Trial Aftermath: Thomas Sharp's Editorial on the Joseph and Hyrum Smith Murders
"To the Public: Mormon Difficulties in Illinois," (Warsaw Signal, 10 July 1844, p. 2).

Republished in Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois (John E. Hallwas and Roger D. Launius, editors)(Utah State Univ. Press 1995)]

The Smith homestead in Nauvoo, with the grave of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in the foreground


The summary execution of two of the Mormon leaders, Joseph and Hiram Smith, at Carthage, on the 27th of June, has excited a deep unrest abroad as well  as at home; and has brought upon us the severest invective of nearly the whole news­paper press, as far as we have yet heard. . . .

       We hold it to be a self evident proposition, that laws are enacted for the safety and protection of the rights, lives and property of those who are to be gov­erned by them. We hold, moreover, that so long as those laws can afford such pro­tection, it is the duty of every good citizen to abide by their direction and to uphold their supremacy; but that whenever, by a train of circumstances, which our legislators never could have anticipated, the law is rendered ineffectual and cheated out of efficacy, there is an impulse planted by God and Nature in every bosom, which prompts men to throw themselves, for protection, on their reserved rights. The law owes us protection, in consideration of which we owe it allegiance. If it fails to perform its offices towards us, we are, to the extent of that failure, absolved from its requisitions.

In every age, and in every nation, it has been the highest crime known to the law, for one man to take the life of another, but wherever such an act is done in self defense it is justified; and why: Because in such case the law could afford no protection to the life of the individual threatened; therefore, God and Nature says to everyman, "Protect thyself." What is true in relation to individuals, we hold equally true when applied to communities.

The public may not be generally aware of the peculiar situation in which the people of Hancock County, Illinois, have been placed for the last four years. On the one hand, we beheld a body of men bound together by all the strong bands of superstition and knavery-acknowledging the dictation of one man as supreme in all matters, both spiritual and temporal-committing the most aggravated aggressions on the rights and property of their neighbors, harboring and protecting counterfeiters, horse thieves and blacklegs-having in their employ a sworn band of assassins, who in more instances than one, have attempted the lives of persons obnoxious to them-by their threats, rendering inept the laws. . . . 

But of them as a religious sect, we have nothing to do. Absurd and loathsome as is their creed, it might forever have been enjoyed without molestation from any of us. We may have ridiculed, pitied and despised the infatuated credulity of such as put their faith in it, but we have never persecuted. When in the name of the Lord they oppressed us, it was the oppressor, and not the priest we resisted-when the doom of destruction was pronounced, it was the Demon of destruction, not the Seer that we rose to combat-it was the murderer, the robber, the adulterer, and not the heaven daring blasphemer, that we wished to punish.

From their first organization as a distinct community, they have been going from one extreme to another-from one atrocity to another, modifying their ridic­ulous creed to suit their peculiar condition.

A circumstance that tells strongly against them, may be found in the facts that they have brought serious difficulties upon every community in which they have lived. Thrice, in the short space of ten years, have they been forced to remove their quarters-once from Ohio, and twice from different portions of Missouri. All the dark spirits of crime, have attended their steps, and scourged every land where they have sojourned. Ohio and Missouri were blamed for driving them off. The cry of "religious persecution,"-the sure key to the sympathies of an unwary public, was raised in their behalf; and we among others, were bitter in our denun­ciations against Missouri for expelling them, from her borders. We took them in, gave them shelter, supplied their wants. Five years have passed, and the helpless band of exiles that sought our hospitality in the inclement season of winter, have become the most powerful people that ever organized in a distinct community, under our republican institutions. We have had plenty of leisure to study their character; and long since have learned enough to justify their expulsion from Missouri, and to cause us to blush for our own credulity in suffering ourselves to be so easily duped. We nourished a viper, and it had no sooner warmed into life than, true to its nature, it turned to destroy its preserver.

Since their appearance among us, the arrogance of their leader had greatly increased. He brought with him political power and influence, and a disposition to make that power and that influence tell on the destinies of his people; and there were found selfish and unprincipled politicians in both parties willing to aid his designs. All the tact, talent and cunning profligate [k]navery could command, were set at work. . . .

It may be known, that Joe Smith was indicted at the last term of the Circuit Court for adultery and perjury. It is further known here, that there was evidence enough to indict him in any other County, for many other heinous offences. These indictments were found in May, more than a month previous to the commence­ment of the war. Yet up to that time, our kind Clerk, had neglected or refused to issue writs on either of these indictments; and it is extremely doubtful whether they were issued at the time of Smith's death. This omission of the Clerk, however, is in its effect of but small importance, for if the writs had been issued, Joe would immediately have given bail, and if he had lived to stood his trial, there is not a sensible man conversant with the facts, who doubts but that he would have been honorably acquitted by a jury of his own packing. If this fact is not made suffi­ciently clear it can and will be done.

