Letter from Elias Higbee, 20 February 1840–A

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Feb. 20th., 1840
Dear Brother
I have just returned from the committee room, wherein I spoke about one half <​hour​> and a half, there were but three of the committee present, for which I am very sorry. I think they will be obliged to acknowledge the justice of our cause. They paid good— attention; and I think what was said were well recd. It was a special meeting appointed to here me by my request. The Senators and Representatives were invited to attend. & attended, and God gave me courage so that I was not intimidated by them , I thought, felt a little uneasy by times; but manifested a much better Spirit afterwards than . I told them firstly that I represented a suffering people,— who had been deprived together with myself of their rights in : who numbered something like 15 thousand souls; and not only they but many others were deprived of the rights guarenteed to us by the constitution of the ; at least the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand free born Citizens are deprived the enjoyment of citizenship in each or every State: that we had no ingress in the state of ; nor could any of us have only at the expense of our lives, and this by the order of the Executive. I then took their own declaration of the cause of our expulsion: refered them to ’s Pamphlet, which [p. 97] I held in my hand, then showed that the first accusation, therein contained, was on account of our religious tenets, furthermore that the other were utterly groundless. I went on to prove that the whole pursecution from beginning to end was grounded on our religious faith— For evidence of this I refered them to ’s testimony and P. Powell’s I stated that there were abundant testimony to prove this to be a fact among documents. I then gave a brief history of the persecutions from the first settlement in the to our final expulsion. I also stated that the society were industrious, inoffensive, and innocent of crime; had the Times & Seasons, from which I read ’ letter to : I also refered to ’s letter from Pike County, the Clerk’s & other’s respecting our caracter <​character​>— in their sections of country I gave them some hints of the massacre and the murder of the two little Boys but refered them more particularly to the documents for information concerning those things, and furthermore that I had not come here to instruct them in what they were to do in this case; but to present them with the facts— having all confidence in this honorable body (the Congress) believing them to be honorable men. I demanded, from them a restitution of all our rights and privileges as citizens of the , and damages for all the losses we had sustained in consequence of our persecutions and expulsion from the . And told them we could have recourse no where else on earth that I knew of— that we could not sue an Army of Soldiers. neither could we go into the to sue any body else. I told them that I knew not how far Congress had jurisdiction in this case or how far they had not, but as far as they had, we claimed the exercise of it for our relief; for we were an injured people These and some other were the principle subjects of my speech— after which, said he was once in the Mormon’s favor; but afterwards learned that it was impossible to live among them—for they stole their neighbor’s hogs—and there being so much testimony he believed it. &c &c, I replied something like [p. 98] this— making statements was one thing and proving them was another. then said he wished me to answer one thing. Viz. If the Legislature of did not refuse to investigate the subject of our difficulties, solely on account of the trials then pending— In reply I assured him that I knew they had refused us an investigation; but as to that being the cause I did not know— but told him, they might have done it, when those trials were discharged— He seemed to think it injustice for Congress to take it up before the Legislature had acted on it— I occupied all but a few minutes of the time when the Senate was to go into session, so they adjourned untill the morrow at 10 o’clock; when the Missourians are to reply. observed, that there was a gentleman, whom he would have before the Committee on the morrow; who lived in the upper part of , that knew everything relative to the affair— I presume he is to put in his gab. I suppose I must attend the committee as I am solicited by the chairman— but I would rather take a flogging; because I must sit still, and hear a volubility of lies concerning myself and Bretheren— Lies I say for they have nothing save Lies to a tell that will in the least degree justify their conduct in . said he has written to to get all the evidence taken before . So, that if the thing must come up he would be prepared to have a full investigation of the matter. And that the committee should have power to send for persons, papers &c &c. In my remarks I stated that an article of the constitution was violated in not granting compulsory process for witnesses in behalf of the prisoners— and that the main evidence adduced, upon which they were committed (as I understood) was from ; who once belonged to our society, and was compelled to swear as suited them best in order to save his life; that I knew him to be a man whose character was the worst, I ever [p. 99] [knew] in all my as<​soc​>iations or intercourse with mankind. And that I had evidence by affidavits before them of five or six respectable men, to prove that all he swore to was false. Bretheren and Sisters I want your special prayers, that God may give me wisdom, to manage this case according to his will; and that he will protect me from our foes, both publickly & privately—
Yours in the bonds of love
J. Smith Jr. [p. 100]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    “The committee room” presumably refers to one of several committee rooms in the United States Capitol.  

