Letter from Elias Higbee, 21 February 1840

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Feb 21st. 1840
Dr. Bro,
I have just returned again from the committee room, and made some statements, to which I replied— is much more mild and reasonable (mostly perhaps from policy) than ! who related a long lingo of stuff, which he said was proven before the Legislature in which amounted to about this that Joseph Smith gave the Mormons liberty to trespass on their neighbors property; also <​gave​> told them that it all belonged to them; as they [were] Israelites. O Upon this the strength of this they became the aggressors. I replied that the People in their declaration of causes that induced them to unite in order to drive the Mormons— The crime of stealing or trespassing was not mentioned; and there was no Docket, either Clerks or Justices that could show it, in , , , or Counties— and that no Mormons ever heard such teaching or doctrine from Joseph Smith or any other Mormon; that we held to no such doctrine neither believed in any such thing— I mentioned some things contained in our Book of doctrine and Covenants; Government and laws in general. Told them we had published long ago our belief on that subject— Some things I recolected; which were, that all persons should obey the laws of the government under which they lived, and that ecclesiastical power should not be exercised to [p. 100] to control our civil rights in no; particularly that ecclesiastical power should only be used in the ; and then no further than fellowship was concerned— I think they injured their cause to day. There is another appointment for them on the morrow at 10, o’clock. Their friend they said, was sick, consequently could not attend to day— said he thought it would be time enough to take it up in the Congress when they could not get justice in the State, and that he was confident, there was a disposition in the State of to do us justice should we apply: That the reason of their refusing to envestigate before, was, the trials of the prisoners were pending. And further said (when speaking of the trials before ) that he understood from Gentlemen that the prisoners commended the for his clemency and fair dealing towards them; and acknowledged they were guilty, in part, of the charges preferred against them. said he presumed I was not present when sd. men were tried. I replied in the negative; that I was not there, neither any body else that could be a witness in their favor. The Lawyers advised them to keep away if they desired the salvation of their lives. I observed that I had read the proceedings of the Legislature but did not now recollect them; but since yesterday I had have been reflecting on the subject and recollect a conversation, I had with Mr. who was the bearer of the petition to Jefferson City and he informed me, the reason why they refused an investigation was on account of the upper members being so violently opposed to it, that they used their utmost exertions and finally succeeded in getting a majority against it; and the reason of their taking this course was, in consequence of one of their members being in the Massacre at , Viz. Mr. Ashley [Daniel Ashby] & was a leader of the first mob in , which the militia were called out to suppress.
[said] if it must come our out in Congress, it [p. 101] it should be fully investigated, and they the committee, should have power to send for persons and papers— For if we had a right to claim damages of the , so had they, if all were true concerning the acts alledged against the Mormons; that they had a right to ask the Government, to pay the war against the Mormons— But finally seemed to disapprove of the exterminating order. which was admitted to have existed by . or was issued by their Legislature, but that no one ever thought of carrying it into effect. He said that merely advised the mormons to leave the : to which I replied, ’s speech was before them; that I had stated some of its contents yesterday; and if it were necessary, I could prove it by four or five hundred affidavits
Then stated something about the prisoners making their escape— and that he had no doubt, but that they could have a fair trial in , for the Legislature, to his certain knowledge, passed a law whereby they had a right to choose, any county in the State, to be tried in; to which I replied, that I understood such a law was passed; but notwithstanding they could not get their their trials in the County wherein they desired: for they were forced to go to , whereas they desired to have their trials at Palmira; where they could get their Witnesses, as that was only, sixteen miles from the river, and the other, was a great distance— He said certainly would not go contrary to law— I told him there were some affidavits in some affidavits in those documents that would tell him some things very strange concerning then wished to know if the affidavits were from any body else save Mormons: I replied that there were some others; but how many I knew not— He then wanted to know how they were certified— whether any clerks name was attached in the business— I told him they were well authenticated by the Courts of record; with the clerk’s name attached thereto [p. 102] After these things, and some <​other​> were said, the Committee refused to consult on the subject. Only the same three attended that were in yesterday— The Chairman observed, they had not expressed any opinion relative to the subject; but observed that his mind was made up in relation to the matter— I think from all I have discovered, Mr. [Oliver H.] Smith of will be on the side of justice But how the thing will terminate I cannot tell—
Mr. Crittendon [John J. Crittenden] & Mr. [Robert] Strange are the two absent members of the committee—
Yours in the bonds of love,
.
Joseph Smith. Jr. [p. 103]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    Presumably one of several committee rooms in the United States Capitol.  

  2. 2

    This parenthetical phrase may refer to the differences between the way business was conducted in the Senate and in the House. In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that whereas the Senate conducted itself in a dignified manner, “on entering the House of Representatives of Washington, one is struck by the vulgar demeanour of that great assembly.” (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2:54.)  

    Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated by Henry Reeve. 2 vols. London: Saunders and Otley, 1835.

  3. 3

    See Document Containing the Correspondence, 1–14.  

    Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c., in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; and the Evidence Given before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes against the State. Fayette, MO: Boon’s Lick Democrat, 1841.

  4. 4

    The 1833 declaration of the citizens of Jackson County, Missouri, was reprinted in the first pages of Parley P. Pratt’s history of the Saints’ experiences in Missouri. (Pratt, History of the Late Persecution, 7–10.)  

  5. 5

    During the 1838 “Mormon War” in Missouri, leaders of the Danites, a military society organized among the Mormons, apparently taught that a February 1831 revelation granted them license to “take to your selves spoils of the goods of the ungodly Gentiles for it is written the riches of the Gentiles shall be consecrated to my people the house of Israel.” Higbee had been the captain general in the Danite organization during the conflict in Missouri. In October 1838, some church members organized into militia companies and attacked settlements that harbored anti-Mormon vigilantes. Some members confiscated livestock and other goods for the Saints’ use, and church members defended the practice as in keeping with generally accepted practices of war. Church leaders had previously denied allegations that they directed church members to steal from their neighbors or to willfully act against Missouri laws. (Phelps, Reminiscences, 6–7; Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:39]; see also LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, chap. 7; Baugh, “Call to Arms,” chap. 7; Letter from Elias Higbee, 16 Apr. 1839; Reed Peck, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839, p. 48, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; Foote, Autobiography, 30; Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839; and Bill of Damages, 4 June 1839.)  

    Phelps, Morris. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 271.

    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).

    Peck, Reed. Letter, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

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

  6. 6

    Declaration on Government and Law, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 134].  

  7. 7

    Declaration on Government and Law, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 134:5, 10].  

  8. 8

    Higbee mentioned this friend in one of his 20 February 1840 letters to JS. According to that letter, the friend was a man who lived in northern Missouri at the time of the conflict there and supposedly had firsthand knowledge of the events described in the church’s memorial. The friend may be the “Mr. Corwin” who testified before the committee on 22 February. (Letter from Elias Higbee, 20 Feb. 1840–A; Letter from Elias Higbee, 22 Feb. 1840.)  

  9. 9

    In late 1838 and early 1839, trials were pending for three different groups of church members. Two of those groups—one of which included JS—were imprisoned. On 10 January 1839, the Missouri General Assembly rejected a resolution that “it shall be the duty of the Governor of this State, at as early a period as practicable, after the trial of the aforesaid Mormons, to procure a copy of all the evidence taken, and to be taken in the said trial, as well as the papers, documents and returns of all the officers, which are or may be in possession of the Executive relative to the Mormon difficulties, and shall cause the same to be published in pamphlet form.” The state senate instead resolved that “a joint committee” of the state house and senate would be “raised on the subject of the Mormon difficulties.” Ultimately, that joint committee did not arrive at a definitive conclusion from their investigation and recommended further examination. (Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, 10 Jan. 1839, 187–188; Document Containing the Correspondence, 4.)  

    Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, On Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

    Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c., in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; and the Evidence Given before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes against the State. Fayette, MO: Boon’s Lick Democrat, 1841.

  10. 10

    While incarcerated in Clay County, Missouri, from November 1838 to April 1839, JS and his fellow prisoners maintained their complete innocence in every petition they filed with Missouri courts and the state legislature. (See, for example, Memorial to the Missouri Legislature, 24 Jan. 1839; and Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839.)  

  11. 11

    Individuals attempting to testify in behalf of JS and other church leaders incarcerated in Missouri faced intimidation as well as threats of violence and imprisonment. For example, David Pettegrew stated in an affidavit that when he was “a prisoner before Judge King we sent for many witnesses and when tha [they] came thay were taken and cast in to prison with us and we were not permited to have any witnesses.” (David Pettegrew, Affidavit, Montrose, Iowa Territory, 21 Mar. 1840, Mormon Redress Petitions, 1839–1845, CHL.)  

    Mormon Redress Petitions, 1839–1845. CHL. MS 2703.

  12. 12

    See, for example, Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, 3 and 10 Jan. 1839, 167–168, 186–188; and Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, 5 Dec. 1838, 78–80, 123–125.  

    Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, On Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

    Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

  13. 13

    Redfield was a member of the church who lived in Missouri from 1838 to 1839. (Redfield, Genealogical History of the Redfield Family in the United States, 242.)  

    Redfield, John Howard. Genealogical History of the Redfield Family in the United States. Albany: Munsell and Rowland; New York: Richardson, 1860.

  14. 14

    Edward Partridge et al., Petition, 10 Dec. 1838, copy, Edward Partridge, Papers, CHL; David Harvey Redfield, Report, Dec. 1838–Jan. 1839, CHL.  

