Volume 4 Chapter 20

[Page 364]

Chapter 20

Arrest of the Prophet on Demand of Missouri—Trial at Monmouth—The Acquittal.

Tuesday, June 1, 1841.—I accompanied my brother Hyrum and William Law, as far as Quincy, on their mission to the East.

Elder Sidney Rigdon has been ordained a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

Elder Brigham Young returned from Long Island to New York, Elder Willard Richards started to Richmond, Massachusetts with his family and Elder Wilford Woodruff to Portland, Maine.

Friday, 4.—Elders Young, Kimball and Taylor left New York for Nauvoo, by way of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Geo. A. Smith, and Reuben Hedlock started at the same time, and went to New Egypt, New Jersey.

The Prophet’s Visit with Governor Carlin.

I called on Governor Carlin, at his residence in Quincy. During my visit with the governor, I was treated with the greatest kindness and respect; nothing was said about any requisition having come from the Governor of Missouri for my arrest. In a very few hours after I had left the Governor’s residence he sent Thomas King, Sheriff of Adams county, Thomas Jasper, a constable of Quincy, and some others as a posse, with an officer from Missouri, to arrest me and deliver me up to the authorities of Missouri.

The Arrest of the Prophet

Saturday, 5.—While I was staying at Heberlin’s Hotel, Bear Creek, about twenty-eight miles south of Nauvoo, Sheriff King and posse arrested me. Some of the posse on learning the spirit of the officer from Missouri, left the company in disgust and returned to their own homes. I accordingly returned to Quincy and obtained a writ of habeas corpus from Charles A. Warren, Esq., Master in Chancery; and Judge Stephen A. Douglas happening to come to Quincy that evening, he appointed to give a hearing on the writ on the Tuesday following, in Monmouth, Warren county, where the court would then commence a regular term.

[Page 365]

Apostles in New Jersey.

Elders William Smith, and George A. Smith attended a meeting in the woods near New Egypt, New Jersey, and preached to a large assembly; also preached on Sunday 6th, and three were baptized; and after preaching on the 7th four more were baptized.

News of the Prophet’s Arrest Reaches Nauvoo.

Sunday, 6.—News of my arrest having arrived in Nauvoo last night, and being circulate through the city, Hosea Stout, Tarleton Lewis, William A. Hickman, John S. Higbee, Elijah Able, Uriel C. Nickerson, and George W. Clyde started from the Nauvoo landing, in a skiff in order to overtake me and rescue me, if necessary. They had a heavy head wind, but arrived in Quincy at dusk; went up to Benjamin Jones’s house, and found that I had gone to Nauvoo in charge of two officers.

I returned to Nauvoo in charge of the officers (Sheriff King had been suddenly seized with sickness; I nursed and waited upon him in my own house, so that he might be able to go to Monmouth), and notified several of my friends to get ready and accompany me the next morning.

Monday, 7.—I started very early for Monmouth, seventy-five miles distant (taking Mr. King along with me and attending him during his sickness), accompanied by Charles C. Rich, Amasa Lyman, Shadrack Roundy, Reynolds Cahoon, Charles Hopkins, Alfred Randall, Elias Higbee, Morris Phelps, John P. Greene, Henry G. Sherwood, Joseph Younger, Darwin Chase, Ira Miles, Joel S. Miles, Lucien Woodworth, Vinson Knight, Robert B. Thompson, George Miller and others. We traveled very late, camping about midnight in the road.

[Page 366]

The Prophet at Monmouth.

Tuesday, 8.—Arrived at Monmouth and procured breakfast at the tavern; found great excitement prevailing in the public mind, and great curiosity was manifested by the citizens who were extremely anxious to obtain a sight of the Prophet, expecting to see me in chains. Mr. King, (whose health was now partly restored) had considerable difficulty in protecting me from the mob that had gathered there. Mr. Sidney A. Little, for the defense, moved “That the case of Mr. Smith should be taken up,” but was objected to by the States’ Attorney, pro tem., on account of his not being prepared, not having had sufficient notice of the trial. By mutual consent it was accordingly postponed until Wednesday morning.

In the evening, great excitement prevailed, and the citizens employed several attorneys to plead against me.

I was requested to preach to the citizens of Monmouth; but as I was a prisoner, I kept closeted in my room, for I could not even come down stairs to my meals, but the people would be crowding the windows to get a peep at me, and therefore appointed Elder Amasa Lyman to preach in the Court House on Wednesday evening.

