Mormon History

Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune August 21, 1879


Since the existence of a Gentile newspaper in Zion is so extremely obnoxious to the leaders of "this people," and nothing short of its destruction will satisfy those who feel themselves most aggrieved by its utterances, perhaps it would not be unprofitable to recur to an earlier period in the history of the Mormon Church when the Mayor of Nauvoo (Joseph Smith) and the City Council found it necessary to destroy an obnoxious journal, the Nauvoo Expositor, by ordering the Marshal to break up the press and throw the type and materials into the street. A full account of this transaction is given in "the History of Joseph Smith," which we find in the files of the Deseret News for 1857.

The publishers of this short lived sheet, (for they were only allowed to issue one number,) were Apostates from the Mormon Church, seven in number, some of whom had held high positions in the priesthood. Becoming dissatisfied with the lawless doings of Joseph Smith and his subordinates in office, they withdrew their allegiance and associated together for the publication of a weekly newspaper, as the most effectual means of enlightening their brother Saints on the injustice and usurpation they were made to suffer. The following extract from their prospectus will show more fully the object of the publishers in starting their paper:

  *   *   * A part of its columns will be devoted to a few primary objects, which the publishers deem of vital importance to the public welfare. Their particular locality gives them a knowledge of the many gross abuses exercised under the pretended authority of the charter of the city of Nauvoo, by the legislative authorities of said city; and the insupportable oppressions of the ministerial powers in carrying out the unjust, illegal and unconstitutional ordinances of the same. The publishers, therefore, deem it a sacred duty they owe to their country and their fellow citizens to advocate, through the columns of the Expositor, the unconditional repeal of the Nauvoo city charter, to restrain and correct the abuses of the unit power; to ward off the iron rod which is held over the devoted heads of the citizens of Nauvoo and the surrounding country; to advocate unmitigated disobedience to political revelations, and to censure and decry gross moral imperfections wherever found, either in the plebeian, patrician, or self-constituted monarch, to advocate the pure principles of morality, the pure principles of truth, designed not to destroy, but to strengthen the mainspring of God's moral government; to advocate, and exercise, the freedom of speech in Nauvoo, independent of the ordinances abridging the same; to give free toleration to every man's religious sentiments, and sustain all in worshipping God according to the [monitors] of their consciences, as guaranteed by the Constitution of our country;

This audacious declaration of principles gave mortal offense to the municipal authorities, and no time was lost in dealing with the irreverent journalists. The [1st] number of the Expositor appeared June 7, 1844, and the following day the City Council held two protracted sessions in which the subject of the Nauvoo Expositor was taken under consideration. On Monday we find the following entry in Joseph Smith's journal.

Monday. 10th -- I was in the City Council from 10 a. m. to l:20 p. m., and from 2:20 p. m. to 6:30 p. m. investigating the merits of the Nauvoo Expositor, merits of the Nauvoo Expositor, and also the conduct of the Laws, Higbees, Fosters, and others, who have formed a conspiracy for the purpose of destroying my life, and scattering the Saints or driving them from the State.

The first action of the municipality towards suppressing the offending journal was the passage of an ordinance concerning libels. The ordinance is preceded with a long preamble, which affords so amusing a specimen of inspired legislation that we are tempted to produce a portion of the same. It runs in words and figures as follows:

Whereas the Saints of all ages of the world have suffered persecution and death by wicked and corrupt men under the garb of a more holy appearance of religion; and

Whereas the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints from the moment that its first truth "sprang out of the earth" till now, has been persecuted with death, destruction, and extermination; and

Whereas men, to fulfil the Scriptures that a man's enemies are they of his own household, have turned traitors in the Church and combined and leagued with the most corrupt scoundrels and villains that disgrace the earth unhung, for the heaven daring and damnable purpose of revenge on account of disappointed lust, disappointed projects of speculation, fraud and unlawful designs, to rob and plunder mankind with impunity, and

Whereas such wicked and corrupt men have greatly facilitated their unlawful designs, horrid intentions and murderous plans by polluting, degrading and converting the blessings and utility of the press to the sin-smoking and blood stained ruin of innocent communities, by publishing lies, false statements, coloring the truth, slandering men, women, children, societies, and countries by polishing the characters of blacklegs, highwaymen and murderers, as virtuous, etc.

