In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias creating a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.
Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.
I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.
The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMANor REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED, are explained in this article.
— PLEASE PRACTICE HISTORICISM —
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PAST IN ITS OWN CONTEXT.
Thomas Ford, Governor of Illinois from 1842 to 1846, saved the credit of the state, fought bravely against financial and civil chaos, wrote "one of the two or three remarkable books written in the state during the formative period," worked through his last illness in a courageous endeavor to leave some kind of estate to his children — and is remembered only as one of the villains in a drama far greater than his own. Ford was perceptive and intelligent; dying, he foresaw his ultimate reputation. Toward the end of his "History of Illinois," he wrote:
". . . the author of this history feels degraded by the reflection, that the humble governor of an obscure state, who would otherwise be forgotten in a few years, stands a fair chance, like Pilate and Herod, by their official connection with the true religion, of being dragged down to posterity with an immortal name, hitched on to the memory of a miserable impostor."
Many judgments of Ford's conduct during the struggle in Hancock County in 1844-1845 have been moderately or severely critical. Fawn Brodie condemns Ford as "weak." John Hay said he was "plagued by the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet (flighty, gossipy)." Though Joseph Smith Jr. relied upon Governor Ford for protection and seemed not unfriendly to a man who, he wrote, "treats us honorably" and "continues his courtesies," the opinion of the Mormons after the Smith murders were strongly condemnatory. The governor was accused of ignoring warnings of the evil intentions of the militia — an accusation undoubtedly correct — and of being party to the murder plot.
|Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) founded Mormonism and the Latter-Day Saint movement. At the age of 24, Smith published the Book of Mormon, and by the time of his death, he had attracted tens of thousands of followers.|
It is easy to condemn Governor Ford for his conduct at the time of the murders. He was the state's chief executive, he was on the scene, and yet the murders took place. But few people realized the difficulties under which he labored. Any complete study of the murders of the Smiths must consider the society which demanded and condoned those murders and the conditions so different from our own, within which that organization operated in June 1844, Governor Thomas Ford faced really insuperable difficulties.
In 1842 the state of Illinois was still a frontier territory, facing all the troubles of a changing and expanding society with few settled traditions, financial or social, from which to operate. A series of sanguine speculations and an almost unbelievably rickety economic structure had resulted in a state government that was bankrupt in everything but hope and name. When Ford was elected governor in 1842:
". . . the state was in debt about $14,000,000 for monies wasted upon internal improvements and in banking; the domestic treasury of the state was in arrears $313,000 for the ordinary expenses of government; auditors' warrants were freely selling at a discount of fifty percent; the people were unable to pay even moderate taxes to replenish the treasury, in which not one cent was contained even to pay the postage to and from the public offices; . . . the banks, upon which the people had relied for a currency, had become insolvent, their paper had fallen so low as to cease to circulate as money, and yet no other money had taken its place, leaving the people wholly destitute of a circulating medium, and universally in debt . . ."
This lack of a circulating medium of exchange is made more vivid by Ford's testimony that the half-million or so people of Illinois in 1842 possessed only two or three hundred thousand dollars in good money, about 50¢ apiece on the average, "which occasioned a general inability to pay taxes." The Mormons in Nauvoo continually recorded difficulties collecting a couple of dollars, or even 50¢, in good money. Robert Flanders has noted that bonds for deeds and other evidence of land ownership were commonly used as currency in Nauvoo. This simple lack of acceptable cash made complex business transactions of ordinary life encourage counterfeiting and made all kinds of chicanery (trickery) possible.
