Volume 7 Chapter 2 | BYU Studies

Volume 7 Chapter 2


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Chapter 2

Submission of the Prophet to the Requirements of the Governor—Gathering of the Enemy Forces of the Prophet—Governor Ford's Defensive Justification for His Placement of the Hostile Forces at Carthage and the Dismissal of Others

Surrender of Nauvoo's Mayor and City Council.

" 'On the 23rd or 24th day of June, Joe Smith, the mayor of Nauvoo, together with his brother Hyrum, and all the members of the council, and all others demanded, came into Carthage and surrendered themselves prisoners to the constable on the charge of riot.

They all voluntarily entered into a recognizance before the justice of the peace for their appearance at court to answer the charge, and all of them were discharged from custody except Joe and Hyrum Smith, against whom the magistrate had issued a new writ on a complaint of treason. They were immediately arrested by the constable on this charge, and retained in his custody to answer it.

The overt act of treason charged against them consisted in the alleged levying of war against the state by declaring martial law in Nauvoo, and in ordering out the Legion to resist the posse comitatus. Their actual guiltiness of the charge would depend upon circumstances.

If their opponents had been seeking to put the law in force in good faith, and nothing more, then an array of military force in open resistance to the posse comitatus and the militia of the state most probably would have amounted to treason.

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But if those opponents merely intended to use the process of the law, the militia of the state, and the posse comitatus, as catspaws to compass the possessions of their persons for the purpose of murdering them afterwards, as the sequel demonstrated the fact to be, it might well be doubted whether they were guilty of treason.

The Nauvoo Legion.

Soon after the surrender of the Smiths, at their request I dispatched Captain Singleton with his company from Brown county to Nauvoo, to guard the town, and I authorized him to take command of the Legion. He reported to me afterwards, that he called out the Legion for inspection, and that upon two hours' notice two thousand of them assembled, all of them armed, and this after the public arms had been taken away from them. So it appears that they had a sufficiency of private arms for any reasonable purpose.

After the Smiths had been arrested on the new charge of treason, the justice of the peace postponed the examination, because neither of the parties were prepared with their witnesses for trial. In the meantime, he committed them to the jail of the county for greater security.

Question of Jurisdiction.

In all this matter the justice of the peace and constable, though humble in office, were acting in a high and independent capacity, far beyond any legal power in me to control. I considered that the executive power could only be called in to assist, and not to dictate or control their action; that in the humble sphere of their duties they were as independent, and clothed with as high authority by the law, as the executive department, and that my province was simply to aid them with the force of the state.

It is true, that so far as I could prevail on them by advice, I endeavored to do so. The prisoners were not in military custody, or prisoners of war, and I could no more legally control these officers than I could the superior courts of justice.

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Some persons have supposed that I ought to have had them sent to some distant and friendly part of the state for confinement and trial, and that I ought to have searched them for concealed arms; but these surmises and suppositions are readily disposed of by the fact, that they were not my prisoners, but were the prisoners of the constable and jailor, under the direction of the justice of the peace; and, also, by the fact that by law they could be tried in no other county than Hancock.

The jail in which they were confined is a considerable stone building, containing a residence for the jailor, cells for the close and secure confinement of the prisoners, and one larger room, not so strong, but more airy and comfortable than the cells, They were put into the cells by the jailor; but upon their remonstrance and request, and by my advice, they were transferred to the larger room, and there they remained until the final catastrophe. Neither they nor I seriously apprehended an attack on the jail through the guard stationed to protect it, nor did I apprehend the least danger on their part of an attempt to escape, for I was very sure that any such an attempt would have been the signal of their immediate death. Indeed, if they had escaped, it would have been fortunate for the purposes of those who were anxious for the expulsion of the Mormon population, for the great body of that people would most assuredly have followed their Prophet and principal leaders, as they did in their flight from Missouri.

I learned afterwards that the leaders of the anti-Mormons did much to stimulate their followers to the murder of the Smiths in jail, by alleging that the governor intended to favor their escape. If this had been true, and could have been well carried out, it would have been the best way of getting rid of the Mormons. These leaders of the Mormons would never have dared to return, and they would have been followed in their flight by all their church. I had such plan in my mind, but I had never breathed it to a living soul, and was thus thwarted in ridding the state of the Mormons two years before they actually left, by the insane frenzy of the anti-Mormons.

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Joe Smith, when he escaped from Missouri, had no difficulty in again collecting his sect about him at Nauvoo; and so the Twelve Apostles, after they had been at the head of affairs long enough to establish their authority and influence as leaders, had no difficulty in getting nearly the whole body of Mormons to follow them into the wilderness two years after the death of their pretended Prophet.

Forces at Carthage and Warsaw.

The force assembled at Carthage amounted to about twelve or thirteen hundred men, and it was calculated that four or five hundred more were assembled at Warsaw. Nearly all that portion resident in Hancock were anxious to be marched into Nauvoo.