  2. 2

    At this time, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary consisted of five senators: Garret D. Wall of New Jersey, Thomas Clayton of Delaware, Robert Strange of North Carolina, John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, and Oliver H. Smith of Indiana. According to one of Higbee’s later letters, Crittenden and Strange were absent on this date. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 835–836, 894–895, 1937, 1990, 2107; Journal of the Senate of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 16 Dec. 1839, 11; Letter from Elias Higbee, 21 Feb. 1840; see also Introduction to Part 3: 27 Jan.–8 Apr. 1840.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

    Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, Being the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth Congress, Begun and Held at the City of Washington, December 2, 1839, and in the Sixty-Fourth Year of the Independence of the Said United States. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1839.

  3. 3

    In 1840 the Missouri delegation to the United States Congress consisted of two Democratic senators, Thomas Hart Benton and Lewis F. Linn, and two Democratic representatives, John Jameson and John Miller. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 120, 646, 1324, 1452–1453, 1586.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

  4. 4

    “15,000 souls” likely refers to the total number of Saints driven from Missouri but may refer to the estimated total membership of the church at this time. According to contemporary letters and the estimates of historians, between eight and ten thousand Saints were expelled from Missouri. (Elias Smith, Far West, MO, to Ira Smith, East Stockholm, NY, 11 Mar. 1839, Elias Smith, Papers, CHL; Heber C. Kimball, Far West, MO, to Joseph Fielding, Preston, England, 12 Mar. 1839, typescript, Heber C. Kimball Family Organization, Compilation of Heber C. Kimball Correspondence, 1983, CHL; LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 35–36; Leonard, Nauvoo, 31, 671n33.)  

    Smith, Elias. Correspondence, 1834–1839. In Elias Smith, Papers, 1834–1846. CHL.

    Kimball, Heber C. Correspondence, 1837–1864. Private possession. Copy at CHL.

    LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

    Leonard, Glen M. Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002.

  5. 5

    Higbee may have been estimating the number of Americans denied religious liberty at this time, but the source of his estimate is unclear. After the judiciary committee released its report on the church’s case, commentary in the church newspaper the Times and Seasons stated that “upwards of one hundred thousand American citizens, could not induce this magnanimous committee to put forth the helping hand, for a moment, to their relief.” The number of citizens mentioned in this commentary may have been the estimated total of Americans deprived of religious freedom but may also have been an estimate of the number of individuals who had supported the Saints’ petition to Congress. (“Important from Washington,” Times and Seasons, Mar. 1840, 1:74.)  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  6. 6

    In October 1838, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued orders to the state militia that the Mormons “must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.” (Lilburn W. Boggs, Jefferson City, MO, to John B. Clark, Fayette, MO, 27 Oct. 1838, copy, Mormon War Papers, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.)  

    Mormon War Papers, 1838–1841. MSA.

  7. 7

    When conflict first broke out between Missourians and the Saints in summer 1833, non-Mormons in Jackson County, Missouri, presented church leaders with a declaration outlining their grievances against the Saints. Reprinted in the first pages of Pratt’s pamphlet, the declaration deemed the Missouri Saints “deluded fanatics” because they claimed “to hold personal communion and converse, face to face, with the most high God—to receive communications and revelations direct from Heaven—to heal the sick by laying on hands—and in short, to perform all the wonder working miracles wraught by the inspired Apostles and prophets of old.” The declaration also accused the Saints of being “the very dregs of society” because of their poverty and their alleged attempts to foment slave rebellions. (Pratt, History of the Late Persecution, 7–10.)  

