THE PROPHET SURRENDERS TO THE LAW. - The Governor pledges the State for his Safety - The Country intensely excited - The Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor a Fatal Error - The Militia in Arms - The Murder of the Prophet planned - His Enemies resolve to kill him while Governor Ford visits Nauvoo.
MRS. EMMA SMITH, to whom Joseph was warmly devoted, notwithstanding the number of the other Mrs. Smiths, held empire in his heart, and at this critical moment was used by some faint-hearted brethren to beg Josephs return to Nauvoo. The lady is said to have written, to him and to his brother Hyrum who was with him, a "cruel and indignant letter, reproaching them as coward shepherds who had left the sheep in danger and fled. Joseph was anything but a coward, and though he seemed to fully comprehend the danger of his position, he resolved at once to return to Nauvoo and give himself up to the officers of the law.
Governor Ford furnishes the incidents leading to the assassination of the two brothers:
On the 23rd or 24th day of June, Joe [Joseph] Smith, the mayor of Nauvoo, together with his brother Hyrum and all the members of the council, and all others demanded, came into Carthage and surrendered themselves prisoners to the constable on the charge of riot. They all voluntarily entered into a recognizance before the justice of the peace for their appearance at court to answer the charge; and all of them were discharged from custody except Joe [Joseph] and Hyrum Smith, against whom the magistrate had issued a new writ on a complaint of treason. They were immediately arrested by the constable on this charge and retained in his custody to answer it.
Soon after the surrender of the Smiths, at their request I dispatched Captain Singleton with his company, from Brown county, to Nauvoo to guard the town, and I authorized him to take command of the Legion. He reported to me afterwards that he called out the Legion for inspection; and that upon two hours notice, two thousand of them assembled, all of them armed, and this after the public arms had been taken away from them. So it appears that they had a sufficiency of private arms for any reasonable purpose.
After the Smiths had been arrested on the new charge of treason, the justice of the peace postponed the examination because neither of the parties were prepared with their witnesses for trial. In the mean time he committed them to the jail of the county for greater security. . . . Neither they nor I seriously apprehended an attack on the jail through the guard stationed to protect it. Nor did I apprehend the least danger on their part of an attempt to escape; for I was very sure that any such attempt would have been the signal of their immediate death.*
*Fords History of Illinois, pp. 337-8.
If his Excellencys heart was void of all rancour against the Prophet, his head might possibly deceive itself respecting the better disposition of others towards the prisoners; but it required no great acumen to discover a plan and purpose to compass the death of the Smiths. In the midst of such excitement and threatenings as those which he witnessed and heard, no promises from those in arms - partly mob and partly militia - should have been asked; not the slightest confidence could be placed in them! The Governors pledge of protection based on his own personal honour, the honour of the officers under his command and the honour of the State, was too great a trust to be committed to the hands of Captain Smith of the Carthage Grays. With such surroundings and associations while in Carthage, the Governors repeated assurances of protection lacked evidence of that good faith which marks a resolute and reliable man.
In prison, on the 26th, Governor Ford pledged himself to the Prophet that he would not go to Nauvoo, as he then proposed, without taking him and his brother Hyrum with him; but on the following morning he did set out without them for the City of the Saints. To the Prophet and his friends this violation of his pledge was regarded as the beginning of the doom in store for them:
The force assembled at Carthage amounted to about twelve or thirteen hundred men, and it was calculated that four or five hundred more were assembled at Warsaw. Nearly all that portion resident in Hancock were anxious to be marched into Nauvoo. This measure was supposed to be necessary to search for counterfeit money, and the apparatus to make it, and also to strike a salutary terror into the Mormon people by an exhibition of the force of the State . . . . . . . .
Two or three days preparation had been made for this expedition. I observed that some of the people became more and more excited and inflammatory the further the preparations were advanced. Occasional threats came to my ears of destroying the city and murdering or expelling the inhabitants. I had no objection to ease the terrors of the people by such a display of force, and was most anxious also to search for the alleged apparatus for making counterfeit money: and in fact to inquire into all the charges against that people if I could have been assured of my command against mutiny and insubordination. But I gradually learned to my entire satisfaction that there was a plan to get the troops into Nauvoo, and there to begin the war, probably by some of our own party or some of the seceding Mormons, taking advantage of the night to fire on our own force, and then laying it on the Mormons. I was satisfied there were those amongst us fully capable of such an act, hoping that in the alarm, bustle, and confusion of a militia camp the truth could not be discovered, and that it might lead to the desired collision.*
*Fords History of Illinois, p. 339-40.
The Governor urged these considerations upon a council of officers, but such was the blind fury prevailing at this time, that the majority of the council adhered to the first resolution of marching into Nauvoo. This induced him to disband the troops both at Carthage and Warsaw, with the exception of three companies, two of which were retained as a guard to the jail, and the other to accompany him to Nauvoo. After essaying to excuse himself from the censure of having placed the Smiths under the guard of the Carthage Grays - their well-known enemies - the Governor continues:
Having ordered the guard, and left General Demming in command in Carthage and discharged the residue of the militia, I immediately departed for Nauvoo, eighteen miles distant, accompanied by Colonel Buckmaster, quartermaster-general, and Captain Dunns company of dragoons.