This measure was supposed to be necessary to search for counterfeit money and the apparatus to make it, and also to strike a salutary terror into the Mormon people by an exhibition of the force of the state, and thereby prevent future outrages, murders, robberies, burnings, and the like, apprehended as the effect of Mormon vengeance on those who had taken a part against them.

On my part, at one time, this arrangement was agreed to. The morning of the 27th day of June was appointed for the march, and Golden's Point, near the Mississippi river, and about equi-distant from Nauvoo and Warsaw, was selected as the place of rendezvous.

I had determined to prevail on the justice to bring out his prisoners, and take them along. A council of officers, however, determined that this would be highly inexpedient and dangerous, and offered such substantial reasons for their opinions as induced me to change my resolution.

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Two or three days' preparation had been made for this expedition. I observed that some of the people became more and more excited and inflammatory the further the preparations were advanced. Occasional threats came to my ears of destroying the city and murdering or expelling the inhabitants.

Threats of Violence Within the Governor's Forces.

I had no objection to ease the terrors of the people by such a display of force, and was most anxious also to search for the alleged apparatus for making counterfeit money; and, in fact, to inquire into all the charges against that people, if I could have been assured of my command against mutiny and insubordination. But I gradually learned, to my entire satisfaction, that there was a plan to get the troops into Nauvoo, and there to begin the war, probably by some of our own party, or some of the seceding Mormons taking advantage of the night to fire on our own force, and then laying it on the Mormons.

I was satisfied that there were those amongst us fully capable of such an act, hoping that in the alarm, bustle and confusion of a militia camp, the truth could not be discovered, and that it might lead to the desired collision.

I had many objections to be made the dupe of any such or similar artifice. I was openly and boldly opposed to any attack on the city, unless it should become necessary, to arrest prisoners legally charged and demanded. Indeed, if anyone will reflect upon the number of women, inoffensive and young persons, and innocent children, which must be contained in such a city of twelve or fifteen thousand inhabitants, it would seem to me his heart would relent and rebel against such violent resolutions. Nothing but the most blinded and obdurate fury could incite a person, even if he had the power, to the willingness of driving such persons, bare and houseless, on to the prairies, to starve, suffer, and even steal, as they must have done, for subsistence. No one who has children of his own would think of it for a moment.

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Besides this, if we had been ever so much disposed to commit such an act of wickedness, we evidently had not the power to do it. I was well assured that the Mormons, at a short notice, could muster as many as two or three thousand well-armed men. We had not more than seventeen hundred, with three pieces of cannon, and about twelve hundred stand of small arms. We had provisions for two days only, and would be compelled to disband at the end of that time. To think of beginning a war under such circumstances was a plain absurdity.

Pro et con of Militia-Mob Treachery.

If the Mormons had succeeded in repulsing our attack, as most likely would have been the case, the country must necessarily be given up to their ravages until a new force could be assembled, and provisions made for its subsistence. Or if we should have succeeded in driving them from their city, they would have scattered; and, being justly incensed at our barbarity, and suffering with privation and hunger, would have spread desolation all over the country, without any possibility on our part, with the force we then had, of preventing it. Again, they would have had the advantage of being able to subsist their force in the field by plundering their enemies.

All these considerations were duly urged by me upon the attention of a council of officers, convened on the morning of the 27th of June. I also urged upon the council that such wanton and unprovoked barbarity on their part would turn the sympathy of the people in the surrounding counties in favor of the Mormons, and therefore it would be impossible to raise a volunteer militia force to protect such a people against them. Many of the officers admitted that there might be danger of collision. But such was the blind fury prevailing at the time, though not showing itself by much visible excitement, that a small majority of the council adhered to the first resolution of marching into Nauvoo; most of the officers of the Schuyler and McDonough militia voting against it, and most of those of the county of Hancock voting in its favor.

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A very responsible duty now devolved upon me, to determine whether I would, as commander-in-chief, be governed by the advice of this majority. I had no hesitation in deciding that I would not; but on the contrary, I ordered the troops to be disbanded, both at Carthage and Warsaw, with the exception of three companies, two of which were retained as a guard to the jail, and the other was retained to accompany me to Nauvoo.

The officers insisted much in council upon the necessity of marching to that place to search for apparatus to make counterfeit money, and more particularly to terrify the Mormons from attempting any open or secret measures of vengeance against the citizens of the county, who had taken a part against them or their leaders.

To ease their terrors on this head, I proposed to them that I would myself proceed to the city, accompanied by a small force, make the proposed search, and deliver an address to the Mormons, and tell them plainly what degree of excitement and hatred prevailed against them in the minds of the whole people, and that if any open or secret violence should be committed on the persons or property of those who had taken part against them, that no one would doubt but that it had been perpetrated by them, and that it would be sure and certain means of the destruction of their city and the extermination of their people.

