Introduction to City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B and City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C

Document Transcript

City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B
Nauvoo, Hancock Co., Illinois, Municipal Court, 30 November 1842
City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C
Nauvoo, Hancock Co., Illinois, Municipal Court, 3 December 1842
Hancock Co., Illinois, Circuit Court, 23 May 1843
 
Historical Introduction
 
City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B
On 29 November 1842, JS swore a complaint accusing of slander. It was the second time that year he had brought such a charge against Davis, a merchant and tavern keeper in , Illinois, with whom he had a turbulent history. Davis had joined the church in 1840, but by 1842 his relationship with JS had soured. In March the two men feuded over a financial dispute; JS brought charges against Davis for slandering his character and a jury found Davis guilty of violating Nauvoo’s vagrancy and disorderly persons ordinance. The relationship worsened in the ensuing months. Between 29 November and 6 December 1842, Davis was accused of violating several city ordinances and was tried in five cases in Nauvoo courts. In each of these cases, JS participated as either mayor, justice of the peace, complainant, or witness.
In his 29 November complaint, sworn before alderman and justice of the peace , JS claimed that “on or about” 25 November, had “depreciat[ed]” his “moral and religious Character” in violation of the city’s ordinance concerning religious societies. In addition to guaranteeing free exercise of religion, this ordinance criminalized “ridiculing abusing, or otherwise depreciating another in consequence of his religion.” At ten o’clock in the morning on 30 November, the city aldermen assembled as the Nauvoo Municipal Court to try the case with presiding over the court, presumably because JS, the chief justice of the court, was the complainant. After the witnesses testified, , Davis’s attorney, claimed that the prosecution had not produced evidence “to support a breach of the Ordinance” in JS’s complaint. Accordingly, he argued that JS be “Nonsuit[ed], with Costs.” City attorney replied to Higbee’s argument, after which JS, acting as the prosecuting witness, was permitted to address the court. The court subsequently agreed with Higbee and nonsuited the case. In the 30 November 1842 entry of JS’s journal, attributed the nonsuit to “the informality of the writ drawn by Esqr Wells.” However, JS’s subsequent charges against Davis suggest that the issue may have been the city ordinance JS had accused Davis of violating in his complaint.
 
City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C
The same day ’s 30 November 1842 trial ended in a nonsuit, JS swore out a second complaint, again related to the circa 25 November incident but this time accusing Davis of “indecent unbecoming, abusive ridiculous Language concerning the acts and Character” of JS. The complaint further stated that Davis possibly made these slanderous remarks “at Divers other times previous to that time.” In doing so, JS stated, Davis had violated “the ordinances of Said City,” likely referring to the vague vagrancy ordinance but possibly others. attempted to hold a trial based on this complaint on 2 December 1842, but the absence of witnesses forced the municipal court to postpone the trial. When the court convened the next evening, , Davis’s attorney for the case, objected that the complaint was too broad and that the court lacked jurisdiction. The court nevertheless found Davis guilty, fined him $50 plus costs, and required him to sign a recognizance for $200 to guarantee that he would keep the peace, “especially towards Joseph Smith,” for six months. Davis initially refused to pay the fine or give the recognizance and was arrested on 6 December for his noncompliance. He relented three days later.
On 9 December, the same day that finally agreed to comply with the judgment, he filed an appeal bond with the Circuit Court. On 19 January 1843, Davis filed a notice of appeal before the Hancock County Circuit Court, and the appeal was heard at the May 1843 term. This appeal was one of three that Davis made to the circuit court following his string of prosecutions in in late November and early December 1842. Because of the similarities between the three cases in the circuit court, some of the same documents were used multiple times and it is possible that some were misfiled and are currently associated with the wrong case. According to an attorney’s agreement signed before the circuit court proceedings, the three appeals were to focus on “the legailty of the Ordinances and if the City Council has the authority under the charter to pass said Ordinances.” Accordingly, on 16 May 1843, C. O. Warner, the defense attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the suits, while George Bachman, Nauvoo’s attorney, filed to dismiss Davis’s appeals. All of the motions used almost identical language. Warner claimed that the proceedings had been contrary to the constitutions of and the and that no law or ordinance had been violated. The motion likely associated with this case also stated that Nauvoo’s courts lacked jurisdiction. Bachman’s motions, meanwhile, primarily objected to the procedures of Davis’s appeals, claiming that his appeal bonds were irregularly entered and that the appeal to the circuit court was improper. Bachman also countered Warner’s claim by stating that the cases were supported by Nauvoo’s city ordinances.
After hearing the attorneys’ arguments, the court initially overruled the motion to dismiss the suit and the motion to dismiss the appeal. Nevertheless, deliberations over the motions resumed on 23 May 1843 until the court was “fully advised in the premises” of the slander case, at which point the court sustained ’s motion and dismissed the suit “for want of Jurisdiction of the Court below” while ordering the city of to pay his costs. No extant records explicitly state why the court believed the Nauvoo municipal court lacked jurisdiction. One possibility is that while the ordinance regarding vagrants and disorderly persons gave either the mayor’s court or municipal court original jurisdiction, the municipal court only had authority to function as an appellate court according to the Nauvoo charter. By December 1843, Sheriff was unable to find any property in the county belonging to the city to levy for payment.
City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B and C were two of five cases involving JS that were brought against in the mayor’s and municipal courts in late November and early December 1842. For the related cases, see City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Ardent Spirits, City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Assault of Walker, and City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of Miles.
 
