On 22 July 1842, approximately a thousand citizens in , Illinois, held a meeting where nearly all expressed their belief that JS, the city’s mayor, was a moral, virtuous, and upstanding citizen who had been unfairly maligned by . Over the course of the previous two weeks, the Sangamo Journal had published three letters wherein Bennett accused JS of various misdeeds, including being a liar, a blasphemer, and an “arch-imposter” and attempting to seduce “hundreds of single and married females.” In addition to Bennett’s charges, some newspapers in the region had implied that JS was connected to the attempted assassination of former governor , which occurred in early May 1842 in , Missouri. These allegations, coupled with Bennett’s vow that he would do all in his power to “deliver him [JS] up to justice,” fed growing fears among Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo that JS would be extradited to Missouri for trial. JS had also heard rumors that and were conspiring with Bennett to encourage mobs to attack Nauvoo.
In the face of these anxieties, JS sent and to consult with governor and governor about JS’s possible extradition. The first of these consultations, which occurred in early July, convinced Miller and Derby that “could do nothing.” However, on 20 July, swore out an affidavit claiming that JS was an “Accessary before the fact” of his “intended Murder” and asked Reynolds to demand JS’s extradition. Accordingly, on 22 July, the very day of the public meeting in , Reynolds issued a request to Carlin for JS’s extradition from Illinois to Missouri.
Meanwhile, JS was experiencing additional difficulties with as a result of ’s accusations that JS had proposed marriage to Pratt’s wife, . At the 22 July meeting, which had both morning and afternoon sessions, Orson refused to support the resolution attesting to JS’s good moral character and gave a lengthy speech providing “reasons for his negative vote.” JS and other leaders responded by countering Bennett’s claims and questioning Bennett’s character.
The meeting also considered a petition drawn up by a committee appointed by the City Council that expressed support of JS and defended his character. The petition was to be presented to to dissuade him from complying with any request for JS’s extradition. Approximately eight hundred people signed the petition at the meeting. Two other petitions, both mentioned in an appendage to the minutes of the meeting, were prepared in support of JS—one from the and one from citizens in the area who were not members of the church. Although these petitions are mentioned in the minutes, it is unclear whether they were formally presented at this meeting.
, who was appointed clerk of the meeting, evidently took minutes, which were then published in the 23 July 1842 issue of the Wasp and the 1 August 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons. Because the Times and Seasons version seems to be a more complete record of the meeting, it is presented as the featured text. Differences from the Wasp version are noted.
John C. Bennett, Nauvoo, IL, 27 June 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 8 July 1842, ; John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 2 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, ; John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 4 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, .
“Assassination of Ex-Governor Boggs of Missouri,” Quincy (IL) Whig, 21 May 1842, ; “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters,” Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 15 July 1842, ; John C. Bennett, Nauvoo, IL, 27 June 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal, 8 July 1842, ; Letter from Thomas Carlin, 30 June 1842.
At a meeting of the citizens of the city of held in said city at the meeting ground, July 22d 1842.
Esq. was called to the chair, and was appointed clerk.
The meeting was called to order by the , who stated the object of the meeting to be to obtain an expression of the public mind in reference to the reports gone abroad, calumniating the character of Joseph Smith. Gen. then rose and presented the following resolution.
Resolved—That, having heard that was circulating many base falsehoods respecting a number of the citizens of , and especially against our worthy and respected Mayor, Joseph Smith, we do hereby manifest to the world that so far as we are acquainted with Joseph Smith we know him to be a good, moral, virtuous, peaceable and patriotic man, and a firm supporter of law, justice and equal rights; that he at all times upholds and keeps inviolate the constitution of this and of the .
A vote was then called and the resolution adopted by a large concourse of citizens, numbering somewhere about a thousand men. Two or three, voted in the negative.
then rose and spoke at some length in explanation of his negative vote. Pres. Joseph Smith spoke in reply—
Question to , ‘Have you personally a knowledge of any immoral act in me toward the female sex, or in any other way?’ Answer, by Elder , ‘Personally, toward the female sex, I have not.’
Elder responded at some length. Elder then spoke in reply, and was followed by Elders and Pres. . Several others spoke bearing testimony of the iniquity of those who had calumniated Pres. J. Smith’s character.
Meeting adjourned for one hour.
P. M. Meeting assembled pursuant to adjournment and was called to order by the .
A petition was then received from a committee appointed by the city council for the reception, approbation, and signatures of the citizens generally, petitioning the of for protection in our peaceable rights, which was read approved, and signed by, 8,00 persons.
The “,” also drew up a petition signed by about one thousand Ladies speaking in the highest terms of the virtue, philanthrophy, and benevolence of Joseph Smith; begging that he might not be injured, and that they and their families might have the privilege of enjoying their peaceable rights. A petition was also drawn up by many citizens in, and near , who were not Mormons, setting forth the same things. [p. 869]
This possibly refers to a location near the Nauvootemple where other meetings with large attendance had previously been held. Franklin D. Richards also referred in a July 1840 letter to a meeting ground near Sidney Rigdon’s house in the southwest part of the Nauvoo peninsula. (Woodruff, Journal, 7 Nov. 1841; Franklin D. Richards, Walnut Grove, IL, to Levi Richards, West Stockbridge, MA, 21 July 1840, CHL.)
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
Richards, Franklin D. Letter, Walnut Grove, IL, to Levi Richards, East Stockbridge, MA, 21 July 1840. CHL.
Some of the charges that Bennett and others levied against JS were that he considered himself above the law and refused to give up arms to the state of Illinois. The Nauvoo City Council had passed a resolution on 5 July 1842 stating “that no Citizen of this City shall be taken out of the City by any Writs, without the privilege of investigation before the Municipal Court, and the benefit of a Writ of Habeas Corpus, as granted in the seventeenth Section of the Charter of this City.” Referring to this ordinance, Bennett declared, “This is a ‘pretty kettle of fish,’ for Joe Smith to issue a Habeas Corpus to take himself from under the Executive writ!!” (John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 2 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 15 July 1842, ; “From Nauvoo,” Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, ; Ordinance, 5 July 1842; John C. Bennett, St. Louis, MO, 15 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal, 22 July 1842, .)
According to JS’s journal, he and other church leaders responded to Pratt’s speech by “correcting the public mind with regard to reports put in circulation by Bennett & others.” Some of the “others” may have included Sidney Rigdon, George W. Robinson, and Francis M. Higbee, who, according to Bennett’s letters to the Sangamo Journal, had “astounding facts” relating to JS’s alleged marriage proposal to Nancy Rigdon and to JS’s alleged land frauds. Robinson, who apparently had been providing Bennett with information about JS since early July, wrote a letter to James Arlington Bennet on 27 July outlining his views on JS and Nancy Rigdon. (JS, Journal, 22 July 1842; John C. Bennett, Nauvoo, IL, 27 June 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 8 July 1842, ; John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 4 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, ; George W. Robinson, Nauvoo, IL, to John C. Bennett, 3 July 1842, in Bennett, History of the Saints, 44–45; George W. Robinson, Nauvoo, IL, to James Arlington Bennet, 27 July 1842, in Bennett, History of the Saints, 245–247.)
Sangamo Journal. Springfield, IL. 1831–1847.
Bennett, John C. The History of the Saints; or, an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland and Whiting, 1842.
Derr, Jill Mulvay, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds. The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016.