We will now refer more particularly to events of recent occurrence. During the last spring, many of the most respectable of the brotherhood, having satisfied themselves of Joe's unprincipled rascality, but still adhering to the principles of the Mormon creed, seceeded [sic] from the Church, and established a press in Nauvoo to expose Joe's iniquities. His saintship, fired with holy indignation, resolved that those men should be put down. Even before the press was established, he said that no paper opposed to his interests, should be published in Nauvoo. The seceeders, however, dared to beard the lion in his den, and brave his wrath. One number of the Expositor was issued. It boldly attacked the prophet and other leading saints­- exposed their foul deeds and designs, and sustained its charges by proof.

The tyrant saw that the axe was laid at the root of his power. His impostures would be exposed-his dark deeds of crime would be published, and his influence over his deluded victims lost. All was at stake-the press must be destroyed or he must fall. The council was called together, & after two days solemn deliberation the press was declared a nuisance, and the Legion ordered out to abate it, which was done. Writs were issued for all the leading actors in this outrage, and they refused to submit to the law. The public is already advised of the results. The civil officers summoned the posse comitatus, and Joe fortified himself in the city-declared mar­tial law and put himself in open defiance of the civil authority. The Governor was applied to-the Military called out, headed by his Excellency in person-at last resistance became hopeless and he yielded. Without standing a trial on the charge of riot, he gave bail to appear before the Circuit Court… Though guilty of almost every crime known to the law, though they had followed robbery, swindling and counterfeiting for a livelihood-though the seduction of virtue and innocence

was with them a pastime; though blood was upon their skirts, yet the law had in every instance in which it had been tried, proved utterly ineffectual to bring these robbers, seducers and murderers to justice.

If we are to judge of the future by the past, what conclusion could we have come to, under the circumstances, other than that Joe and Hyrum Smith would, although in the custody of the officer of the law. have escaped as in every instance heretofore? The fact was demonstrated-the conviction was universal. Under such circumstances, what could have been done? Should we have laid quietly down, and suffered the tyrant to rivet the chains that had already galled us to madness? Should we have submitted passively to be robbed of property and liberty and knowing from the sad experience of the past, that there was no legal redress, span­iel like, licked the hand of our chastiser, and besought his forbearance? Such ques­tions are insulting to free men. No man through whose vein courses one drop of that noble blood, which promoted our forefathers to throw off the yoke of British oppression, will ask his fellow freeman to kneel at the nod of a tyrant, nor con­demn him for asserting his liberty, even if in so doing he is obliged to commit a daring violation of law.

We claim, that the community in which we live, is a law abiding community; and that it will go as far to maintain the supremacy of the law as any other in the nation. Our citizens have regretted, and still regret the necessity that existed for taking the law in this particular instance, into their own hands; but that it would sooner or later have to be done, no one acquainted with the facts of the case, could deny. It was inevitable, and the only question was as to the proper time. In relation to this, we will remark, that Joe and Hiram Smith were regarded as the only indi­viduals that could hold together the Mormon community. They were the instiga­tors and authors of all our troubles. The only alternative then was, whether the guilty cause, should be removed and in the natural course of things suffer the evil to eradicate itself; or whether, we should have waited until renewed aggressions, had so far aroused a feeling of hostility, as to provoke the surrounding country to a general war of extermination. . . .

The Mormons could not be expelled as a people without the cooperation of the Governor. True, he had no clearly expressed Constitutional right to drive them off; no one supposed such a right existed; yet the people thought the necessity of the case would justify it; and they still think so. But this could not be done. Joe and Hiram Smith, their acknowledged heads, were in the custody of the law-so far all was well, they had the promise of the Governor's protection; this was not well, and we think was not generally known, until his Excellency proclaimed it after the catastrophe. But what satisfaction could it afford the old citizens of Hancock, to know that Joe was in jail? They know, and the world must know for reasons before given, that they never could be convicted of any crime. We had taken a great deal of trouble to assert and maintain the supremacy of the law, but if the matter rested here, justice might have despaired of his cause. It was this convic­tion that compressed their execution. Did they deserve death? There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent person acquainted with their history.­


        Evidence enough to damn them fort[y] times over, has been published. Read the history of the Missouri investigation- Bennet's, Harris', Howe's and Tucker's works, the multitude of affidavits which have been published. But this, we think will not be questioned. It is not their death, but the times and the manner- we plead the necessity of the case-we had nothing more to hope from the Executive, until violence on the part of the Mormons demanded his imposition- the law could not reach them- they would soon have been at large. More arrogant and self-sufficient than ever. The late difficulties have added greatly to the two [sic] jealousy and hatred of the two parties. All confidence was lost. The old citizens felt that this one-man power must be destroyed, now, or they themselves, must quietly surrender all their dearest rights and leave the county. They chose a better alterna­tive- one revolting to their own sensibilities, but prompted by a high sense of duty to themselves and their County. As to the time and manner, it had to be done then and thus, or not at all. It was supposed that a rescue would be attempted that night, or the next. Circumstances that have since come to light have placed that matter above suspicion, and there is not room for a reasonable doubt that if attempted it would have been successful.


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