Calendar of Documents
This calendar lists all known documents created by or for the court, whether extant or not. It does not include versions of documents created for other purposes, though those versions may be listed in footnotes. In certain cases, especially in cases concerning unpaid debts, the originating document (promissory note, invoice, etc.) is listed here. Note that documents in the calendar are grouped with their originating court. Where a version of a document was subsequently filed with another court, that version is listed under both courts.

Footnotes

  1. 1

    “Good News from America,” Millennial Star, July 1840, 1:63.  

    Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. Manchester, England, 1840–1842; Liverpool, 1842–1932; London, 1932–1970.

  2. 2

    See Introduction to City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–A; and Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance Concerning Vagrants and Disorderly Persons, 13 Nov. 1841, 31.  

  3. 3

    In September 1842 William Clayton recorded a rumor in JS’s journal that the posse attempting to arrest JS for extradition to Missouri had used Davis’s tavern as a base of operations. JS, Journal, 3 Sept. 1842.  

  4. 4

    For the other cases, see City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Ardent Spirits, City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Assault of Walker, and City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of Miles.  

  5. 5

    Complaint, 29 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B]; Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies, 1 Mar. 1841, 13. This complaint was one of two complaints JS swore out before Wells on 29 November. The other accused Thomas Hunter of violating the city statute concerning religious societies by maligning JS. (See Complaint, 29 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Hunter].)  

  6. 6

    Docket Entry, 30 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B]. The Ordinance in relation to Religious Societies allowed for trial before either the mayor’s court or Nauvoo’s municipal court. (Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies, 1 Mar. 1841, 13.)  

  7. 7

    Docket Entry, 30 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B]. According to a modern law dictionary, a prosecuting witness is “the private person upon whose complaint or information a criminal accusation is founded and whose testimony is mainly relied on to secure a conviction at the trial.” (“Prosecuting Witness,” in Black, Law Dictionary, 958.)  

    Black, Henry Campbell. A Law Dictionary Containing Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern and Including the Principal Terms of International, Constitutional, Ecclesiastical and Commercial Law, and Medical Jurisprudence, with a Collection of Legal Maxims, Numerous Select Titles from the Roman, Modern Civil, Scotch, French, Spanish, and Mexican Law, and Other Foreign Systems, and a Table of Abbreviations. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1910.

  8. 8

    Docket Entry, 30 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B].  

  9. 9

    JS, Journal, 30 Nov. 1842.  

  10. 10

    Complaint, 30 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]. JS’s 29 November 1842 complaint had merely accused Davis of using “ridiculous and abusive language.” (Complaint, 29 Nov. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–B].)  

  11. 11

    Complaint, 30 Nov. 1842, [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance Concerning Vagrants and Disorderly Persons, 13 Nov. 1841, 31.  

  12. 12

    See Docket Entry, between 30 Nov. and ca. 3 Dec 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]. The disorderly persons ordinance allowed for trial before the mayor’s court or the municipal court. (See Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance Concerning Vagrants and Disorderly Persons, 13 Nov. 1841, 31.)  

  13. 13

    Docket Entry, between 30 Nov. and ca. 3 Dec 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]. Those convicted under the vagrant or disorderly persons ordinance were required to enter a recognizance to keep the peace for a “reasonable time” and could be further subject to forced labor for up to ninety days or a fine of up to five hundred dollars if their recognizance was violated. (Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance Concerning Vagrants and Disorderly Persons, 13 Nov. 1841, 31.)  

  14. 14

    See Docket Entry, between 30 Nov. and ca. 3 Dec 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C].  

  15. 15

    See Bond, 9 Dec. 1842 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Supersedeas, 19 Jan. 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Supersedeas, 19 Jan. 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Ardent Spirits]; and Supersedeas, 19 Jan. 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Assault]. For example, the slander and assault cases used the same praecipe, and some of the documents, such as Davis’s attorney’s motion to dismiss, show signs of being docketed with two different case numbers. (See Praecipe, 9 May 1843; and Motion, ca. 15 May 1843–A [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C].)  

  16. 16

    Agreement, 18 May 1843.  

  17. 17

    Only two of Bachman’s motions to dismiss the appeals are extant, but docket records indicate that a third was filed. (See Motion, ca. 15 May 1843–A [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Motion, ca. 15 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Motion, ca. 15 May 1843–A [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Ardent Spirits]; Motion, ca. 15 May 1843–B [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Ardent Spirits]; Motion, ca. 15 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Assault]; and Docket Entry, Motions, 16 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Assault].)  

  18. 18

    See Motion, ca. 15 May 1843–A [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Motion, ca. 15 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; and Docket Entry, Motions Overruled, 16 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C].  

  19. 19

    Docket Entry, 23 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C]; Docket Entry, ca. 16 May 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C].  

  20. 20

    See Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, An Ordinance Concerning Vagrants and Disorderly Persons, 13 Nov. 1841, 31; and Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo, 16 Dec. 1840. The same day it dismissed Nauvoo’s case against Davis, the Hancock County Circuit Court also dismissed one of JS’s complaints against Thomas Hunter that was tried under similar circumstances. (Hancock Co., IL, Circuit Court Records, 1829–1897, vol. C, pp. 409, 473, microfilm 947,496, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL. )  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

  21. 21

    Docket Entry, Fieri Facias, between 23 May and ca. 18 Dec. 1843 [City of Nauvoo v. Davis for Slander of JS–C].