  8. 8

    Orrin Porter Rockwell, Affidavit, 3 Feb. 1840, Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives, Washington DC. While in Washington DC, Rockwell provided an affidavit stating that vigilantes told him and his father that they would be permitted to remain living in the county unharmed if they would “renounce their doctrine and religious faith as Mormons.”  

    Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives / Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents Which Were Referred to the Committee on Judiciary during the 27th Congress. Committee on the Judiciary, Petitions and Memorials, 1813–1968. Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789–2015. National Archives, Washington DC. The LDS records cited herein are housed in National Archives boxes 40 and 41 of Library of Congress boxes 139–144 in HR27A-G10.1.

  9. 9

    This possibly refers to Uriah B. Powell’s affidavit, in which Powell claimed that a militia captain told him that the militia had “designs of getting the Mormons out of the State.” This affidavit, however, did not explicitly list religious faith as the primary motive. Powell swore his affidavit before James Adams on 9 November 1839 while Higbee was in Springfield, Illinois, making it highly likely that Higbee carried this affidavit to the capital and that it was included among those submitted with the memorial to the committee. (Uriah B. Powell, Affidavit, Springfield, IL, 9 Nov. 1839, Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives, Washington DC.)  

    Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives / Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents Which Were Referred to the Committee on Judiciary during the 27th Congress. Committee on the Judiciary, Petitions and Memorials, 1813–1968. Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789–2015. National Archives, Washington DC. The LDS records cited herein are housed in National Archives boxes 40 and 41 of Library of Congress boxes 139–144 in HR27A-G10.1.

  10. 10

    “The documents” likely refers to the collection of documents the church delegation intended to publish and publicly distribute, including their memorial to Congress and the affidavits that accompanied it. (See Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840; and Letter from Elias Higbee, 24 Mar. 1840.)  

  11. 11

    Robert Lucas, Iowa Territory, to Alanson Ripley, 4 Jan. 1840, in Times and Seasons, Jan. 1840, 1:40. The January 1840 issue of the Times and Seasons published the letter from Iowa territorial governor Lucas to Ripley, one of the church’s bishops. In the letter, Lucas reported that church members in northern Ohio had been “considered an industrious, inoffensive people” and stated that he had “no recollection of ever having heard, in that State of their being charged with violating the laws of the country.” Lucas also added that the Mormon families who had recently relocated to his territory were “generally considered industrious, inoffensive and worthy citizens.”  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  12. 12

    Higbee may have been referring to one of Young’s legal clerks or to the clerk of Pike County, Illinois.  

  13. 13

    On 30 October 1838, more than two hundred vigilantes attacked a group of church members living at the Hawn’s Mill settlement on Shoal Creek in Caldwell County, Missouri. Seventeen church members died as a result of this attack. The two boys killed in the massacre were Charles Merrick, age nine, and Sardius Smith, age ten. The memorial contained an account of the massacre at Hawn’s Mill, as did the pamphlets compiled by Pratt and John P. Greene. Several of the affidavits sent to Congress described the conflict as well, but it is unclear which affidavits the Senate Committee on the Judiciary had in their possession at this time. (Baugh, “Call to Arms,” chap. 9 and appendixes I–J; Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840; Pratt, History of the Late Persecution, 50–51; Greene, Facts relative to the Expulsion, 21–24.)  

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

    Greene, John P. Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, from the State of Missouri, under the “Exterminating Order.” By John P. Greene, an Authorized Representative of the Mormons. Cincinnati: R. P. Brooks, 1839.

  14. 14

    During the 1830s and 1840s, several debates ensued in the United States over the power of the federal government to enforce the Bill of Rights on individual states. In 1833 the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states. Then, in 1845, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights did not protect religious liberty from infringement by state or municipal governments. Although this latter case postdates the church’s petitioning efforts in 1840, it demonstrates that JS, Higbee, and Rigdon were not the only Americans questioning the extent of federal power to ensure religious liberty in individual states. Higbee seems to suggest here that even if the federal government did not have power to protect church members’ rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment, the government should not be constitutionally restrained from intervening when a state drives thousands of citizens off their land and out of state borders. (Barron v. Baltimore, 7 Peters 243 [1833]; Permoli v. Municipality No. 1, 3 Howard 589 [1845]; Sehat, Myth of American Religious Freedom, 4; McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren,” 157–158.)  