For the above recited and many other reasons the City Council of Nauvoo ordained,

That if any person or persons shall write or publish, in said city, any false statement, or libel any of the citizens for the purpose of exciting the public mind against the chartered privileges, peace and good order of said city, *  *  *   he, she or they shall be deemed disturbers of the peace.

and upon conviction, fine and imprisonment are imposed as the penalty. The Expositor office was destroyed the same day, three days after the appearance of the first and only number. This is a brief time in which to work "the sin-smoking and blood stain ruin of innocent communities." The story of this outrage which was the immediate cause of the prophet's death, is thus told in "the History of Joseph Smith:"

The council passed an ordinance declaring the Nauvoo Expositor a nuisance. I immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it without delay, and at the same time issued an order to Jonathan Dunham, acting Major General of the Nauvoo Legion, to assist the Marshal with the Legion, if called upon so to do.

About 8 p. m., the Marshal returned and reported that he had removed the press, type, printed paper, and fixtures into the street, and destroyed them. This was done because of the libelous and slanderous character of the paper, its avowed intention being to destroy the municipality, and drive the Saints from the city. The posse accompanied by some hundreds of the citizens, returned with the Marshal to the front of the mansion, when I gave them a short address and told them they had done right, and that not a hair of their heads should be hurt for it; that they had executed the orders which were given me by the City Council; that I would never submit to have another libelous publication established in the city; that I did not care how many papers were printed in the city, if they would print the truth: but would submit to no libels or slanders from them. I then blessed them in the name of the Lord. This speech was loudly greeted by the assembly with three times three cheers

But the prophet had assumed too much in his address; instead of protecting the hirsute adornment of his followers, he had all he could attend to, to guard his own head. The proprietors of the Expositor office (William Law, Wilson Law, Charles Ivins, Francis M. Higbee, Chauncey L. Higbee, Robert D. Foster, and Charles A. Foster) made instand complaint to Justice Morrison, at Carthage, who issued a warrant for the arrest of the Mayor and Council of Nauvoo, eighteen in number. Mayor Smith obtained a habeas corpus from the municipal court, and the City Council procured their cases to be heard before Justice Daniel H. Wells, who discharged them.

These lawless proceedings aroused the passions of the people surrounding, and Hancock county was all astir. At Carthage the people assembled in public meeting to express their indignation, and in every town and settlement for twenty miles around there were excited gatherings and threats made of driving out and exterminating the Mormons. The prophet, in his trepidation, wrote to Governor Ford, asking that official to come in person with his staff and investigate the whole matter without delay. "I know not but this," the man of God said in his appeal, "will be the only means of stopping and effusion of blood. I ask at your hands immediate counsel and protection." As Mayor of the city he also published a proclamation to correct the false statements set in circulation "by black hearted villains," which, he says in his craracteristic style, "hasseems to afford an opportunity to our enemies to unite and arouse themselves in mob; and already they have commenced their hellish operations by driving a few defenseless Mormons from their houses and homes in the vicinity of Warsaw and Carthage."

Dr. Richards and Thomas Bullock, we are informed, sat up all night to write out the proceedings of the City Council (the session of that body which condemned the Expositor office to destruction) for publication, it being supposed that the arguments of the members and the evidence they took would allay the public feeling. Some of these arguments are so characteristic that we will produce them in brief.

The Mayor read the statements of Francis M. Higbee, from the Expositor, and asked, "Is it not treasonable against all chartered rights and privileges, and against the peace and happiness of the city?"

Counselor Hyrum Smith was in favor of declaring the Expositor a nuisance.

Counselor John Taylor said no city on earth would bear such slander, and he would not bear it. He was decidedly in favor of active measures.