GOOD MONEY VS. BAD MONEYIn the 1840s, there was no official currency in the United States. People used a variety of forms of money, including gold and silver coins, banknotes, and even barter. The concept of "good money" versus "bad money" referred to the quality and reliability of the currency being used."Good money" referred to currency that was widely accepted and had a stable value. This could include gold and silver coins issued by the government, or banknotes from well-established banks that were backed by a reserve of gold or silver. These types of currency were considered reliable and trustworthy, and people were willing to accept them in exchange for goods and services.In contrast, "bad money" referred to currency that was not widely accepted or had an uncertain value. This could include banknotes from banks that were not well-established or did not have a reserve of gold or silver to back their notes, as well as counterfeit currency. Because these types of currency were considered less reliable and trustworthy, people were less willing to accept them in exchange for goods and services.Overall, "good money" was considered to be a stable and reliable form of currency, while "bad money" was seen as risky and unreliable.
It wasn't until February 25, 1863, when President Lincoln signed The National Currency Act into law. The Act established the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), charged with responsibility for organizing and administering a system of nationally chartered banks and a uniform national currency.
Another major problem of the state was transportation. The Mississippi was a great high road, but the state's interior was a wilderness of trails and rutted lanes. In 1841, when wheat was one dollar a bushel in Chicago, the price in Peoria was 40¢. Springfield is but one hundred miles from Nauvoo, yet the Sangamo Journal for July 4, 1844, a week after the murders of the Smiths, reported only rumors of troubles in Hancock County. The railroads and the telegraph were only a few years away, but in 1844 the tired horseman and the mired wagon could have stood as symbols of the state.
The cow-town Westerns of the movies and television have almost obscured that violence was a significant factor on the American frontier long before Dodge City and Tombstone. Illinois' History was typical enough. The nearly legendary bandits of Cave-in-Rock were eliminated early in the century. In 1816 and 1817, regulators had whipped and run out of the state rogues who, according to Ford, had included sheriffs, justices of the peace, and even judges. But as late as 1831, a gang almost controlled Pope and Massac counties and even built a fort that a small army of regulators had to take by storm. The better-known riots at Alton occurred in 1837. A mob threw into the river the press of the Alton Observer, an Abolition newspaper published by Elijah Lovejoy. Lovejoy and a mob member were killed in a subsequent clash, and a second press was destroyed. At about the same time, Ogle, Winnebago, Lee, and De Kalb counties all suffered from "organized bands of rogues, engaged in murders, robberies, horse-stealing, and in making and passing counterfeit money."
In 1841 in Ogle County, a family of criminals named Driscoll shot down Captain Campbell, of the county's respectable, before his family's eyes. Driscoll and one of his sons were convicted of the murder by a kangaroo court. "They were placed in a kneeling position, with bandages over their eyes, and were fired upon by the whole company present, that there might be no legal witnesses of the bloody deed. About one hundred of these men were afterward tried for the murder and acquitted. These terrible measures ended the ascendancy of the rogues in Ogle County."
One would think that the violence at Carthage Jail in 1844 would have sickened the state's people, but the conflicts that followed in Hancock County were by no means the only disturbances to trouble Governor Ford. Another small civil war took place in Pope and Massac counties in 1846. The militia of Union County called in to keep the peace, refused to protect the suspected bandits and left the counties to the government of regulators, who, as always, began by terrorizing known criminals, moved to threaten the alleged, and ended hated and feared by honest and peaceful men.
A party of about twenty regulators went to the house of an old man named Mathis. . . . He and his wife resisted the arrest. The old woman being unusually strong and active, knocked down one or two of the party with her fists. A gun was then presented to her breast, accompanied by a threat of blowing her heart out if she continued her resistance. She caught the gun and shoved it downwards when it went off and shot her through the thigh. . . . The party captured old man Mathis and carried him away with them, since which time he has not been heard of but is supposed to have been murdered.
Of Hancock County itself, Ford wrote: "I had a good opportunity to know the early settlers of Hancock County. I attended the circuit courts there as States-attorney from 1830, when the county was first organized, up to 1834. To my certain knowledge, the early settlers, with some honorable exceptions, were, in popular language, hard cases."
