Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Extradition, the Mormons, and the Election of 1843

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Extradition, the Mormons, and the Election of 1843

Article excerpt

IN JUNE 1843, A SPECIAL TERM OF THE DAVIESS COUNTY, Mis souri, Circuit Court indicted Mormon leader Joseph Smith for treason against the state of Missouri during the "Mormon War" of 1838.1 After learning of the charge from Missouri governor Thomas Reynolds, Illinois governor Thomas Ford issued a warrant for Smith's arrest on June 17, and directed that he be delivered to the custody of Jackson County, Missouri sheriff Joseph H. Reynolds, whom Governor Reynolds had appointed to convey Smith to Missouri.2 Six days later, on June 23, Harmon T. Wilson, deputy sheriff of Hancock County, Illinois, and Sheriff Reynolds arrested Smith near Dixon, Illinois-some 130 miles northeast of Smith's home in Nauvoo, Illinois-while he and his family were visiting his wife's relatives who lived in the area.1 News of the arrest touched off a massive rescue effort in Nauvoo that ended with Reynolds and Wilson, much against their will, riding with Smith into Nauvoo on June 30 surrounded by his friends and supporters. The Nauvoo Municipal Court formally discharged Smith from arrest at a habeas corpus hearing the following day, by which time Reynolds and Wilson, feeling that they had been deprived of their prisoner illegally, had gone to Carthage, Illinois, to petition Ford to send a detachment of the state militia to arrest Smith.4 Ford denied the request, and Smith remained a free man.5

Six weeks later, on August 7, 1843, elections were held in Hancock County (where Nauvoo was located) for U.S. representative for the sixth district congressional seat and various county offices. During the weeks leading up to the election, many in the area thought the Mormons would vote for Whig congressional candidate Cyrus Walker, a lawyer who had helped represent Smith at the July habeas corpus hearing in Nauvoo and who had received Smiths personal pledge of support in the upcoming election. Two days before the election, however, Smiths brother Hyrum reportedly told a crowd of "several thousand" church members that "God had revealed to him that the Mormons must support" Joseph P. Hoge, Walkers Democratic opponent.6 The following day-the day before the election-Smith told a similar gathering that he had just learned of Hyrum's "testimofnjy that it will be better for this people to vote for hoge," and that he "never kn[e]w Hiram say he ever had a revelation & it faild." Smith reiterated his personal promise to vote for Walker, but effectively threw the Mormon support behind Hoge: "Let God speak," he told the congregation, "and all men hold their peace."7 The following day Hoge reportedly received about three thousand Mormon votes-considered "an overwhelming majority" by one source-and won the election by a mere 574 ballots.8 The Mormons' apparent political capriciousness was not without its consequences. Whig papers were quickly "loaded with accounts of the wickedness, corruptions, and enormities of Nauvoo," Ford remembered, and "the whigs generally, and a part of the democrats, determined upon driving the Mormons out of the State."9

Basing their narrative on two main sources, several historians have argued that the Mormons' (and especially Smith's) initial pledge to support Cyrus Walker and the Whigs in this election, and the last-minute switch to Joseph Hoge and the Democrats, were both a result of events associated with the earlier effort to extradite Smith to Missouri. According to this argument, Walker had agreed to represent Smith after his arrest in Dixon in exchange for Smith's support in the upcoming election. The Mormons later threw their support behind Hoge and the Democrats when they heard that Ford, a Democrat, might send the militia to arrest Smith after his release in Nauvoo (as Wilson and Reynolds had requested) unless they did so.10 The two sources upon which this interpretation relies are the History of the Church, written and compiled by various clerks and historians between June 1839 and August 1856, and Thomas Ford's 1854 History of Illinois. …

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