Mormon History

The Surrender of Joe Smith - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune August 22, 1879


In our article yesterday, we left Joseph Smith (accompanied with his brother Hyrum) on his way to Carthage to answer the charge of illegally destroying the Expositor office. He was possessed of a fear of violence, the excited feelings of the populace being really menacing to his safety. Beside the destruction of the press he had resisted judicial process, and had called out the Nauvoo Legion for his protection. These legionaries were set to fortifying the city, and it was reported that foraging parties were sent out to commit depredations upon the cattle and other property of surrounding inhabitants. This necessitated defensive measures on the part of the Executive of the State, and Governor Ford lost no time in in establishing his headquarters in Carthage and calling upon the State militia to aid him. But militia-men, equally with civilians, were in an excited state of mind, and the force called upon by the Governor to preserve peace and aid in the execution of the laws, were the most likely to precipitate violence. "You have made it necessary," wrote Governor Ford to Joseph Smith, "that a posse should be assembled to execute legal process, and that posse, as fast as it assembles, is in danger of being imbued with the mobocratic spirit. If you by refusing to submit, shall make it necessary to call out the militia, I have great fears that your city will be destroyed and your people many of them exterminated." In reply to one of the prophet's friends, who expressed his fears for the captives' safety in Carthage jail, the Governor said, "I was never in such a dilemma in my life; but your friends shall be protected and have a fair trial by law." There is no doubt the Governor's will was good to preserve the peace and have the trial proceed decently and in order; but the popular excitement was so intense and all pervading that the agencies he worked with were altogether beyond his control.

In the session of the City Council of Nauvoo which ordered the destruction of the Expositor, Hyrum Smith cited the Warsaw Signal as an obnoxious sheet, and according to the official report of the proceedings, "disapprobated its libelous course." But according to report current at the time, he also offered a reward for the destruction of the Signal office, classing that paper and the Expositor together as libelous and unfit to live. On the 13th of June, 1844, (three days after the raid on the Expositor office) the citizens of Carthage held a mass meeting, whereat the preamble and resolutions adopted at Warsaw were read and approved, and committees appointed to protect the public safety. To show that violence and unreason were not confined to the Mormons, we give a specimen of the preamble and resolutions as follows:

*   *   *   Whereas, The liberty of the press is one of the cardinal principles of our government, firmly guaranteed by the several constitutions of the States as well as the United States. and

Whereas, Hyrum Smith has within the last week publicly threatened the life of one of our valued citizens, Thomas C. Sharp, the editor of the Signal, therefore, be it solemnly

Resolved by the citizens of Warsaw in public meeting assembled, that we view the recent ordinance of the city of Nauvoo, and the proceedings thereunder, as an outrage of an alarming character, revolutionary and tyrannical in tendency and being under color of law, as calculated to subvert and destroy in the minds of the community all reliance on the law.

Resolved, That as a community we feel anxious, when possible, to redress our grievances by legal remedies, but the time has now arrived when the law has ceased to be a protection to our lives and property. A mob at Nauvoo, under a city ordinance, has violated the highest privilege in Government, and to seek redress in the ordinary mode would be utterly ineffectual.

Resolved, That the public threat made in the Council of the city not only to destroy our printing press, but to take the life of its editor, is sufficient in connection with the recent outrage, to command the efforts and the services of every good citizen to put an immediate stop to the career of the mad prophet and his demoniac coadjutors. We must not only defend ourselves from danger, but we must resolutely carry the war into the enemy's camp. We do therefore declare that we will sustain our press and the editor at all hazards. That we will take full vengeance -- terrible vengeance -- should the lives of any of our citizens be lost in the effort. That we hold ourselves at all times in readiness to co-operate 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.

Places of encampment were designated, and a committee of two appointed to notify the Governor that the Mayor and Council of Nauvoo refused arrest and that riot was still in progress.

Joseph and Hyrum Smith arrived in Carthage when the excitement was at the highest. They reached that city with their escort June 21st, at midnight, and were lodged in a tavern. Troops were quartered in the public square, and when the prophet's party was recognized, the Carthage Grays are charged with gross insults to the prisoner. It is more probable, however, that a midnight the troops would be soundly reposing.

The following morning the Smiths surrendered themselves to Constable Bettlesworth, who had served the justice's writ in Nauvoo, and this officer now served other warrants upon the brothers for "treason against the Government and people of the State of Illinois." How the prisoners were received in Carthage is thus told by a letter from Joseph to his wife.

Dear Emma. I have had an interview with Gov. Ford, and he treats us honorably. Myself and Hyrum have been again arrested for treason, because we called out the Nauvoo Legion, but when the truth comes out, we have nothing to fear. We all feel calm and composed. This morning Governor Ford introduced myself and Hyrum to The malitia in a very appropriate manner as General Joseph Smith and General Hyrum Smith. [There] was a little mutiny among the Carthage Greys, but I think the Governor has and will succeed in enforcing the laws. I do hope the people of Nauvoo will continue placid pacific and prayerful.