All of these citations, which could be multiplied, clearly show that the murders at Carthage Jail fitted a reasonably common pattern. The people of Hancock County, of many places in Illinois in 1844, were not horrified at taking the law into their own hands. That had been done before by neighbors and friends and would be done again. Thomas Ford was trying to govern a state without money, adequate transportation, and no practical way of rallying public support in areas of the state not directly involved in the Mormon troubles. In a society where violence becomes commonplace, domestic peace must largely depend upon the speed of communication and transportation. Local feuds, riots, and even revolts are best handled by forces, not themselves directly involved and, therefore, relatively objective in their actions. In 1844, in Hancock County, the non-Mormons were bitter partisans, judges, jury — and executioners.
In Illinois, in the 1840s, the conflicts were between groups or groups on one side and individuals on the other. The central government left these problems to the states in the mid-nineteenth century. The state governments were frequently almost powerless or intensely partisan on one side or the other of each conflict. There is no lack of possibilities if we search for causes of these resorts to violence in Illinois.
Criminals are always with us, quick to take advantage of weakness in government, unstable currency, flimsy jails, or poor communications. And common crime is not only harmful in itself; it begets crime through success and retribution.
Another cause for violence may well have been simple boredom, with its concomitant yearning for any kind of action. Anyone who reads the letters and records of the mid-nineteenth century is struck by how often a writer dropped whatever he had in hand and set off on some vaguely motivated journey and how easy it always was to attract a crowd.
William Daniels, who wrote an eyewitness account of the Smith murders, began his story:
"I resided in Augusta, Hancock County, Ill., eighteen miles from Carthage. On June 16, I left my home with the intention of going to St. Louis. . . .The next morning a company of men was going from . . . [Warsaw] to Carthage for the purpose, as they said, of assisting the militia in driving the Mormons out of the country. Out of curiosity, as I had no particular way to spend my time. . . ."
Daniels, setting out from his home on June 16, was a witness of the murders eleven days later and apparently never did arrive in St. Louis.
Sheriff J. B. Backenstos supplied a list of those he was supposed to have been active in the "massacre at Carthage." Backenstos was not present at the murders and used hearsay in these accusations, which could not have been proved in court. He listed about sixty men as active participants. Of these sixty, six are listed as having "no business," two as "land sharks," one as "loafer," and one Major W. B. Warren as "a damned villain" — apparently his full-time occupation. Out of about sixty men, ten apparently had no trade known to the sheriff, and ten others were farmers at a season of the year when farming might have been expected to take all of a man's time.
The best pictures of boredom, the deep inner need for excitement, for some kind of action, are in the writings of Mark Twain. Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, a river town near Warsaw and Nauvoo. One of the most famous passages of American writing, and one of the best, could have been a description of Warsaw, though it was Hannibal that Mark Twain wrote of:
After all these years I can picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then; the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, with their splintbottomed chairs tilted back against the walls, chins on breasts, hats slouched over their faces, asleep — with shingle shavings enough around to show what broke them down; a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk, doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the "levee"; a pile of "skids" on the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town drunkard asleep in the shadow of them . . . . Presently a film of dark smoke appears . . . instantly a Negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, "S-t-e-a-mboat a-comin' " and the scene changes! The town drunkard stirs, the clerks wake up, a furious clatter of rays follows, every housand store pours out a human contribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and moving. . . . Ten minutes later the steamer is under way again, with no flag on the jack-staff and no black smoke issuing from the chimneys. After ten more minutes the town is dead again and the town drunkard asleep by the skids once more.
