Memorial to the Missouri Legislature, 24 January 1839 [State of Missouri v. Gates et al. for Treason]

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

To the Hon The Legislature of
Your memorialists having a few days since, Solicited your attention to the same subject, would now respectfully submit to your Honorable body a few additional facts in support of their prayer.
They are now in imprisonment imprisoned Under a charge of Treason against the State of , And their lives and fortunes and characters being suspended upon the result of the trial on the criminal charges preferred against them, your Hon. body will excuse them for manifesting the deep concerns they feel in relation to their trials for a crime so enormous as that of treason
It is not our object to complain—to asperse any one. All we ask is a fair and impartial trial. We ask the sympathies of no one, we ask sheer justice— tis all we expect— and all we merit, but we merit that— We know the people of no county in this to which we would ask our final trials to be sent are prejudiced in our favour. But we believe that the state of excitement existing in most of the upper Counties is such that a jury would be improperly influenced by it. But that excitement, and the prejudice against us in the counties comprising the fifth Judicial court circuit are not the only obstacle we are compelled to meet.
We know that much of that prejudice against us is not so much to be attributed to a want of honest motive among the citizens, as it is to wrong information
But it is a difficult task to change opinions once formed, The other [p. 66] obstacle which we candidly consider are of the most weighty, is the feeling which we believe is entertained by the Hon, against us, and his Consequent incapacity to do us impartial justice. It is from no disposition to speak disrespectfully of that high officer that we lay before your Hon. Body the facts we do, but simply that the Legislature may be apprised of our real Condition. We look upon as like all other mere men, liable to be influenced by his feelings, his prejudices, and his previously formed opinions
We consider his reputation as being partially if not entirely committed against us.
He has written much upon the subject of our late difficulties in which he has placed us in the wrong— These letters have been published to the world He has also presided at an excited public meeting as chairman and no doubt sanctioned all the proceedings. We do not complain of the citizens who held that meeting. They were entitled to that privilege.
But for the Judge before whom the very men were to be tried for a capital offense, to participate in an expression of condemnation of these same individuals is to us at least apparently wrong, and we cannot think that we should after such a course on the part of the Judge have the same chance of a fair and impartial trial— as all admit we ought to have.
We believe that the foundation of the feeling against us which we have reason to think entertains, may be traced to the unfortunate troubles which occurred in some few years ago. In a battle between the mormons and a portion of the Citizens of that , , the brotherinlaw of , was killed. It is natural that the should have some feeling against us, whether we were right or wrong in that controversy. We mention these facts not to disparage — We believe that from the relation he bears to us, he would himself prefer that our trials should be had in a different circuit, and before a different court,
Many other reasons and facts we might mention but we forebear.
, Jan 24th 1839 L.
James M. Hughes Esqr
Mem, House Rep,
Jefferson City Mo—
Will you be so good as to present this to the house. The Community here would, I believe have no objections for the trial of these men being transferred to .
J M. H.
P. H. (B.) [Peter H. Burnett] [p. 67]


  1. 1

    Likely an allusion to the United States Declaration of Independence, which reads: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  

  2. 2

    Because treason was a nonbailable offense, Judge King committed JS and his fellow prisoners to the Clay County jail to await their trials in spring 1839. The penalty for treason against the state was death or incarceration in the “penitentiary for a period not less than ten years.” (An Act to Regulate Proceedings in Criminal Cases [21 Mar. 1835], Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri [1835], p. 475, art. 2, sec. 8; Letter to Emma Smith, 1 Dec. 1838; An Act concerning Crimes and Their Punishments [20 Mar. 1835], Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri [1835], p. 166, art. 1, sec. 1.)  

    The Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri, Revised and Digested by the Eighth General Assembly, During the Years One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Four, and One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Five. Together with the Constitutions of Missouri and of the United States. 3rd ed. St. Louis: Chambers and Knapp, 1841.

