Review: Journals 2 and the Boggs Extradition

By September 14, 2012

Andrew H. Hedges, Alex D. Smith, and Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Journals, Volume 2: December 1841-April 1843 in The Joseph Smith Papers, gen. eds. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian?s Press, 2011). xl, 558 pp. Cloth: $54.95; ISBN: 978-1-60908-737-1.

On October 2, 1841, Joseph Smith deposited in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, a first edition Doctrine and Covenants, a Bible, and other items deemed sufficiently important to preserve for future generations. Among these was a memorial to the U.S. Senate describing the Latter-day Saints’ persecutions in Missouri and a history of the persecutions published in the Times and Seasons. The addition of these two histories to a repository that included sacred writ demonstrated the degree to which the Latter-day Saints were committed to writing about their persecutions and preserving their writings for subsequent readers. As sociologist Jeffrey K. Olick has noted, “collective memory” is not a single or monolithic “thing,” but a “wide variety of mnemonic products and practices,” which only “gain reality by being used, interpreted, and reproduced or changed.”[1] Early Mormon writings on persecution, then, are best understood as mnemonic products that were gradually “used, interpreted, and reproduced” as they shaped how Mormons and others remembered the past.

The second volume in the Joseph Smith Papers’ Journals series covers from December 1841 through April 1843, years marked by continued negotiation over how the Saints’ Missouri experience would be remembered. As J. Stapley has exhaustively explored in his BCC review most of the fantastic elements of this volume, this review will reflect on one aspect of JS’s journals that cover this period?the attempt by the Missouri government to have JS extradited to stand trial for his alleged complicity in the failed assassination plot on former Governor Lilburn W. Boggs. [Full disclosure: I conducted research for this volume when I was a JSPP employee.]

The extradition should be understood within its broader context?the ongoing struggle between Missourians and the Latter-day Saints to control the memory of the 1838-39 expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri.[2] After leaving Missouri, the Saints actively sought to influence how the public remembered the conflict, producing hundreds of affidavits, petitions, histories, and poems that represented Boggs as a new Nero persecuting latter-day Christians. The Missourians, for their part, published official documents from 1838-39 that portrayed the Saints as treasonous and dangerous fanatics who had threatened the social order and who of necessity had been expelled. Boggs tried to have JS extradited on treason charges, which would have reinforced the Missourians’ narrative, but in 1841 JS and his legal allies successfully invalidated the proceedings.

The 1842 attempt on Boggs’ life reinvigorated this conflict over memory. As editors Alex Smith, Andy Hedges, and Richard Anderson note in their introduction, ?more pages and entries in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo journals are devoted to aspects of the extradition attempt than to any other single topic? (xxxi). Chronologically, the case began on May 6, 1842, when an unknown assailant shot Boggs in his Independence, Missouri home, although word of the shooting did not reach Nauvoo and get recorded in the journal until May 14. The case ended on January 5, 1843, when Judge Nathaniel Pope ruled the extradition demand invalid because JS had not been in Missouri when the shooting occurred, and therefore could not have fled from justice. If a crime had occurred?in the alleged scenario JS had sent Porter Rockwell to Missouri to kill Boggs?then JS should be tried by Illinois, not Missouri. JS’s scribes chronicled the case as it developed, from the initial rumors of JS’s involvement (62), to the controversies surrounding the Nauvoo Municipal Court’s habeas corpus powers (various), to Emma Smith’s remarkable letters to Governer Thomas Carlin explaining the legal flaws in Missouri’s case (e.g., 111-13), to JS’s appearance before the U.S. Circuit Court in Springfield, Illinois to challenge the extradition via habeas corpus (193-240). Simply put, habeas corpus is a legal proceeding that allows an arrested individual to appear before a judge, not to claim their innocence, but to argue that the arrest itself was illegal. Throughout, editors Hedges, Smith, and Anderson provide essential contextual annotations that aid the reader in understanding the complex legal maneuverings.

