Habeas Corpus in Early Nineteenth-Century Mormonism: Joseph Smith's Legal Bulwark for Personal Freedom

Journal: 52:1
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*This article is being offered free as a courtesy to lds.org as it was footnoted in a Newsroom post on their site.

After Joseph Smith's incarceration in Liberty Jail in Liberty, Missouri, in 1838-1839, Smith believed that he would not survive another imprisonment. It was in fact his jailing in Illinois that ended in his murder in 1844. This paper explores Smith's use of writs of habeas corpus to combat those who sought his imprisonment. Walker introduces the reader to the historical use of habeas corpus and provides an analysis of the use of this writ within the American legal system during Smith's lifetime. Walker then applies this understanding to specific instances where Joseph Smith employed the writ; from his imprisonment at Liberty to the first two extradition efforts by the Missourians to the enactment of various habeas corpus ordinances by the Nauvoo City Council. While critics have argued that Smith's use of habeas corpus was overreaching, Walker's work brings a new perspective to more accurately understand Smith's use of habeas corpus in the context of the law and practice in his day.