In the novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain shows us a town in Arkansas. The description, and particularly the bored cruelty at the conclusion, fit into the picture of possibilities for violence in any Mississippi river town:
There were empty drygoods boxes under the awnings and loafers roosting on them all day long, whittling them with their Barlow knives and chawing tobacco and gaping and yawning and stretching — a mighty ornery lot. . . . You'd see a muddy sow and a litter of pigs . . . and pretty soon you'd hear a loafer sing out, "Hi! so boy! sick him, Tige!" and away the sow would go, squealing most horrible, with a dog or two swinging to each ear and three or four dozen more a-coming, and then you would see all the loafers get up and watch the thing out of sight and laugh at the fun and look grateful for the noise. Then they'd settle back again till there was a dogfight. There couldn't anything wake them up all over and make them happy all over, like a dog-fight — unless it might be putting turpentine on a stray dog and setting fire to him, or tying a tin pan to his tail and see him run himself to death. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 21 Page 3.)
From September 1845 until well into the spring of 1846, a substantial part of the population of Hancock County seems to have done little except harass the Mormons. If only the loafers and poor farmers had been bitter against the people of Nauvoo, the Mormons could have lived in Hancock County without any substantive problems. The respectable of Warsaw and Carthage made common cause with the "butcher boys." The new religion was feared and condemned, of course, since any new religion was built upon a belief in the inadequacy of established tenets. Nauvoo also threatened Warsaw's trade and Carthage's position as a county seat. When it became apparent that Nauvoo's voters were a bloc to be directed as he chose by Joseph Smith, and when the Prophet declared himself a candidate for the Presidency, the old settlers united against the new. The Mormons, strangers and isolates, had to face a county, a population accustomed to the idea of violence, contemptuous of government, filled with hate, and armed.
It was deeply ironic that the beginning of the end came with the destruction of the press of the Nauvoo Expositor. In Alton, a few years before, the mob had twice destroyed presses belonging to the Abolitionist Lovejoy. They rioted against the freedom of the press. In Nauvoo, the Mormons did the destroying, and the mob rioted for freedom of the press. In truth, of course, the mob cared nothing for the abstract space of the Bill of Rights; it hated Abolitionists and Mormons and did them both to death.
Governor Ford became closely involved with the Mormon troubles on June 17, 1844, when a committee of men from Carthage waited on him in Springfield and asked that the state militia be called out to keep the peace in Hancock County. There was reason for their fear. The Mormons had destroyed the press of the Expositor on June 10; the very next day, a mass meeting at Carthage adopted the following resolutions:
Resolved . . . that we hold ourselves at all times in readiness to cooperate with our fellow citizens in this state, Missouri, and Iowa, to exterminate - UTTERLY EXTERMINATE, the wicked and abominable Mormon leaders, the authors of our troubles.Resolved . . . that the time, in our opinion, has arrived when the adherents of Smith as a body, shall be driven from the surrounding settlements into Nauvoo; that the Prophet and his miscreant adherents should then be demanded at their hands, and if not surrendered, A WAR OF EXTERMINATION SHOULD BE WAGED, to the entire destruction if necessary for our protection, of his adherents.
Ford, listening to the delegation from Carthage, made the first of three fateful decisions; he would go to Carthage and see himself what the situation was. This was a perfectly sensible thing to do, but it made possible the murders of the Smiths. If the governor had stayed in Springfield, the Smiths would not have surrendered; only Ford's personal protection guarantee persuaded Joseph Smith to ride to Carthage and give himself into custody.
Ford had to find out what the situation was, but Joseph Smith was under no illusions as to the attitude and plans of the mob. When Ford, after hearing the Mormon side of the Expositor affair, demanded that the Smiths surrender to the magistrate at Carthage, Joseph Smith stated the situation very accurately and appealingly in a letter dated June 22, 1844:
. . . we would not hesitate to stand another trial according- to your Excellency's wish, were it not that we are confident our lives would be in danger. We dare not come. Writs, we are assured, are issued against us in various parts of the country. For what? To drag us from place to place, from court to court, across the creeks and prairies, till some bloodthirsty villain could find his opportunity to shoot us down. We dare not come, though your Excellency promises protection. Yet, at the same time, you have expressed fears that you could not control the mob, in which case we are left to the mercy of the merciless. Sir, we dare not come, for our lives would be in danger, and we are guilty of no crime.