Equally useful was the inclusion of twelve legal documents relating to the case in the appendix. While future volumes in the JSP Legal Series will doubtless reproduce these sources with full annotations, it is useful to have the documents available here, as they are cited in the volume notes. The first two documents reveal the origins and developing contours of the case. On July 20, 1842, Boggs filed an affidavit claiming that ?evidence and information now in his possession? proved that JS, a citizen of Illinois, was an ?accessory before the fact of the intended murder.? Boggs did not claim that JS had actually been charged with a crime, or that he had fled from justice, both necessary precursors to a valid extradition (Doc 1). Missouri Governor Thomas Reynolds quietly included these elements in his July 22, 1842 requisition (Doc 2). Missing from this collection of documents is Illinois Governor Thomas Carlin’s August 2, 1842 arrest warrant (the original, to my knowledge, has not been located, although copies are in the Joseph Smith Collection) and the habeas corpus documents produced by the Nauvoo Municipal Court in August 1842. The editors do not provide an explanation for what they decided to include or exclude. The next document is Carlin’s September 20, 1842 proclamation, which offered $200 rewards for JS and Rockwell (Doc 3). The proclamation was significant to the case because Wilson Law of the Nauvoo Legion arrested JS under its jurisdiction in preparation for their trip to Springfield in December 1842, in order to preempt any would-be arresters who encountered the party en route (194).

The remaining documents were produced during JS’s stay in Springfield. Four were created on December 31, 1842: a petition for a new warrant (since the original was still held by the sheriff who visited in Nauvoo in August; Doc 4), a new warrant (Doc 5), JS’s petition to the federal court for habeas corpus (Doc 6), and the writ of habeas corpus (Doc 7). The next document is JS’s January 2, 1843 affidavit, which argued that since JS was in Illinois on May 6, 1842, he could not have fled from Missouri’s justice (Doc 8). Two January 4 affidavits follow, one by Wilson Law and other Mormons, the other by non-Mormons Jacob B. Backenstos and Stephen A. Douglas, both of which affirmed that the affiants were with JS on May 6-7 in Nauvoo (Docs 9 and 10). The penultimate document is the judge’s substantial analysis of JS’s case and existing extradition laws, as well as Pope’s conclusion that JS should be discharged (Doc 11). The last document is Ford’s January 6, 1843 discharge order (Doc 12).

Almost immediately after Judge Pope discharged JS, the Latter-day Saints and their friends began the process of memorializing the case. The prophet’s attorney suggested placing the extradition papers in the temple’s archive (236). As the prophet’s entourage made the trip home to Nauvoo, they memorialized Pope and other influential non-Mormons who helped defeat the extradition attempt in “The Mormon Jubilee”:

Are you sure the news is true?

and are you sure he’s free?

then let us Join with one accord,

And have a Jubilee. . . .

Success unto the Federal Court.

Judge Pope presiding there. . . .

In the defence of Innocence,

They made the truth to bear;

Reynold’s & Carlin’s baseness both

Did fearlessly declare. . . . (237)

Most Latter-day Saints, while not necessarily remembering the case itself, have read D&C 127, which is a letter on baptisms for the dead written while JS was in hiding in 1842.The letter begins thus: “Forasmuch as the Lord has revealed unto me that my enemies, both in Missouri and this State, were again in the pursuit of me; and inasmuch as they pursue me without a cause, and have not the least shadow or coloring of justice or right on their side in the getting up of their prosecutions against me; and inasmuch as their pretensions are all founded in falsehood of the blackest dye, I have thought it expedient and wisdom in me to leave the place for a short season,” and continues with JS’s oft-quoted self-comparison with Paul. This letter, too, was copied into JS’s journal (131-33). The journals and annotations in this volume therefore contain a wealth of information on the case that shed light on the ways that remembering persecution in Missouri shaped JS’s and other Latter-day Saints’s experience in Nauvoo and their interactions with non-Mormons.


[1] Olick, “From Collective Memory to the Sociology of Mnemonic Products and Practices,” in Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nunning, eds., Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook (Berlin: Walter de Gruytar, 2008), 158. Emphasis original.

