City Council, Ordinance, 10 June 1844; handwriting of John McEwan, with insertions in handwriting of and unidentified scribe; signature of ; endorsement and docket in handwriting of ; Nauvoo, IL, Records, 1841–1845, CHL.
“scare crow” to frighten the surrounding country in rebellion; mobbing and war; and whereas, while the blood of our brethren, from wells, holes and naked <prair[i]es>, and the ravishment of female virtue, from , and the smoke from the altars of infamy, prostituted by , and continued in the full tide of experiment and disgraceful damnation by the very self called fragments of a body <of> villians <degraded men> that have got up a press in , to destroy the charter of the ; to destroy mormonism, men, women and children, as did, by force of arms; by Fostering Laws that Emmonate from corruption, and betraywithakiss: wherefore to honor the state of and those patriots who gave the charter, and for the benefit, convenience, health and happiness of said :
Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the city council of the city of , that if any person or persons shall write or publish, in said , any false statement, or libel any of the citizen[s] for the purpose of exciting the public mind against the chartered privileges, peace and good order of said ; or shall slander, (according to the definition of slander or libel by [William] Blackstone or [James] Kent <or the act in the statute of >,) any portion of the inhabitants of said , or bribe any portion of the citizens of said , for malic[i]ous purposes; or in any manner or form excite the prejudice of the community against any portion of the citizens of said for evil purposes, he, she, or they shall be deemed disturbers of the peace, and upon conviction before the mayor or municipal court shall be fined in any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars, or imprisoned six months, or both, at the discretion of said mayor or court [p. ]
Insertion in the handwriting of William W. Phelps. This insertion was made at JS’s request during the 10 June 1844 city council meeting. Illinois state law, drawing on Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, defined libel as “a malicious defamation, expressed either by printing or by signs or pictures, or the like, tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation, or publish the natural defects of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him or her to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” Illinois law provided that “in all prosecutions for a libel, the truth thereof may be given in evidence in justification, except libels tending to blacken the memory of the dead, or expose the natural defects of the living.” This defense, however, was not acknowledged in Nauvoo’s libel ordinance. Illinois law did not criminalize slander, or defamatory words, although an 1843 legal treatise on slander and libel indicated that if slanderous words had the potential to lead to violence, they could be prosecuted as a breach of the peace. (Minutes, 10 June 1844, p. 194 herein; An Act Relative to Criminal Jurisprudence [26 Feb. 1833], Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois , p. 220, sec. 120; Starkie and Wendell, Treatise on the Law of Slander and Libel, 2:184–186.)