You say, "It will be against orders to be accompanied by others if we come to trial." This we have been obliged to act upon in Missouri; and when our witnesses were sent for by the court (as your honor promises to do) they were thrust into prison, and we left without witnesses. Sir, you must not blame us, for "a burnt child dreads the fire." And although your Excellency might be well-disposed in the matter, the appearance of the mob forbids our coming. We dare not do it.
Joseph Smith's plan to leave for the far West, his crossing the river to Montrose, and his final decision to return and give himself up to the law were crucial for his life but were unknown to Governor Ford, who would probably have been best pleased had that plan been followed.
The Smiths arrived in Carthage at about midnight, June 24-25. They were exhibited to the militia the next day, were charged with a riot — the Expositor case — and were released on bail. Joseph and Hyrum Smith were immediately rearrested on a trumped-up charge of treason and were not released on bail; they were committed to the county jail "for greater security."
At this point, Ford made his second crucial decision: he did not interfere in the jailing of the Smiths. In his History, Ford gives a detailed explanation that is persuasive as to the technical legality of the charges and of his position but which has little to do with the facts of the matter and the murderous intention of the mob. The magistrate in Carthage refused to accept bail on the charge of treason and, without the kind of hearing required by law, committed the Smiths to jail amid their enemies. A different type of governor might have overborne the magistrate and freed the Smiths, but Ford had been a lawyer and a judge. He felt that, as governor, he was only another state citizen, with peculiar responsibilities, of course, but with those responsibilities sharply delimited. "In all this matter," wrote Ford:
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.
A more forceful and less legalistic chief executive could almost certainly have freed the Smiths; indeed, Ford wrote of the planned trip to Nauvoo on June 27. "I had determined to prevail on the justice to bring out his prisoners and take them along." If he could have persuaded the magistrate to release the prisoners on the twenty-seventh, he could have done the same thing on the twenty-fifth. But this begs the question. A more forceful and less legalistic chief executive would have been likely, in those times, to have been more violently anti-Mormon than Ford. Governor Boggs of Missouri would probably not have hesitated to override a magistrate, but neither would he have hesitated to authorize the killing of the Smiths.
Once the prisoners were in Carthage Jail, events rushed to a tragic ending. Visitors came and went; a pair of pistols was left with the prisoners; there was a feeling of a siege. Ford told Joseph Smith that he could not interfere with the law's slow — and, in this case, partial — process. Ford had planned to take the Smiths to Nauvoo if he went there on the twenty-seventh, but on that morning, the governor changed his mind — which was his third crucial decision. He wrote, "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."
It is exciting and significant that in his History, Ford passed over this decision as rapidly as possible, did not give the "substantial reasons" of the officers, and moved immediately to the story of the expedition. Had the Smiths been taken to Nauvoo, they might have been shot on the road, or they might have been killed in a trumped-up attack in Nauvoo if the original plan to take the whole militia to that city had been followed. That would have meant war. If the Smiths had been taken along with the small company that finally made the journey, they might have been kidnapped by the Nauvoo Legion. It is hard to believe that had the Smiths returned to Nauvoo, they would have been willing to return to Carthage and the jail; they had seen and heard the mob and knew what justice to expect from everyone but the governor.
The rest of the story is familiar to anyone who has studied Mormon history. Having decided to leave the Smiths in jail, the governor ordered almost all the militia to be disbanded. He left with a small force for Nauvoo, where he made a hurried speech to the assembled citizens and exacted a pledge against violence. In the meantime, the militia from Warsaw had marched north toward Golden's Point and had been met "at the shanties" with the governor's order to disband and the news that the governor had left Carthage for Nauvoo and that the Smiths were still in Carthage Jail. John Hay's retelling of the story is probably accurate; his father was with the troops and knew all the men, and the account must have been told and retold in Warsaw:
Colonel Williams read the Governor's order . . . Captain Grover soon found himself without a company. Captain Aldrich essayed a speech calling for volunteers for Carthage. "He did not make a fair start," says the chronicle [it would be interesting to know what chronicle Hay referred to] "and Sharp came up and took it off his hands. Sharp, being a spirited and impressive talker, soon had a respectable squad about him. . . ." The speeches of Grover and Sharp were rather vague; the purpose of murder does not seem to have been hinted. They protested against "being made the tools and puppets of Tommy Ford." They were going to Carthage to see the boys and talk things over. . . .
