their necessities were supplied by the contributions of the charitable of that city. A larger number were forced out on to the Illinois bluffs, where they encamped, and were supplied with provisions by the neighboring inhabitants.
This freshet nearly ruined the ancient village of Kaskaskia. The inhabitants were driven away and scattered, many of them never to return.
For many years before this flood there had been a flourishing institution at Kaskaskia, under the direction of an order of nuns of the Catholic Church. They had erected an extensive building, which was surrounded and filled by the waters to the second story; but they were all safely taken away, pupils and all, by a steamboat which was sent to their relief, and which ran directly up to the building and received its inmates from the second story. This school was now transferred to St. Louis, where it yet remains.
All the rivers and streams in Illinois were as high, and did as much damage in proportion to their length and the extent of their bottoms, as the Mississippi.
This great flood destroyed the last hope of getting provisions at home, and I was totally without funds belonging to the state, with which to purchase at more distant markets, and there was a certainty that such purchases could not have been made on credit abroad. For these reasons I was desirous of avoiding a war, if it could be avoided.
State Arms Demanded.
In the meantime, I made a requisition upon the officers of the Nauvoo Legion for the state arms in their possession. It appears that there was no evidence in the quartermaster-general’s office of the number and description of arms with which the Legion had been furnished.
Dr. Bennett, after he had been appointed quarter-master-general, had joined the Mormons, and had disposed of the public arms as he pleased, without keeping or giving any account of them.
On this subject I applied to General Wilson Law for information. He had lately been the major-general of the Legion. He had seceded from the Mormon party; was one of the owners of the proscribed press, had left the city, as he said, in fear of his life; and was one of the party asking for justice against its constituted authorities. He was interested to exaggerate the number of arms rather than to place it at too low an estimate.
From his information I learned that the Legion had received three pieces of cannon and about two hundred and fifty stand of small arms and their accoutrements. Of these, the three pieces of cannon and two hundred and twenty stand of small arms were surrendered. These arms were demanded because the Legion was illegally used in the destruction of the press and in enforcing martial law in the city, in open resistance to legal process and the posse comitatus.
I demanded the surrender also on account of the great prejudice and excitement which the possession of these arms by the Mormons had kindled in the minds of the people.
A large portion of the people, by pure misrepresentation, had been made to believe that the Legion had received of the state as many as thirty pieces of artillery and five or six thousand stand of small arms, which in all probability, would soon be wielded for the conquest of the country, and for their subjection to Mormon domination.
I was of opinion that the removal of these arms would tend much to allay this excitement and prejudice, and, in point of fact, although wearing a severe aspect, would be an act of real kindness to the Mormons themselves.’ ”