Introduction to State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee

Document Transcript

State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee
Hancock Co., Illinois, Justice of the Peace Court, 24 May 1842
Hancock Co., Illinois, Circuit Court, circa September 1842
 
Historical Introduction
On 24 May 1842, JS filed a complaint before , a justice of the peace in , Illinois, accusing of and defaming his character, as well as that of his wife . Earlier that month, had been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to sexual misconduct, including allegedly seducing women in by telling them that JS and other church leaders condoned and practiced “promiscous intercourse between the sexes.” Along with Bennett’s own misconduct, he had also apparently been the source of “evil reports” and accusations concerning JS. These included rumors that JS was involved in sexual misconduct—allegations likely arising from JS’s practice of plural marriage. In the latter part of May, the Nauvoo began investigating men who had followed Bennett’s practice of seducing women in Nauvoo, ultimately bringing several men to trial for “unchaste and unvirtuous conduct.” Among these men was Higbee, who was tried on 20 May. Sarah Miller, Margaret Nyman, and Matilda Nyman testified that Higbee had persuaded them to have extramarital sexual relations with him by giving assurances that JS and other church leaders sanctioned it.
The next day, Margaret and Matilda Nyman swore out affidavits concerning ’s conduct; Miller gave her affidavit on the same subject three days later. These affidavits, along with the women’s testimonies before the , formed the basis of JS’s complaint, which claimed that Higbee had “slandered and defamed character of the said Joseph Smith, and also the character of , his wife.” The complaint accused Higbee of using “their names, the more readily to accomplish his purpose in seducing certain females.” JS’s inclusion of Emma Smith, who had not been mentioned by name in the high council proceedings, suggests that she may have been involved in his decision to file the complaint. Although had a statute that permitted citizens to bring civil action for slander in response to accusations relating to sexual matters, treated JS’s complaint as a criminal matter and issued a warrant for Higbee’s arrest.
A city constable arrested and brought him before . At JS’s request, , Miller, and the Nyman sisters were subpoenaed to testify against Higbee. Robinson, who was authorized as justice of the peace to hold preliminary hearings for criminal matters, found sufficient evidence in the witness testimonies to bind Higbee over to appear at the next term of the Circuit Court. Robinson certified a copy of his docket entry for the case on 1 September 1842, and it was filed with the circuit court in anticipation of the trial. The circuit court clerk subpoenaed the Nyman sisters, Miller, and McRae to appear before the court on 3 October 1842. The clerk also subpoenaed , , Emeline White, Amanda Gee, and Melissa Schindle to testify in Higbee’s defense. Although at least some of the subpoenas were served on the witnesses, for unknown reasons the circuit court evidently took no further action on the case.
 
Calendar of Documents
This calendar lists all known documents created by or for the court, whether extant or not. It does not include versions of documents created for other purposes, though those versions may be listed in footnotes. In certain cases, especially in cases concerning unpaid debts, the originating document (promissory note, invoice, etc.) is listed here. Note that documents in the calendar are grouped with their originating court. Where a version of a document was subsequently filed with another court, that version is listed under both courts.

Footnotes

  1. 1

    Complaint, 24 May 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee].  

  2. 2

    Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842, in JSP, D10:180–182. For more on Bennett’s excommunication, see Notice, 11 May 1842, in JSP, D10:40–45.  

    JSP, D10 / Kuehn, Elizabeth A., Jordan T. Watkins, Matthew C. Godfrey, and Mason K. Allred, eds. Documents, Volume 10: May–August 1842. Vol. 10 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2020.

  3. 3

    See Historical Introduction to Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842, in JSP, D10:178–180. JS referenced these “evil reports” on 19 May during the Nauvoo City Council meeting. During the meeting, JS asked Bennett to address his claims that JS had authorized him to engage in extramarital sexual relations. Bennett responded by saying that JS had not “given me authority to hold illicit intercourse with women.” (JS, Journal, 19 May 1842.)  

    JSP, D10 / Kuehn, Elizabeth A., Jordan T. Watkins, Matthew C. Godfrey, and Mason K. Allred, eds. Documents, Volume 10: May–August 1842. Vol. 10 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2020.

  4. 4

    Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 20 May 1842; see also Woodruff, Journal, 27 May 1842.  

    Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 1839–1845. CHL. LR 3102 22.

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  5. 5

    Though the high council minutes of 20 May 1842 do not identify the women, the minutes of 24 May 1842 provide their names. (Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 24 May 1842.)  

    Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 1839–1845. CHL. LR 3102 22.