Counselor Stiles said a nuisance was anything which disturbs the peace of the community, and the whole community had to rest under the stigma of those falsehoods (referring to the Expositor). If we could prevent the issuing of any more slanderous communications he would go in for it. It is right for this community to show a proper resentment, and he would go in for suppressing all further publications of the kind.

Counselor H. Smith believed the best way was to smash the press and pi the type.

Counselor Johnson concurred with the counselors who had spoken.

Alderman Bennett referred to the statement of the Expositor concerning the municipal court in the case of Jeremiah Smith as a libal, and considered the paper a public nuisance.

Alderman Smith... considered there was but one course to pursue; that the proprietors were out of the reach of the law, that our course was to put an end to the thing at once; believed by what he had heard that if the City Council did not do it, others would.

One speaker (Counselor Warrington) dissented. He thought it might be considered rather harsh for the Council to declare the paper a nuisance. He proposed giving a few days' [limitation], and assessing a fine of #3,000 for every libel.

The Mayor remarked he was sorry to have one dissenting voice in declaring the Expositor a nuisance,

Upon this rebuke, Bro. Warrington [toned] down.

Counselor Hunter believed the sheet to be a nuisance.

Alderman O. Spencer accorded with the views expressed that the Nauvoo Expositor was a nuisance.

Other speakers went back to Far West and Haun's Mill in their remarks, and yet others assailed the character of several of the publishers of the obnoxious sheet. After the question had been debated at great length, it was brought before the Council in the following resolution.

Resolved, By the City Council of the city of Nauvoo that the printing office from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor is a public nuisance, and also all of said Expositors
(inspired grammar) brought upon us the displeasure of the unprincipled and the uninformed, and which may be, or exist in said establishment, and the Mayor is instructed to cause said printing establishment and papers to be removed without delay, in such manner as he shall direct.

This was unanimously adopted, with one dissenting voice from Counselor Warrington. But the publication of these proceedings did not act as oil upon the troubled waters; the ferment increased on every hand. Bro. Hyrum wrote to Brigham Young, who was adsent missionizing, to return to Nauvoo, and put a little powder, lead and a good rifle into his baggage (so as to create no suspicion) and also to draw in others of the Twelve as quickly as possible. Joseph Smith called out the Legion, and in a long, rambling address, put the question to them, "Will you all stand by me to the death, and sustain at the peril of your lives the laws of our country and the privileges and liberties which our fathers have transmitted to us, sealed with their blood?" And those doughty warriors all responded "aye." This relieved his mind immensely, for he said further, "It is well. If you had not done it, I would have gone out there, (pointing to the West,) and raised up a mightier people." Waiting the arrival of Governor Ford, the legionaries were kept busily at work entrenching and fortifying the city.

On the 22d a long letter arrives from Governor Ford, addressed to the Mayor and Council. This afforded but cold comfort. After summing up the evidence upon which the paper was condemned and its office raided, and defining the powers of a municipal body to deal with an offending journal, the Governor says:

I now express to you my opinion that your conduct in the destruction of the press was a very gross outrage upon the laws and the liberties of the people; it may have been full of libels, but this did not authorize you to destroy it.

He dwelt upon the extreme peril of the situation. "A small indiscretion may bring on a war," he wrote. "The whole country is now up in arms, and a vast number of people are ready to take the matter into their own hands." As the only measure of safety, he urged the Mayor and Council to submit to arrest and be tried before the same magistrate whose authority the had resisted. Joseph could not refrain from sending a long an insolent reply to this, but he came to terms shortly and surrendered to the constable for removal to Carthage. He now saw that he was doomed. Before starting he went twice to bid farewell to his family, and appeared pensive and solemn. He expressed his belief to several around him that he would never return. Passing the Masonic hall, he said to the bystanders, "Boys, if I don't come back, take care of yourselves; I am going like a lamb to the slaughter." As they party passed his farm, the captive prophet took a long and admiring look at its broad acres, turning round several times to take in its beauty and repose. This called out remarks from some of the company, when Joseph replied: "If some of you would not see it any more, you would want to take a good look at it for the last time."

The prophet arrived in Carthage and what took place there, will have to be narrated in another article.