While they were waiting at the shanties, a courier came in from the Carthage Grays. It is impossible at this day to declare exactly the purport of his message. It is usually reported and believed that he brought an assurance from the officer of this company that they would be found on guard at the jail where the Smiths were confined; that they would make no real resistance — merely enough to save appearances.
And so the men from Warsaw, led by Sharp, Grover, and Davis, and welcomed by the Carthage Grays under Frank Worrell, rushed the jail, disarmed the guard, and murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Governor Ford heard the news when he met messengers two miles outside of Nauvoo; for safety's sake, he took the two messengers with him back to Carthage so that the knowledge of the murders would be kept from the people of Nauvoo as long as possible.
Everyone expected a war. The anti-Mormons had been violent enough, and the Mormons had been accused by their enemies so often of being bloodthirsty outlaws that the accusers had come to believe their own lies. In this case, the Mormons quite typically followed the advice of John Taylor and kept the peace. But Ford, expecting the worst, felt that he could trust neither the Mormons nor the murdering Gentiles and retreated to Quincy in a panic. His feelings about the murders he put into a letter to Nauvoo on July 22, 1844:
The naked truth then is, that most well informed persons condemn in the most unqualified manner the mode in which the Smiths were put to death, but nine out of every ten of such accompany the expression of their disapprobation by a manifestation of their pleasure that they are dead.The disapproval is most unusually cold and without feeling . . . called for by decency, by a respect for the laws and a horror of mobs, but does not flow warm from the heart.The unfortunate victims . . . were generally and thoroughly hated throughout the country, and it is not reasonable to suppose that their deaths has produced any reaction in the public mind resulting in active sympathy; if you think so, you are mistaken.
Ford foresaw the continuing persecution, which resulted in the Mormon War of 1845 and the evacuation of Nauvoo.
How far, then, can Governor Ford be held responsible for the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith?
Ford arrived at Carthage on the morning of June 21. He discovered that Hancock County was already at the point of civil war, with approximately 1,700 men of the combined militia threatening to attack Nauvoo, which was defended by the Nauvoo Legion, 2,000 strong. His first act was to place the men of the militia under their regular officers and get pledges of support from them. He then demanded the surrender of the Smiths for their part in the Expositor affair, which was the immediate cause of the threatened struggle. He then asked for and received the state arms from the Nauvoo Legion. After the Smiths were committed to jail, Ford met with the militia officers to consult on the following steps. He disbanded the militia, rode to Nauvoo with a small party, and pleaded with the Mormons to keep the peace. Then he was faced with the fact of the murders.
Ford's primary concern was not to save the Smiths but to avoid civil war. He felt that he had to push for the surrender of the Smiths partly because of the legal requirement and because their immunity from punishment after the Expositor affair made the old settlers of Hancock County furious. He first put the militia under their regular officers in an attempt to enforce discipline, and then, finding the officers as bad as the men, discharged almost the whole militia, feeling that they would be less dangerous as individuals and that many would return to their homes. He took the state arms from the Nauvoo Legion to relieve the fears of the old settlers and then discovered that those fears were mainly pretended and that the old settlers themselves were the real danger. Ford felt a responsibility for the Smiths — he had guaranteed their safety — but when he had to choose between leaving the Smiths and making another effort for peace, he decided to meet what he thought was his first responsibility.