    Peters / Peters, Richard. Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States. 17 vols. Various publishers, 1828–1843.

    Howard / Howard, Benjamin C. Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States. 25 vols. Various publishers. 1843–1860.

    Sehat, David. The Myth of American Religious Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    McBride, Spencer W. Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017.

  15. 15

    Church leaders had previously addressed allegations that they directed church members to steal from their neighbors or to willfully act against Missouri laws. After some church members organized into militia companies in October 1838 and attacked settlements that harbored anti-Mormon vigilantes, they defended their appropriation of corn, hogs, and other goods and livestock as being in keeping with generally accepted practices of war. (Foote, Autobiography, 30; Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839; Bill of Damages, 4 June 1839.)  

    Foote, Warren. Autobiography, not before 1903. Warren Foote, Papers, 1837–1941. CHL. MS 1123, fd. 1.

  16. 16

    This passage likely refers to the pending trials of three groups of church members imprisoned in 1838. The first group was incarcerated in Liberty, Missouri; the second was incarcerated in Richmond, Missouri; and the third had been released on bail. (Historical Introduction to Letter to Emma Smith, 1 Dec. 1838; Historical Introduction to Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839.)  

  17. 17

    Senator Garret D. Wall. (Journal of the Senate of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 16 Dec. 1839, 11.)  

    Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, Being the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth Congress, Begun and Held at the City of Washington, December 2, 1839, and in the Sixty-Fourth Year of the Independence of the Said United States. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1839.

  18. 18

    King presided over a November 1838 court of inquiry in Richmond, Missouri, in which several church members were tried on a variety of charges, including treason, riot, and murder. Thirty-nine individuals testified for the prosecution and seven testified for the defense. (Document Containing the Correspondence, 149–151; LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, chap. 12; Historical Introduction to Letter to Emma Smith, 1 Dec. 1838.)  

    LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

  19. 19

    Two groups of church members were imprisoned in Missouri in 1838. One group, which included JS, was incarcerated in Liberty on charges that included treason and riot. Another group, which included Parley P. Pratt, was incarcerated in Richmond on charges that included murder. The Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees individuals accused of crimes the right to obtain witnesses in their favor. The prisoners in both groups claimed that the witnesses they called were either intimidated or not allowed to testify. (Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839; Pratt, Autobiography, 233; U.S. Constitution, amend. VI.)  

    Pratt, Parley P. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by Parley P. Pratt Jr. New York: Russell Brothers, 1874.

  20. 20

    Avard was a church member who had been a prominent leader of the Danites, a militant organization of church members devoted to supporting the First Presidency and defending the church with violence, if necessary. Following the 1838 Missouri conflict, Avard testified against JS and other church leaders, which helped lead to their arrest and imprisonment. He was excommunicated on 17 March 1839. (Introduction to Part 2: 8 July–29 Oct. 1838; Sampson Avard, Testimony, Richmond, MO, Nov. 1838, pp. [2]–[23], State of Missouri v. JS et al. for Treason and Other Crimes [Mo. 5th Jud. Cir. 1838], in State of Missouri, “Evidence”; “Extracts of the Minutes of Conferences,” Times and Seasons, Nov. 1839, 1:15; see also LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 40–44, 199–201, 220–222; and Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 79–101.)  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

    LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

  21. 21

    None of the extant affidavits that were collected to submit to the committee with the church’s memorial address Avard’s character. A petition included in John P. Greene’s Facts relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons, however, claimed that Avard had sworn falsely against JS, which led to JS’s imprisonment. That petition was signed by five men: Alanson Ripley, Heber C. Kimball, William Huntington, Joseph B. Noble, and JS. (Greene, Facts relative to the Expulsion, 31–33; Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839.)  

    Greene, John P. Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, from the State of Missouri, under the “Exterminating Order.” By John P. Greene, an Authorized Representative of the Mormons. Cincinnati: R. P. Brooks, 1839.