After we had proceeded four miles, Colonel Buckmaster intimated to me a suspicion that an attack would be made on the jail. He stated the matter as a mere suspicion, arising from having seen two persons converse together at Carthage with some air of mystery. I myself entertained no suspicion of such an attack; at any rate, none before the next day in the afternoon, because it was notorious that we had departed from Carthage with the declared intention of being absent at least two days. I could not believe that any person would attack the jail whilst we were in Nauvoo, and thereby expose my life and the life of my companions to the sudden vengeance of the Mormons upon hearing of the death of their leaders. Nevertheless, acting upon the principle of providing against mere possibilities, I sent back one of the company with a special order to Captain Smith to guard the jail strictly and at peril of his life until my return.*
*Fords History of Illinois, pp. 345-6.
From the moment that the Mormon leaders arrived at Carthage it was clearly evident that there was a determination to murder the Prophet. He and his associates went there to answer for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, and for that alone. On the morning of the 24th, the accused appeared before Robert F. Smith, a justice of the peace and captain of the Carthage Grays, and, after examination, gave bail, each in the sum of $500, to appear at the succeeding term of the Hancock county Circuit Court. Immediately after they were set at liberty, a writ was sworn out against Joseph and his brother Hyrum for treason, by Augustine Spencer and a man named . . . . Norton - two worthless fellows. This treason consisted in levying war against the State of Illinois, and found its interpretation in the Prophet fortifying Nauvoo and calling out the Legion to resist the force under the command of the Governor. This charge was a mere pretext and an act of gross injustice to Lieutenant-General Smith - whatever his religious profession might be - for, as lieutenant-general of the Legion, he was instructed by Governor Ford on the outbreak of the disturbances to call out the militia to defend the city against the mobocracy that threatened its destruction. For treason, no bail could be accepted; and as neither the parties for the prosecution or the defence were ready to go to trial, but desired a postponement of the case, the justice of the peace remanded both the Prophet and the patriarch back to prison.
The counsel for the accused - two very able Gentile lawyers - protested against the commitment of their clients without a hearing, and an appeal was made to the Governor, but - he was sorry that the thing had occurred; that he did not believe the charges; that he thought the best thing to be done was to let the law take its course. The two brothers were now in the snare that had been prepared for their feet, and they quietly submitted to incarceration.
In order to return to Carthage that same night, to prevent, as he claims, an attack upon the jail, the Governor halted the baggage wagons and hurried on to Nauvoo with his company. He arrived there about four oclock in the afternoon of the 27th of June, when he assembled the citizens and reviewed the situation:
In this address I stated to them how, and in what, their functionaries had violated the laws, also the many scandalous reports in circulation against them, and that these reports, whether true or false, were generally believed by the people. I distinctly stated to them the amount of hatred and prejudice which prevailed everywhere against them, and the causes of it, at length. I also told them plainly and emphatically that if any vengeance should be attempted openly or secretly, against the persons or property of the citizens who had taken part against their leaders, that the public hatred and excitement was such that thousands would assemble for the total destruction of their city, and the extermination of their people, and that no power in the State would be able to prevent it. During this address some impatience and resentment were manifested by the Mormons at the recital of the various reports enumerated concerning them, which they strenuously and indignantly denied to be true. They claimed to be a law-abiding people, and insisted that as they looked to the law alone for their protection. so were they careful themselves to observe its provisions. Upon the conclusion of this address I proposed to take a vote on the question, whether they would strictly observe the laws, even in opposition to their Prophet and leaders. The vote was unanimous in favour of this proposition. The anti-Mormons contended that such a vote from the Mormons signified nothing.*
*Fords History of Illinois, p. 347.
In the narrative of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith there is a very different version given of the spirit and intent of the whole course pursued by the Governor from that which his own pen has traced.
The apostle Taylors relation of a semi-conversation, semi-discussion between Governor Ford and the Prophet in the Carthage jail has in the light of after-acts, both Mormon and anti-Mormon, an air of strict truthfulness, and exhibits Joseph with the advantage of the argument relative to everything in Nauvoo history that was the subject of conversation, save the destruction of the press. There the Prophet doubtless realized that his action as mayor had not the support of legal form, and with that fact the Governor made his strong point against him, and treated all his statements of grievances against apostates and anti-Mormons with ill-concealed indifference. The press, said his Excellency, in the United States is looked upon as the bulwark of freedom, and its destruction in Nauvoo was represented and looked upon as a high-handed measure and manifests to the people a disposition on your part to suppress the liberty of speech and of the press. That act, added his Excellency, together with the refusal to comply with the requisitions of a writ were the principal causes of the difficulty.