No one can tell what might have happened, but there seems every reason to believe that if Ford had stayed in Springfield and the Smiths had remained at Nauvoo, civil war would have occurred; that if Ford had arranged for the Smiths to escape to Nauvoo, civil war would have happened; that if Ford had taken the Smiths with him to Nauvoo, civil war would have occurred. He did none of these things, and civil war ensued. The old settlers of Hancock County did not want peace and would not have peace. Hay reports of the Warsaw militia on the last grim march to Carthage, "These trudged . . . towards the town where the cause of all the trouble and confusion of the last few years awaited them. . . . The farther they walked, the more the idea impressed them that now was the time to finish the matter. The avowed design of the leaders communicated itself magnetically to the men until the whole company became fused into one mass of bloodthirsty energy."
Those writers who have called Ford weak and pointed out, quite correctly, that he changed his mind during those last days of Carthage have never suggested just what Ford should have done to save the Smiths and prevent the war. The governor tried almost everything to keep the peace; it was not his fault that nothing worked.
The mob wanted Joseph Smith dead and the Mormons out of Illinois. Even after the Smiths were killed and the Mormons leaderless, civil war broke out the following year, and the Mormons were finally expelled. The lesson that Thomas Ford learned is given in his History:
In framing our governments, it seemed to be the great object of our ancestors to secure the public liberty by depriving government of power. Attacks upon liberty were not anticipated from any considerable portion of the people themselves. It was not expected that one portion of the people would attempt to play the tyrant over another. And if such a thing had been thought of, the only mode of putting it down was to call out the militia, who are, nine times out of ten, partisans on one side or the other in the contest. The militia may be relied upon to do battle in a popular service, but if mobs are raised to drive out horse thieves, to put down claim-jumpers, to destroy an abolition press, or to expel an odious sect, the militia cannot be brought to act against them efficiently. The people cannot be used to put down the people.
Ford failed to save the lives of the Smiths, and he failed to prevent a future civil war. It is doubtful whether anyone, given that time, that place, those people, could have succeeded.
THE KILLING OF JOSEPH SMITH JR & HYRUM SMITHJoseph Smith, the founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, United States, on June 27, 1844, while awaiting trial in the town jail.As mayor of the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith had ordered the destruction of the facilities used to print the Nauvoo Expositor, a newly established newspaper created by a group of non-Mormons and others who had seceded from the church. The newspaper's first (and only) issue was highly critical of Smith and other church leaders, reporting that Smith was practicing polygamy and claiming he intended to set himself up as a theocratic king. In response, a motion to declare the newspaper a public nuisance was passed by the Nauvoo City Council, and Smith consequently ordered its press destroyed.The destruction of the press led to public outrage, and the Smith brothers and other members of the Nauvoo City Council were charged with inciting a riot. Warrants for Smith's arrest were dismissed by Nauvoo courts. Smith declared martial law in Nauvoo and called on the Nauvoo Legion to protect the city. After briefly fleeing Illinois, Smith returned and the brothers then voluntarily traveled to the county seat at Carthage to face the charges. After surrendering to authorities, the brothers were also charged with treason against Illinois for declaring martial law.The brothers were in the Carthage Jail awaiting trial when an armed mob of about 200 men stormed the building, their faces painted black with wet gunpowder. Hyrum was killed almost immediately when he was shot in the face, shouting as he fell, "I am a dead man!" After emptying his pistol towards the attackers, Joseph tried to escape from a second-story window, but was shot several times and fell to the ground, where he was shot further by a makeshift firing squad.Five men were indicted for the killings but were acquitted at a jury trial. At the time of his death, Smith was also running for president of the United States, making him the first U.S. presidential candidate to be assassinated. His death marked a turning point for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and since then, members of the Latter Day Saint movement have generally viewed him and his brother as religious martyrs who were "murdered in cold blood."
By Keith Huntress
Contributor and Editor, Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.