The Trial.

Wednesday, 9.—At an early hour the Court House was filled with spectators desirous to hear the proceedings.

Mr. Morrison, on behalf of the people, wished for time to send to Springfield for the indictment, it not being found with the rest of the papers. This course would have delayed the proceedings, and, as it was not important to the issue, the attorneys for the defense admitted that there was an indictment, so that the investigation might proceed.

[Page 367]

Mr. Warren, for the defense, then read the petition, which stated that I was unlawfully held in custody, and that the indictment, in Missouri, was obtained by fraud, bribery and duress, all of which I was prepared to prove.

Mr. Little then called upon the following witnesses, viz.,—Morris Phelps, Elias Higbee, Reynolds Cahoon and George W. Robinson, who were sworn. The counsel on the opposite side objected to hearing evidence on the merits of the case, as they could not go beyond the indictment. Upon this a warm and long discussion occurred, which occupied the attention of the court during the entire day.

All the lawyers on the opposite side, excepting two, viz. Messrs. Knowlton and Jennings, confined themselves to the merits of the case, and conducted themselves as gentlemen; but it was plainly evident that the design of Messrs. Knowlton and Jennings; was to excite the public mind still more on the subject and inflame the passions of the people against me and my religion.

Honorable Conduct of Counsel.

The counsel on behalf of the defense, Messrs. Charles A. Warren, Sidney B. Little, O. H. Browning, James H. Ralston, Cyrus Walker, and Archibald Williams, acted nobly and honorably, and stood up in the defense of the persecuted, in a manner worthy of high-minded and honorable gentlemen.

Some had even been told that if they engaged on the side of the defense, they need never look to the citizens of that county for any political favors. But they were not to be overawed by the popular clamor or deterred from an act of public duty by any insinuations or threats whatever, and stated, that if they had not before determined to take a part in the defense, they, after hearing the threats of the community, were now fully determined to discharge their duty. The counsel for the defense spoke well without exception; and strongly urged the legality of the court examining the testimony to prove that the whole proceedings on the part of Missouri, were base and illegal, and that the indictment was obtained through fraud, bribery and corruption.

[Page 368]

The court, after hearing the counsel, adjourned about half past six p.m.

When I was at dinner, a man rushed in and said, “Which is Jo Smith? I have got a five dollar Kirtland bill, and I’ll be damned if he don’t take it back I’ll sue him, for his name is to it.” I replied, “I am the man;” took the bill and paid him the specie, which he took very reluctantly, being anxious to kick up a fuss.

Judge Douglas.

The crowd in the court was so intense that Judge Douglas ordered the sheriff of Warren county to keep the spectators back, but he neglected doing so when the judge fined him ten dollars. In a few minutes he again ordered the sheriff to keep the men back from crowding the prisoner and witnesses. He replied, “I have told a constable to do it,” when the judge immediately said, “Clerk, add ten dollars more to that fine.” The sheriff, finding neglect rather expensive, then attended to his duty.

A young lawyer from Missouri volunteered to plead against me; he tried his utmost to convict me, but was so high with liquor, and chewed so much tobacco, that he often called for cold water. Before he had spoken many minutes, he turned sick, requested to be excused by the court and went out of the court house, puking all the way down stairs. As the Illinoians call the Missouri people “pukes,” this circumstance caused considerable amusement to the members of the bar. During his plea, his language was so outrageous that the judge was twice under the necessity of ordering him to be silent.

Mr. O. H. Browning then commenced his plea, and in a short time the puking lawyer returned, and requested the privilege of finishing his plea, which was allowed.

Afterwards Mr. Browning resumed his pleadings which were powerful; and when he gave a recitation of what he himself had seen at Quincy, and on the banks of the Mississippi river’ when the Saints were “exterminated from Missouri,” where he tracked the persecuted women and children by their bloody footmarks in the snow, they were so affecting that the spectators were often dissolved in tears. Judge Douglas himself and most of the officers also wept.

[Page 369]

Elder Amasa Lyman during the evening, preached a brilliant discourse in the Court House, on the first principles of the Gospel, which changed the feelings of the people very materially.

A Letter from the Editor 1 of the “Times and Seasons” to that Journal Giving an Account of the Trial at Monmouth.