  3. 3

    On 24 October 1838, King sent Boggs a detailed account of the SaintsDaviess County expedition, which culminated with the 18 October raids of Gallatin and Millport. “Until lately I thought the Mormons wer disposed to act only on the defensive,” King stated, “but their recent conduct shows that they are the aggressors, & that they intend to take the law into their own hands.” The judge asked Boggs to intervene. “The country is in great commotion and I can assure you that either with or without authority, something will shortly have to be done.” King’s report was probably based on statements made by Latter-day Saint dissenters and other Missouri residents who claimed to have witnessed the Saints’ activities.a Although the memorial references multiple letters, only King’s 24 October 1838 letter seems to have circulated in the press. The Missouri Watchman, published in Jefferson City, the state capital, printed King’s letter on 29 October, and it was widely discussed and reproduced thereafter.b  

    Mormon War Papers, 1838–1841. MSA.

    Adams Sentinel. Gettysburg, PA. 1800–1867.

    Missouri Republican. St. Louis. 1822–1919.

    Missouri Argus. St. Louis. 1835–1841.

    (aAustin A. King, Richmond, MO, to Lilburn W. Boggs, 24 Oct. 1838, copy; Charles R. Morehead et al., Statement, Richmond, MO, 24 Oct. 1838, copy; Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde, Affidavit, Richmond, MO, 24 Oct. 1838, copy, Mormon War Papers, MSA.b“Mormon Troubles,” Adams Sentinel [Gettysburg, PA], 19 Nov. 1838, [3]; “Letter from Judge King,” Missouri Republican [St. Louis], 2 Nov. 1838, [2]; “Letter from Jud[g]e King,” Missouri Argus [St. Louis], 8 Nov. 1838, [1].)
  4. 4

    On 26 December 1838, King presided at a public meeting in Ray County, where citizens condemned a letter that Clay County resident Michael Arthur wrote to his state legislators. Arthur, who was sympathetic to the Saints, criticized “devils in the form of human beings inhabiting Davis, Livingston and a part of Ray Counties” who were harassing the defenseless Saints in Far West. Arthur hoped that the legislature would authorize the formation of a small guard, numbering about twenty-five men, to protect Caldwell County from marauders. King opposed Arthur’s proposal on the grounds that such a guard would undermine civil authority. Those at the public meeting defended the actions of Ray County citizens and claimed the governor’s expulsion order was necessary to maintain public order. (“Public Sentiment,” Jeffersonian Republican [Jefferson City, MO], 19 Jan. 1839, [1]; Michael Arthur, Liberty, MO, to “Respected Friends,” 29 Nov. 1838, copy; Austin A. King, Richmond, MO, to Lilburn W. Boggs, 23 Dec. 1838, copy, Mormon War Papers, MSA.)  

    Jeffersonian Republican. Jefferson City, MO. 1831–1844.

    Mormon War Papers, 1838–1841. MSA.

  5. 5

    In early January 1839, the Missouri legislature debated the propriety of King chairing an “anti-Mormon meeting,” as the Daily Missouri Republican described it, when he was scheduled to preside at the prisoners’ trials. Although a few legislators shared the Republican’s disapproval, the debate “ended where it began, without any result.” (News Item, Daily Missouri Republican [St. Louis], 8 Jan. 1839, [2]; “Letter from the Editor,” Daily Missouri Republican, 10 Jan. 1839, [2].)  

    Daily Missouri Republican. St. Louis. 1822–1869.

  6. 6

    Breazeale married Austin A. King’s sister, Amanda, in 1827 and was killed on 4 November 1833 in a skirmish between Latter-day Saints and anti-Mormon vigilantes intent on expelling church members from Jackson County. (Roane Co., TN, Marriage Records, 1801–1962, Dec. 1801–Sept. 1838, p. 7, microfilm 560,087, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; “The Outrage in Jackson County,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 118.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

    Evening and Morning Star. Edited reprint of The Evening and the Morning Star. Kirtland, OH. Jan. 1835–Oct. 1836.

  7. 7

    Mulholland may have written the first “L” of “Liberty Jail” in the middle of the page before deciding to inscribe the prisoners’ location on the left side of the page.