[2] I explore these themes further in “Memoirs of the Persecuted: Persecution, Memory, and the West as a Mormon Refuge,” (MA thesis, BYU, 2008) and “‘We Glory in Tribulations’: Parley P. Pratt, Martyrology, and the Memory of Persecution,” in Parley P. Pratt and the Making of Mormonism, 169-200.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Origins


  1. Simply put, habeas corpus is a legal proceeding that requires a governmental official having custody of a person to “produce the body”–thus the name of the writ–before the court and justify his continuing to hold that person.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2012 @ 8:03 am

  2. This is a real interesting part of Nauvoo history. Remember, most cities did not include provisions for their municipal courts to issue or review habeas corpus, in their charters. The Nauvoo charter included ?The Municipal Court shall have power to grant writs of habeas corpus in all cases arising under the ordinances of the City Council.?

    So, when something would happen to Joseph Smith, the city council would pass news laws dealing with habeas corpus, and invalidate the warrant/writ from the governors of Missouri and Illinois. If you look at the newspapers of the day, this infuriated non-mormon considerably more that did the rumors of polygamy. Even the Nauvoo expositor seemed more angry about habeas corpus than they did about polygamy.

    It is a fascinating subject and it is great the JSP gave it the attention it deserved.

    Comment by JDinger — September 14, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  3. Good stuff, David. Thanks for the review.

    Comment by Christopher — September 14, 2012 @ 10:05 am

  4. Excellent. Thanks for lending your expertise on this topic in your review, David.

    Comment by Ben P — September 14, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  5. Nicely done, David. An important part of Mormon tradition reinforced through the 19th century, still shaping to some degree LDS responses to outsiders.

    Comment by WVS — September 14, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  6. Thanks, Mark B. Constructively adding the conversation, as always.

    JDinger, agreed Nauvoo Municipal Court habeas corpus issues are fascinating. I was disappointed that the editors chose not to include those documents in their appendix, but my sense is that their selection was based on documents that were pertinent to the January 1843 hearing. I’m glad that your article appeared in JMH, since you’re right that conflict over habeas corpus deserves more attention.

    Thanks, Chris, Ben, and WVS.

    Comment by David G. — September 14, 2012 @ 10:14 am

  7. “[Full disclosure: I conducted research for this volume when I was a JSPP employee.]”

    Full disclosure: A small note in the acknowledgements of the volume, while sincerely meant, was woefully inadequate to describe your contribution, David, to the poor volume editors’ understanding of the legal issues of the various JS extradition attempts. Your countless hours of uniquely productive research went a long way toward any strengths the volume may have had. [Full disclosure: I’m a huge David Grua fan.]

    Comment by Alex — September 14, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  8. My son and I visited some of the Lincoln sites in Springfield earlier this summer.

    Being an attonrey I had to see the Lincoln-Herndon law office.

    The federal court in 1842 met on the second floor of the bulding and Lincoln had his law office on the third floor.

    As the guide was showing up the restored federal court he discussed the trail of joseph Smith. I was able to correct him on a few points, (Joseph Smith was shot not hung at Carthage and so forth)

    I look forward to looking at the documents. You post was an excellent discussion of the issues.

    Comment by john willis — September 14, 2012 @ 11:37 am

  9. You’ve mischaracterized both the writ of habeas corpus and the role of “innocence” in our adversarial system of justice. I should think that you would want to be more precise in those matters, which admittedly are not central to your review, rather than leaving your readers to wonder whether that same imprecision affects other parts of your review.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  10. Thanks, Alex.

    John, thanks for sharing. I saw the courtroom in 2005, when JWHA was meeting in Springfield, where I presented on the hearing. It is a cool place, although smaller than I would have imagined.

    Mark, my comment was said only partly in jest–I do appreciate you clarifying my language, which admittedly was nonprecise, given that most of the readers of the JI are not lawyers.

