In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.
Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon Church in 1830, had been living with his followers in Missouri, where they had various conflicts with locals, including an armed skirmish with the state militia. In 1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs signed a military order directing that the Mormons be expelled or exterminated: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be driven from the state or exterminated, if necessary, for the public good.”
|Nauvoo in the mid-1840s with the|
Mormon Temple in the background.
There were conflicts and tensions in Nauvoo as well. When a local newspaper printed editorials claiming that the religious leader was a fraud, Smith sent a group of followers to destroy the newspaper office. He was then arrested and sent to jail, where a lynch mob tracked him down and killed him.
|The Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. c.1845|
In his book, One Nation Under Gods, Richard Abanes details some of these events from September of 1845. He writes:
“A halt to the violent conflict between Mormons and anti-Mormons lasted but a brief period of time after Smith was killed. Armed mobs of Illinoisans, incited by endless newspaper articles covering Mormon issues, soon began to conduct raids against isolated church settlements. Mormons were threatened, Latter-day Saints' homes were burned, rumors about various Mormon atrocities circulated, and militias were called out by the governor. Church dissenters and critics, meanwhile, continued to expose aspects of Mormonism that church leaders did not want revealed. The Saints retaliated with verbal intimidation, religious condemnation, and acts of physical violence… More disturbing were the many murders, vicious beatings, and intimidating assaults perpetrated by the Nauvoo police against perceived enemies of the church. Policeman Alan J. Stout summed up the rational of the Saints on these matters, explaining that to his mind such activity was nothing more than avenging the blood of Joseph and Hyrum. In reference to the Mormon dissenters remaining in Nauvoo, Stout expressed a common sentiment: ‘I feel like cutting their throats.’”Here are just a few accounts of those violent crimes from September of 1845:
On September 14, the Nauvoo police had three men flogged because they were not in good fellowship with the church.
On September 16, Phineas Wilcox was stabbed to death by fellow Mormons in Nauvoo, because he was believed to be a Christian spy. Wilcox was last seen as he was led toward the Masonic Hall by three Mormons. Wilcox’s stepfather, Orrin Rhodes, inquired after him and searched for him for a week, finally concluding, “Wilcox has been murdered by… Mormons.”
Again on September 16, Rockwell also killed four unnamed “anti-Mormons” at Highland Branch, near Warsaw.
Andrew Daubenheyer disappeared on the road to Carthage on September 18. He was later found buried in a shallow gave near a campsite on the Carthage road “with a musket ball through the back of his head." In due time Daubenheyer was given a proper burial with a headstone that reads, “Killed by the Mormons.”
|The Andrew Daubenheyer Headstone.|
Mormon apostles Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde ordered the killing of apostate Lambert Symes, who subsequently “disappeared without a trace.”
Nauvoo’s bloody autumn of 1845 could have been much worse, but as it was, it clearly demonstrated that the Mormons and non-Mormons of Hancock County would never learn to live together in peace. “Therefore,” wrote Brigham Young, “we propose to leave this county next spring, for some point so remote, that there will not need to be a difficulty with the people and ourselves…”
Tensions with other communities continued to escalate, and, a year later, over 2,000 armed anti-Mormons marched on Nauvoo. Young decided that it was no longer wise to stay in the area. He led his flock west in 1846 to the Utah Territory and settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Although the territory was remote, difficulties between Mormons and non-Mormons did not cease for long. Young and his followers would become instrumental in founding the state of Utah.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.