On 30 January 1843, as mayor of , Illinois, JS signed an omnibus ordinance that attempted to regulate increasingly concerning behaviors in the city as Nauvoo’s population grew. Owing to its wide-ranging purposes, the ordinance is made up of six divisions, each split into its own sections establishing laws on a different issue. The Nauvoo City Council approved the new measures with the goal of increasing law and order in the city amid rapid population growth. Extant records indicate that during 1842 and early 1843, the arrival of Latter-day Saints from Great Britain may have added more than 1,800 people to Nauvoo and the surrounding regions. The additions represented a dramatic population increase for a city that, according to the national census, had approximately 2,450 residents in 1840.
As ’s population grew, city and leaders became increasingly preoccupied with disorderly conduct in the city. In an attempt to solve these problems, on 14 November 1842 the city council appointed , , and as “a select Committee to prepare a Code of Criminal Laws.” Two months later, on 14 January 1843, the city council added and to the committee. On 30 January, the city council met at six o’clock in the evening, and the committee presented a bill titled “Laws and Ordinances of the City of Nauvoo” for the council’s approval.
The proposed ordinances included several provisions intended to maintain order in the city. The ordinances were designed to help the city handle the population increase by enumerating disturbances of the peace, keeping streets and alleys free of construction supplies and other impediments, preventing fires, granting the city council power to regulate the night watch, and furthering regulations on the public market and the disposal of garbage and other nuisances. The city council passed the proposed ordinances, whereupon JS signed them.
A preliminary draft of the ordinances, which the committee presumably used during its proposal to the city council, was filed with other municipal documents. On 8 February 1843, the Wasppublished a copy of the ordinances, evidently basing its version upon the draft copy or another manuscript copy that is not extant. City recorder recorded a fair copy of the ordinances in the Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, presumably on or shortly after 30 January. The fair copy recorded in the Nauvoo City Council Minute Book is featured here as the official ordinances by which the city was governed. Because it is not possible to feature each of the city ordinances passed during this time period, these ordinances represent a sample of the kinds of ordinances and laws the Nauvoo City Council passed between September 1842 and February 1843.
No reliable count of Nauvoo’s population during the 1840s exists. Different estimates of the city’s population range from 12,000 to 15,000. In January 1843, for instance, JS estimated the population was about 12,000. Nearly three years later, however, an actual count of city residents reported a population of only 11,057. (Black, “How Large Was the Population of Nauvoo?,” 91–94; JS, Journal, 5 Jan. 1843; “Mobocracy,” Times and Seasons, 15 Nov. 1845, 6:1031; “Nauvoo,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:936.)
Godfrey, “Crime and Punishment in Mormon Nauvoo,” 198–212. Available evidence does not suggest higher crime rates in Nauvoo than in surrounding areas with comparable populations, but critics of JS and the church denounced Nauvoo as crime ridden, causing city authorities to try to reassure observers that order reigned there.
The several sections following are declared Laws & Ordinances of the said , and any Person who shall be guilty of any of the offences hereinafter mentioned shall be subject to the penalty hereinafter to be prescribed to be sued for & collected before the Mayor, the Municipal Court, or any Alderman of said .
Of City Officers.
There shall be appointed by the City Council of the City of , biennially, the following officers for the City of , in addition to those provided for in the City Charter of said ; to wit: an engineer, market master, weigher & sealer of weights & measures, a fire warden in each Ward of the , a Sexton, & a police Officer to act under the direction of the Mayor as Captain of the Watch, & a supervisor of Streets and Alleys.
Sec. 1. Of the preservation of good Order.
No Person shall keep a billiard Table, pharo Bank, or any other instrument of gaming, where, or on, or with which, money, liquor, or other Articles, shall in any manner be played for, or if any person shall keep a disorderly or gaming house, such person shall for every offence forfeit & pay a penalty of twenty five dollars, & also the further penalty of twenty five dollars for every forty eight hours, during which, such person shall continue to keep the same, after the first conviction for any violation of this section.
Sec. 2. Any Person or Persons who shall make, aid, Coun [p. 151]
Reflecting the city’s growth, this ordinance apparently departed from section 17 of the act incorporating the city of Nauvoo, which stipulated that “the Mayor shall have exclusive jurisdiction in all cases arising under the ordinances of the corporation, and shall issue such process as may be necessary to carry out said ordinances into execution and effect.” (Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo, 16 Dec. 1840.)
On 1 March 1841, the council passed an ordinance allowing the election of a city engineer, market master, weigher and sealer, and collector. This section expanded the number of municipal officers and made them more accountable to the city council by granting the council authority to appoint individuals to those offices. (Minutes, 1 Mar. 1841.)
The Revised Statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Passed November 4, 1835; To Which Are Subjoined, an Act in Amendment Thereof, and an Act Expressly to Repeal the Acts Which Are Consolidated Therein, Both Passed in February 1836. . . . Compiled by Theron Metcalf and Horace Mann. Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1836.
Pharaoh, faro, or farobank was a nineteenth-century gambling card game popular in the United States and western Europe. States and municipalities commonly outlawed the game. (Novak, People’s Welfare, 159–160, 256nn54–55; see also, for example, Of Nuisances and the Good Government of the City, Laws and Ordinances of the Common Council of the City of Albany, chap. 22, pp. 111–112 [second numbering], sec. 6; and An Act relative to Crime and Punishment [10 Feb. 1831], Revised Laws of Indiana, p. 193, sec. 64.)
Novak, William J. The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Laws and Ordinances of the Common Council of the City of Albany, Revised and Revived, December, 1837. To Which Are Prefixed, the Charter of the City of Albany, and the Several State Laws Relating to the Said City. Albany, NY: Common Council of the City of Albany, 1838.