Capt. R. F. Smith and the Carthage Greys left to Guard the Prisoners.

I ordered two companies, under the command of Captain R. F. Smith, of the Carthage Greys, to guard the jail. In selecting these companies, and particularly the company of the Carthage Greys for this service, I have been subjected to some censure. It has been said that this company had already been guilty of mutiny, and had been ordered to be arrested whilst in the encampment at Carthage, and that they and their officers were the deadly enemies of the prisoners. Indeed, it would have been difficult to find friends of the prisoners under my command, unless I had called in the Mormons as a guard, and this I was satisfied would have led to the immediate war and the sure death of the prisoners.

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It is true that this company had behaved badly towards the brigadier-general 1 in command on the occasion when the prisoners were shown along the line of the McDonough militia. This company had been ordered as a guard. They were under the belief that the prisoners, who were arrested for a capital offense, were shown to the troops in a kind of triumph, and that they had been called on as a triumphal escort to grace the procession. They also entertained a very bad feeling towards the brigadier-general who commanded their service on the occasion.

The truth is, however, that this company was never ordered to be arrested; that the Smiths were not shown to the McDonough troops as a mark of honor and triumph, but were shown to them at the urgent request of the troops themselves, to gratify their curiosity in beholding persons who had made themselves so notorious in the country.

When the Carthage Greys ascertained what was the true motive in showing the prisoners to the troops, they were perfectly satisfied. All due atonement was made on their part for their conduct to the brigadier-general, and they cheerfully returned to their duty.

The Governonr's Defensive Explanations.

Although I knew that this company were the enemies of the Smiths, yet 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 county. 2

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I relied upon this company especially because it was an independent company, for a long time instructed and practiced 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 of 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 be put to little inconvenience in comparison.

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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 county 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 be 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.

I must here be permitted to say, also, that frequent appeals had been made to me to make a clean and thorough work of the matter by exterminating the Mormons or expelling them from the state. An opinion seemed generally to prevail that the sanction of executive authority would legalize the act; and all persons of any influence, authority, or note, who conversed with me on the subject, frequently and repeatedly stated their total unwillingness to act without my direction, or in any mode except according to law.

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This was a circumstance well calculated to conceal from me the secret machinations on foot. I had constantly contended against violent measures, and so had the brigadier-general in command; and I am convinced that unusual pains were taken to conceal from both of us the secret measures resolved upon. It has been said, however, that some person named 'Williams', 3 in a public speech at Carthage, called for volunteers to murder the Smiths, and that I ought to have had him arrested. Whether such a speech was really made or not is yet unknown to me.' "

Chapter 2.

1. This was Brigadier-General M. R. Deming, see Millennial Star vol. 24, p. 423. B. H. R.

2. The reader should be reminded that these statements of Governor Ford in justification of his placing the Carthage Greys on guard at the prison with Captain Robert F. Smith in command, is a labored defense written some years after the events, and for the purpose of justifying his course of procedure. A very lame and impotent defense it is. The governor should have remembered that in addition to the rebellious conduct of this company of Carthage Greys on the occasion of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum being introduced to the McDonough troops, there was the likewise boisterous reception of the Prophet and his company the night they arrived at Carthage, and under the very window of the hotel where the governor lodged, and within his hearing. On that occasion they exclaimed: "Where is the damned prophet?" "Stand away, you McDonough boys, and let us shoot the damned Mormons." "G—d—you, old Joe, we've got you now." "Clear the way and let us have a view of Joe Smith, the prophet of God. He has seen the last of Nauvoo. We'll use him up now, and kill all the damned Mormons." The rear platoon of the Carthage Greys repeatedly threw their guns over their heads in a curve so that the bayonets struck the ground with the breech of their guns upward, when they would run back and pick them up at the same time whooping, yelling, hooting and cursing like a pack of savages. Governor Ford was a witness of all this. For on hearing the above expressions, he put his head out of the window of the Hamilton Hotel at which he was stopping and very fawningly said, "I know your anxiety to see Mr. Smith, which is natural enough, but it is quite too late tonight for you to have the opportunity, but I assure you, gentlemen, you shall have that privilege tomorrow morning, as I will cause him to pass before the troops upon the square, and I now wish you, with this assurance quietly and peaceably to return to your quarters." When this declaration was made there was a faint "Hurrah for Tom Ford", and they instantly obeyed his wish. From all which it must appear that the governor could not fail but know the style of character of this company of militia, made up perhaps of the bitterest enemies of the Prophet and the Mormon people (See vol. 6, this History, Period I, pp. 559-60). B. H. R.

3. Yet so prominent was this "some person named 'Williams' "that he was the "Colonel Levi Williams" in charge of the mob forces from Warsaw (See History of Hancock County, Gregg p. 324). B. H R.