    Comment by David G. — September 14, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

  11. David,

    Regarding your lament that other documents were not included in the legal appendix of Journals 2: While the numerous Nauvoo ordinances relating to habeas corpus are wonderful and insightful texts, at some point the decision had to be made to limit the number of documents being reproduced in the appendix for space issues alone. Ironically, Pope’s lengthy opinion (document no. 11 in the appendix)was the greatest extravagance when it came to criteria for document selection. Not only were all the other documents that were chosen directly related to the Jan 1843 hearing, many of them were produced contemporaneously with the journal events describing their creation–for instance, Wm Clayton’s note of doing copy work shortly before the party’s departure from Springfield of these same documents.

    The quick, wholly unofficial, and cheeky (but not insincere) answer to the question of document selection was that we wanted to showcase the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum’s great collection of JS legal documents. The ALPL&M have been invariably supportive and helpful to the JSP folks.

    John Willis,

    You write about visiting the Lincoln-Herndon law office on your trip, and identify where Lincoln’s law office was. It’s a great building, isn’t it?! Footnote 121 on page 210 of Journals 2 could imply that Lincoln’s law office was in the building concurrent with JS’s January 1843 hearing. In reality, the Logan-Lincoln law offices did not move to the Tinsley building until half a year later, in the summer of 1843. Our thanks to Bryon Andreasen of the ALPL&M, and an expert on this area of Mormon history, for the correction.

    Comment by Alex — September 14, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  12. Sorry, one more note to David’s question about the appendix. The decision to include an appendix about the habeas corpus documents at all was an early one in the development of the volume. A few of the documents–Boggs’ affidavit, Reynolds’ requisition, and Carlin’s proclamation, in particular, where very frequently cited in the JS journal entries themselves. It only made sense, in a situation where word-level detail was being argued in legal settings, to provide those same documents for the reader’s perusal. Clayton apparently considered a few of these documents significant enough (and possibly for the same reason) to include in JS’s journal at the end of the Book of the Law of the Lord portion of the journal.

    Comment by Alex — September 14, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  13. I appreciate the comments about the Lincoln Herndon law office. It is a cool place.

    I understand that Mary Todd Lincoln attended the hearing. They didn’t have HBO back then and attending trials and court hearings was a form of entertainment.

    Lincoln himself didn’t attend the hearing as he was involved in an impeachment trial of a judge at the Illinois State house across the street.

    I did see a recreation of Licoln’s law office at the museum. I was glad to see that there was an attorney who had a desk that was messier than mine.

    Comment by john willis — September 14, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

  14. Thanks, Alex. Space concerns make sense, as does the desire to highlight the ALPL&M’s documents. And thanks for the note about the decision making and timing behind the appendix. One quick clarification: I wasn’t wondering why the habeas corpus ordinances were not included–they’re not, as I understand the definition, JS legal documents. Rather, I was wondering about Carlin’s August 2, 1842 arrest warrant (copies of which we have) and the habeas corpus documents produced by the NMC in response to it. Since you weren’t trying to be comprehensive, I understand why you had to be selective, and focusing on the docs that were immediately relevant to the federal court hearing makes sense.

    Comment by David G. — September 14, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

  15. Ah, I’m with you now. Needing a place to draw the line, it made the most sense to include documents immediately related to the Springfield hearing. Since JS had been taken into custody on authority of Carlin’s published proclamation, rather than the not-located-then-or-now original warrant (which, as you point out, was copied by the NMC), and was then arrested on authority of Ford’s new 31 Dec warrant in place of the missing Carlin warrant, those two documents were used, but the line was drawn at not featuring too much back-story. As a quick clarification, appendix documents also do not necessarily need to meet the requirements of what we would consider a JS document–legal or otherwise (the Clayton journal extract appendix is an example of something that we would not consider a JS document, regardless of it being Joseph-centric in content).

    Comment by Alex — September 14, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  16. Thanks David. I really like your stuff on memory and think it is important. I’m also at my weakest with some of this legal stuff.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 14, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  17. My thanks also David. I love your thinking on memory and what it can tell us about the past.

    Comment by Robin — September 14, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  18. There is certainly a great deal to know about this toрiс.
    ӏ like all of the points yοu mаde.

    Comment by Barb — October 21, 2012 @ 12:01 am


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