The Prophet at that time, however, was able to clear himself of all other charges, and while he claimed that he had acted in good faith in destroying the press as a nuisance, and calling out the Legion to protect Nauvoo on the instructions of the Governor; he also announced himself ready to meet the legal liabilities for the destruction of the Expositor, if they had been in error. But it was now too late. The argument of the Prophet or that of Governor Ford could avail little; his enemies had determined that the prisoners should be murdered, and the Governor was not the man to fight and conquer the contemplated crime.
The eventful history of the Mormon Prophet is now drawing to a close. The singular commencement of his public life, his angel visits, his visions and his revelations, have been given sufficiently in extenso where a principle, a fact, or a link in history was necessary to elucidate his career. The insignificant number of disciples at the organization of his Church, the poverty of his family, his lack of education and social standing in society, and the barriers that crossed the path in which he was destined to tread, have been already portrayed to the reader.
He is seen surmounting every obstacle, treating his deficiencies as Heavens favours, and presenting to the religious world his revelations with an impetuosity that stamps him as a man of extraordinary faith, or the boldest of impostors. Disciples gather round him, hang upon his words as to life, and subjugate themselves with a servile humility and obedience inconsistent with the age and the natural progress of the human race. The endearments of paternal homes, and the most sacred associations of life are rent asunder that the faithful may gather at his word. Intellect, aspiration, ambition, wealth, and personality are thrown at his feet. The foundations of cities are laid, temples are erected, missions over sea and land are undertaken at his bidding, and the rude life of portentous war is accepted as a duty as readily as the preaching of peace and salvation.
The poor farm labourer merges in the preacher, the preacher becomes a translator, a prophet, a seer, a revelator, a banker, an editor, a mayor, a lieutenant-general, a candidate for the presidency of the worlds greatest Republic, and last of all, though not the least difficult of his achievements, he becomes the husband of many wives. This variety of work, accomplished within the short space of fourteen years, exhibits a fertility of brain, and a restless activity which stamps Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, as one of earths most remarkable men.
From the beginning to the end of his public career he never once doubted his mission - never once wavered in the belief that he was ordained before the world was, to lay in this age the foundation of a kingdom whose empire should cover the habitable globe, and reaching by doctrine, by principle, by ordination, by endowment, by organization, by faith, from earth to heaven, make of the posterity of Adam one grand and universal brotherhood. Such was his dream.
He knew no sectarianism in his faith, though in his working the Saints alone were the favourites of Heaven, and the objects of its peculiar and special care. There was nothing of mysterious awe associated with him. In one hour of the day he might be found locked up in his sanctum with his amanuensis, giving to earth the secrets of the Gods;* the very next hour he was brooding over some scheme for his peoples aggrandizement, or it might be that the hour which succeeded the revelation was spent in his favourite wrestling with the strongest of the brethren whom he chanced to meet. He would visit the sick, administer to them by the laying on of hands in holy ordinance, and following that, as likely as not, he was ready to kick some one out of his presence who had insulted either him or any of his brethren. He was sociable with everybody, and was convivial at times with his special friends. In brief, there was nothing about him, outside of his announced prophetic mission, to create reverence or inspire his disciples with awe. This was really the secret of his unlimited power and influence over the people. In his presence every one was at ease. His eccentricities or errors were rather virtues than defects. They loved him because he was to them so human and so like themselves, and yet, when necessary, his dignity was ready, and his mission became divine in their wondering eyes.
*With Gods he soared in the realms of day,
And men he taught the heavenly way.
His success was not due to studied art; it was the singularity of a nature that upheaves itself among the masses of humanity at but rare intervals in history. He was only suited to what he did, and following the instincts and leadings of his nature he only did what he did. Had he tried another rôle than that of leader of a peculiarly believing mass who needed just such a leadership, he would have failed. The world is sparsely strewn with such a people. He was their prophet. When he essayed the banker he was a failure, when he became the merchant he was muddled; but when he talked of glory in the Temple, or on his military charger was speaking to an audience which had everything to hope for - kingdoms, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, and universal empire were all within the range of their vision. Finance and commerce required the method and control of close calculation. Method was a burden to him, and control he never knew. In the region of the clouds, in the far-distant stars, and in the glory of Kolob, next to where the Greatest dwells, he was perfectly at home, and knew it all. To him his priesthood was the key that unlocked the mystery of the past, made clear the present, and laid bare the future. He never assumed to be other than mortal, and taught every one to be natural. He confessed his faults, when overtaken in public in moments of joyousness, with the simplicity of a child; but in his projects he out-dreamed humanity, and ambitioned nothing short of peerage with the Gods.*
*A metrical review of the mission and greatness, past, present, and future, of Joseph, from the pen of the apostle Taylor, illustrates the Mormon idea of the Prophets dignity:
Unchanged in death, with a Saviours love,
He pleads their cause in the courts above.
. . . . . .
His homes in the sky, he dwells with the Gods,
Far from the furious rage of mobs.
. . . . . .
He died! he died for those he loved;
He reigns! he reigns in the realms above.
. . . . . .
Shout, shout, ye Saints; this boon is given
Well meet our martyred Seer in heaven.
Such was the man, in the full-tide of his popularity, in the flush of a proud manhood, less than two-score years of age, whom the reader is now to visit in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844.