    Partridge, Edward. Papers, 1818–1839. CHL. MS 892.

    Redfield, David H. Report, 16 Dec. 1838–13 Jan. 1839. CHL. MS 864.

  15. 15

    Ashby was a state senator from Missouri’s tenth senate district, which included his home county of Livingston. (Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, 3; Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 414.)  

    Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, On Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

    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).

  16. 16

    Gilliam led a group of vigilantes from Clinton and Platte counties to Daviess County, Missouri, in October 1838. He was a senator in the Missouri General Assembly from 1838 to 1844. The Missouri Senate’s journal recorded Ashby’s and Gilliam’s respective votes on a variety of motions and resolutions concerning an investigation into “the Mormon difficulties.” ([Rigdon], Appeal to the American People, 41–43; Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 188; Missouri Archives Division, Office of Secretary of State, Missouri General Assembly, 35; see also, for example, Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, 10 Jan. 1839, 186–188.)  

    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).

    Missouri General Assembly, 1812–1976: A Bicentennial Project. Missouri: Secretary of State, 1976?.

    Journal, of the Senate, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, On Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

  17. 17

    In October 1838, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued orders to the state militia that the Mormons should be either driven from the state or exterminated. (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.

  18. 18

    Clark’s speech referred to here was included in John P. Greene’s Facts relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons, which was submitted to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to accompany the memorial. In the speech, Clark ordered the Saints to “leave the State [Missouri] forthwith,” explaining that “the orders of the Governor to me, were, that you should be exterminated, and not allowed to continue in the State.” (Greene, Facts relative to the Expulsion, 26–27; Historical Introduction to Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840.)  

    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.

  19. 19

    JS and his fellow prisoners escaped custody and fled to Illinois on 16 April 1839. They arrived in Quincy, Illinois, on 22 April 1839. (Promissory Note to John Brassfield, 16 Apr. 1839; Order for Change of Venue, Gallatin, MO, 11 Apr. 1839, State of Missouri v. Worthington et al. for Larceny [Daviess Co. Cir. Ct. 1839], photocopy, Max H Parkin, Collected Missouri Court Documents, CHL.)  

    Missouri, State of. Order for change of Venue, Gallatin, MO, 11 Apr. 1839. Private possession. Copy in CHL.

  20. 20

    The legislature passed a law in February 1839 stating that a change of venue was permitted “when the people in the circuit, where the indictment is found, are so prejudiced against the defendant that a fair trial cannot be had.” (Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, 13 Feb. 1839, 462; An Act to Amend an Act concerning Criminal Proceedings [13 Feb. 1839], Laws of the State of Missouri [1838–1839], p. 98.)  

    Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

    Laws of the State of Missouri, Passed at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1838.

  21. 21

    Order for Change of Venue, Gallatin, MO, 11 Apr. 1839, State of Missouri v. Worthington et al. for Larceny [Daviess Co. Cir. Ct. 1839], photocopy, Max H Parkin, Collected Missouri Court Documents, CHL.  

    Missouri, State of. Order for change of Venue, Gallatin, MO, 11 Apr. 1839. Private possession. Copy in CHL.

  22. 22

    Palmyra is the seat of Marion County, Missouri. (Campbell, Campbell’s Gazetteer of Missouri, 356.)  

    Campbell, R. A., ed. Campbell’s Gazetteer of Missouri: From Articles Contributed by Prominent Gentlemen in Each County of the State. . . . St. Louis: By the author, 1874.

  23. 23

    See, for example, David Pettegrew, Affidavit, Montrose, Iowa Territory, 21 Mar. 1840, Mormon Redress Petitions, 1839–1845, CHL; Lyman Wight, Petition, 15 Mar. 1839, CHL; and Bill of Damages, 4 June 1839. In a petition to the Missouri legislature asking for a change in venue, JS and his fellow prisoners stated that King had written letters that were “published to the world” in which he had “placed us in the wrong” and had presided at public meetings called in opposition to the Mormons. (Memorial to the Missouri Legislature, 24 Jan. 1839.)  

    Mormon Redress Petitions, 1839–1845. CHL. MS 2703.

    Wight, Lyman. Petition, Liberty, MO, 15 Mar. 1839. CHL. MS 24547.

  24. 24

    Many of the affidavits submitted to Congress with the church’s memorial are stored in the National Archives in Washington DC, but it is unclear how many were created by individuals who were not members of the church. (See the affidavits and petitions housed in 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.

  25. 25

    Senators Garret D. Wall, Thomas Clayton, and Oliver H. Smith. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 835–836, 1937, 2107; Letter from Elias Higbee, 20 Feb. 1840–A; 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.

  26. 26

    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.

  27. 27

    Crittenden was a senator from Kentucky, and Strange was a senator from North Carolina. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 894–895, 1990.)  

    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.