In the afternoon, Joseph, Hyrum and thirteen others appeared before Justice Smith to answer the charge of destroying the office of the Nauvoo Expositor. They were bound over in the sum of $500 each for their appearance at the next term of the Circuit Court for Hancock county. But at 8 o'clock, while taking supper in their lodgings, Constable Bettisworth presented himself with a misimus requiring their safe keeping in the Carthage jail to answer a charge of treason. Captain Dunn with a detail of twenty men marched the prisoners to the penal abode assigned them.

Regarding this as a vexatious prosecution, Elder John Taylor sought the Governor to ask his intervention. "I reminded him," says the apostle, "that we had come out there at his instance, not to satisfy the law -- which we had done before -- but the prejudice of the people in relation to the affair of the press. *   *   *   I expressed my dissatisfaction at the course taken, and told him that if we were to be subject to mob rule, and to be dragged contrary to law into prison, at the instance of every infernal scoundrel whose oaths could be bought for a dram of whiskey, his protection availed very little, and we had miscalculated his promises."

But the Governor gave his applicant slight satisfaction. He admitted that it was an unpleasant affair and looked hard; but it was a matter over which he had no control as it belonged to the judiciary. He thought the best thing to be done was to let the law take its course, as he had no doubt that the prisoners would be immediately released.

However the prophet and the patriarch were in prison, whether the law warranted it or not, and the jailer locked them in the prisoners' cell; but shortly afterward he relented and removed them to the debtors' room, where they were allowed to receive visits from their friends. They spent an hour or two in conversation, then offered prayer, and towards midnight the prisoners lay down on the floor and slept soundly till six in the morning.

At 9:30 a. m. (June 30th) Governor Ford in company with Colonel Geddes, visited the jail, where he held a lengthy conversation with the Mormon chieftain on "the existing difficulties." John Taylor reports what was said, and we extract Bro. Joseph's apology for destroying the Expositor office. He said.

Concerning the destruction of the press to which you refer, men may differ somewhat in their opinions about it; but can it be supposed that after all the indignities to which we have been subjected outside, that this people could suffer a set of worthless vagabonds to come into our city, and right under our own eyes and protection, vilify and calumniate, not only ourselves, but the character of our wives and daughters, as was impudently and unblushingly done in that infamous and filthy sheet? There is not a city in the United States that would have suffered such an indignity for twenty-four hours. Our whole people were indignant, and loudly called upon our city authorities for a redress of their grievances, which, if not attended to, they themselves would have taken the matter into their own hands, and have summarily punished the audacious wretches, as they deserved.

Governor Ford then gave his views of the outrage upon a free press. His Excellency said:

I must beg to differ with you in relation to the acts of the City Council. That body, in my opinion, had no right to act in a legislative capacity and as a judicerary also. They should have passed a law in relation to the matter, and then the Municipal Court, upon complaint, could have removed it. But for the City Council to take upon themselves the law making and the execution of the law is, in my opinion, wrong. Beside, these men ought to have had a hearing before their property was destroyed. To destroy it without, was an infringement of their rights. Besides it is so contrary to the feelings of the American people to interfere with the press.

But Joseph was bound to have the last word in the discussion. His reply to this was:

You say the parties ought to have had a hearing. Had it ben a civil suit, this, of course would have been proper, but there was a flagrant violation of every principle of right -- a nuisance, and it was abated on the same principle that any nuisance, stench or putrified carcass would have been removed. Our first step, therefore, was to stop the foul, noisome, filthy sheet, and then the next, in our opinion, would have been to prosecute the men for a breach of public decency.

The conversation wound up with an appeal from the captive prophet for protection. "I believe you are talking of going to Nauvoo. If you go, Sir, I wish to go along. I refuse not to answer any law, but I do not consider myself safe here." The Governor replied that he did not know whether he would go the day following to Nauvoo, but if he did he would take Bro. Joseph along.

The next day was the last spent on earth by the Smith brothers. After breakfast Governor Ford started for Nauvoo, with a guard of militiamen, leaving the prisoners to the safe-keeping of the troops that remianed. Joseph and Hyrum passed the forenoon in the endeavor to convert the guards to the Latter day faith, while friends in the room with them were fitting up a door to keep off intruders. In the afternoon an armed rabble burst into the jail, overpowered the guard and murdered Joseph and Hyrum.

The moral of this tragic incident is that it is not safe for religious zealots who cannot abide the uncourteous utterances of an untrammeled newspaper to make free with its type. The Prophet Joseph thought to put out the light, but he himself was extinguished.