American Hotel, Monmouth, Warren County, Illinois,

June 9, 1841. Wednesday Evening.

We have just returned from the Court House, where we have listened to one of the most eloquent speeches ever uttered by mortal man, in favor of justice and liberty, by O. H. Browning, Esq., who has done himself immortal honor in the sight of all patriotic citizens who listened to the same. He occupied the attention of the court for more than two hours, and showed the falsity of the arguments of the opposite counsel, and laid down principles in a lucid and able manner which ought to guide the court in admitting testimony for the defendant, Joseph Smith. We have heard Browning on former occasions, when he has frequently delighted his audience by his eloquence; but on this occasion he exceeded our most sanguine expectations. The sentiments he advanced were just, generous and exalted; he soared above the petty quibbles which the opposite counsel urged, and triumphantly, in a manner and eloquence peculiar to himself, avowed himself the friend of humanity, and boldly, nobly and independently stood up for the rights of those who had waded through seas of oppression and floods of injustice, and had sought a shelter in the State of Illinois. It was an effort worthy of a high-minded and honorable gentleman, such as we ever considered him to be, since we have had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Soon after we came out of Missouri, he sympathized with us in our afflictions, and we are indeed rejoiced to know that he yet maintains the same principles of benevolence. His was not an effort of a lawyer anxious to earn his fee, but the pure and patriotic feelings of Christian benevolence, and a sense of justice and of right. While he was answering the monstrous and ridiculous arguments urged by the opposing counsel, that Joseph Smith might go to Missouri and have his trial; he stated the circumstances of our being driven from that State, and feelingly and emphatically pointed out the impossibility of our obtaining justice there. There we were forbidden to enter in consequence of the order of the Executive, and that injustice and cruelties of the most barbarous and atrocious character had been practiced upon us, until the streams of Missouri had run with blood, and that he had seen women and children, barefoot and houseless crossing the Mississippi to seek refuge from ruthless mobs. He concluded his remarks by saying that to tell us to go to Missouri for a trial was adding insult to injury; and then he said: “Great God! have I not seen it? Yes, my eyes have beheld the blood-stained traces of innocent women and children, in the drear winter, who had traveled hundreds of miles barefoot, through frost and snow, to seek a refuge from their savage pursuers. ‘Twas a scene of horror sufficient to enlist sympathy from an adamantine heart. And shall this unfortunate man, whom their fury has seen proper to select for sacrifice, be driven into such a savage land and none dare to enlist in the cause of Justice? If there was no other voice under heaven ever to be heard in this cause, gladly would I stand alone, and proudly spend my latest breath in defense of an oppressed American citizen.”

[Page 370]

Thursday, 10.—The court was opened about 8 o’clock a.m. when Judge Douglas delivered his opinion on the case. He said:

That the writ being once returned to the Executive by the sheriff of Hancock county was dead, and stood in the same relationship as any other writ which might issue from the Circuit Court, and consequently the defendant could not be held in custody on that writ. The other point, whether evidence in the case was admissible or not, he would not at that time decide, as it involved great and important considerations relative to the future conduct of the different states. There being no precedent, as far as they had access to authorities to guide them, but he would endeavor to examine the subject, and avail himself of all the authorities which could be obtained on the subject, before he would decide that point. But on the other, the defendant must be liberated.

The Prophet Set Free.

This decision was received with satisfaction by myself and the brethren, and all those whose minds were free from prejudice. It is now decided that before another writ can issue, a new demand must be made by the Governor of Missouri. Thus have I been once more delivered from the fangs of my cruel persecutors, for which I thank God, my Heavenly Father.

[Page 371]

I was discharged about 11 a.m., when I ordered dinner for my company now increased to about sixty men; and when I called for the bill, the unconscionable fellow replied, “Only one hundred and sixty dollars.”

About 2 p.m., the company commenced their return, traveled about twenty miles, and camped by the wayside.

Friday, 11.—Started very early, arrived at La Harpe for dinner and returned safely to Nauvoo by 4 p.m., where I was met by the acclamation of the Saints.

Chapter 20.

1. Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson were at this time editors and publishers of the Times and Seasons, and the above letter was doubtless written by Thompson as he is named as among those who accompanied the Prophet to Monmouth, while Don Carlos Smith is not named as being in the company.