On September 11, 1845, a large public meeting was held in the Court House in Quincy and a solemn resolution passed. The city’s leading men were appointed to deliver it to Nauvoo, the Mormon city 47 miles north in Hancock County. It represented Quincy’s attempt to stop the bloodshed and destruction of property that had troubled Adams and Hancock Counties for several years. The resolution implored the Mormons to go somewhere in which they would “not be likely to engender so much strife and contention as so unhappily exists at this time in Hancock and some of the adjoining counties.”
Only seven years earlier, the 1,500 citizens of Quincy had welcomed 5,700 Mormons into Adams County. How had the situation deteriorated to the point that Quincyans would now implore them to leave the region?
In April 1830, in Fayette, New York, twenty-four-year-old Joseph Smith had organized the “Church of Christ” that would become the Mormon Church, or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He stated that heavenly visitors had guided him to dig up a long-buried book with pages of gold. He could translate it by reading aloud the words he could see in a seer stone placed in his hat, while listening scribes recorded them. He had translated the book in that way before an angel took it to heaven. The result was the “Book of Mormon: Another Revelation of Jesus Christ,” a pre-history of America, and the guide to restoring the true Church. Converts were baptized and could immediately become missionaries. They sold copies of the Book of Mormon for $1.25.
One of those converts, Parley Pratt, shared the book with his former pastor, Sidney Rigdon, who rode throughout Northeast Ohio ministering to hundreds of settlers in local gatherings. Rigdon accepted Joseph’s teachings and joined all his congregations to Smith’s small group. Smith and his followers moved to Kirtland, Ohio, and Rigdon assumed second place in the new church.
Hundreds of converts poured into Kirtland and Geauga County. The Mormons built a temple. Soon, however, legal and financial disagreements divided the original settlers and the newcomers. Joseph prepared to move farther west.
A Mormon search committee located open land in Northwest Missouri, and Joseph identified it as the location of the Garden of Eden and the site of Abraham’s Mt. Moriah, so the Mormons moved there, founded their city of Far West, and laid cornerstones for a temple. But their religion and anti-slavery stance in a slave state resulted in a bloody conflict called the Mormon War in which non-combatants including children were killed.
In a July 4, 1838, speech, Sidney Rigdon proclaimed, “We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever, for from this hour, we will bear it no more….” Governor Lilburn Boggs retaliated on October 27 by issuing Executive Order 44–the Extermination Order. It mandated the state militia to force all Mormons out of the state of Missouri, under penalty of death.
Thousands of Mormons headed east, toward Quincy, the closest city in a free state. Adams County had fewer than 2,000 residents, yet more than 5,000 Mormons were sheltered, fed, and hired to work throughout the winter of 1838-39. In April, Joseph, who had been imprisoned in Liberty, Missouri, was allowed to escape and make his way to Quincy. He purchased the town of Commerce in Hancock County, renamed it Nauvoo, and led the Mormons there. Nauvoo soon had 15,000 residents and was the largest city in Illinois.
The political climate in Illinois was tense over slavery, expansion, and internal improvements. The Mormons at Nauvoo represented a valuable block of votes to be courted. In 1840, the Illinois legislature chartered Nauvoo as a city with privileges no other had ever had. It was functionally a city-state, with a standing army larger than the militia of the rest of Illinois. Nauvoo soon had its own courts that could overrule others, and any law officer from elsewhere who tried to arrest Joseph could, by ordinance, be arrested, tried by a Nauvoo court, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Only the governor could pardon him, but then only with the consent of the mayor. The mayor was Joseph Smith.
The January 15,1841, Times and Seasons, the official Mormon paper, contained a proclamation by Joseph, his brother Hyrum, and Sidney Rigdon, praising the state legislature for the generosity of the charter, and the people of Quincy for their care of the Mormons in their time of need.
But Joseph dreamed of greater things. He promoted a “wagon wheel” pattern of expanding settlement in Hancock and Adams Counties and Iowa. One large Mormon community, Morley Settlement, just north of Lima, Illinois, had more than 200 buildings.
In early 1844, Smith announced his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency.
His increasing power and newly public teachings mandating polygamy, or “plural marriage,” caused conflict between Smith and men who had been his closest followers. When some published a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor in May 1844, and criticized him, he ordered that the press and all copies of the paper be destroyed. The publishers appealed to the law outside Nauvoo, and Smith was arrested and held in the Carthage jail. There, on June 27, 1844, the jail was breached and Joseph and Hyrum were killed. Brigham Young became the new leader of the Mormons, but violent conflict continued.
Seven Quincy men delivered the resolution to the Mormon leaders September 23, 1845, and received a response on September 24. It stated the Mormons’ intentions to move to “some point so remote” they would no longer be troubled. They were specific that it would not be before the grass was growing, or water flowing, the following spring, but asked for peace until then, and help in liquidating their possessions. In October 1845, at a meeting in Carthage, nine other counties “accepted the pledges made by the Mormons.” Everyone hoped for peace.
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