  6. 6

    Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 24 May 1842; Margaret Nyman, Testimony, Nauvoo, IL, 21 May 1842; Matilda Nyman, Testimony, Nauvoo, IL, 21 May 1842; Sarah Miller, Testimony, Nauvoo, IL, 24 May 1842, Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, CHL.  

    Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 1839–1845. CHL. LR 3102 22.

    Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, May 1842. CHL.

  7. 7

    Complaint, 24 May 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee].  

  8. 8

    Illinois law defined “sexual” slander as falsely speaking or publishing words “which in their common acceptation shall amount to charge any person with having been guilty of fornication, or adultery.” This act authorized plaintiffs to bring a civil action at the circuit court level, but as a justice of the peace, Robinson lacked jurisdiction to try slander cases. (An Act Declaring Certain Words Actionable [27 Dec. 1822], Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois [1839], p. 660, sec. 1; Robinson v. Harlan, 1 Scammon 238 [Ill. Sup. Ct. 1835]; see also Dinger, “Sexual Slander and Polygamy in Nauvoo,” 1–22.)  

    The Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois: Containing All the Laws . . . Passed by the Ninth General Assembly, at Their First Session, Commencing December 1, 1834, and Ending February 13, 1835; and at Their Second Session, Commencing December 7, 1835, and Ending January 18, 1836; and Those Passed by the Tenth General Assembly, at Their Session Commencing December 5, 1836, and Ending March 6, 1837; and at Their Special Session, Commencing July 10, and Ending July 22, 1837. . . . Compiled by Jonathan Young Scammon. Chicago: Stephen F. Gale, 1839.

    Scammon / Scammon, J. Young. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois. 4 vols. St. Louis: W. J. Gilbert, 1869–1870.

    Dinger, John S. “Sexual Slander and Polygamy in Nauvoo.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 3 [July 2018]: 1–22.

  9. 9

    It is unclear what statute Robinson relied on for the prosecution. He may have used the Illinois libel law, which defined libel as “a malicious defamation, expressed either by printing or by signs or pictures, or the like” in order “to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation” of a person and “to expose him or her to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” As the statute indicates, libel was generally seen as slander that took written or published, rather than oral, form. Spoken slander could prompt criminal charges if the words led to a breach of the peace, but there is no evidence that Robinson saw Higbee’s words as a breach of the peace. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, covering terminology of this period, stated: “If the matter be understood as scandalous, and is calculated to excite ridicule or abhorrence against the party intended, it is libellous, however it may be expressed.” (An Act relative to Criminal Jurisprudence [26 Feb. 1833], Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois [1839], p. 220, sec. 120; Starkie, Treatise on the Law of Slander and Libel, 2:184–187; see also “Libel,” in Bouvier, Law Dictionary, 2:40–41.)  

    The Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois: Containing All the Laws . . . Passed by the Ninth General Assembly, at Their First Session, Commencing December 1, 1834, and Ending February 13, 1835; and at Their Second Session, Commencing December 7, 1835, and Ending January 18, 1836; and Those Passed by the Tenth General Assembly, at Their Session Commencing December 5, 1836, and Ending March 6, 1837; and at Their Special Session, Commencing July 10, and Ending July 22, 1837. . . . Compiled by Jonathan Young Scammon. Chicago: Stephen F. Gale, 1839.

    Starkie, Thomas. A Treatise on the Law of Slander and Libel, and Incidentally of Malicious Prosecutions. Vol. 2. Albany, New York: C. Van Benthuysen, 1843.

    Bouvier, John. A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America, and of the Several States of the American Union; With References to the Civil and Other Systems of Foreign Law. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Deacon and Peterson, 1854.

  10. 10

    Warrant, 24 May 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee].  

  11. 11

    Although McRae was not named in the subpoena, Robinson listed him on the verso of the subpoena document among the witnesses who testified. (Subpoena, 24 May 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee].)  

  12. 12

    Recognizance, 24 May 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee]; An Act to Regulate the Apprehension of Offenders, and for Other Purposes [6 Jan. 1827], Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois [1839], p. 238, sec. 3. Robinson worded the recognizance so that it bound Higbee to appear before the circuit court “to answer a charge of slander and defamation against the character of Joseph Smith”; it is unknown whether the omission of Emma Smith’s name was intentional.  

    The Public and General Statute Laws of the State of Illinois: Containing All the Laws . . . Passed by the Ninth General Assembly, at Their First Session, Commencing December 1, 1834, and Ending February 13, 1835; and at Their Second Session, Commencing December 7, 1835, and Ending January 18, 1836; and Those Passed by the Tenth General Assembly, at Their Session Commencing December 5, 1836, and Ending March 6, 1837; and at Their Special Session, Commencing July 10, and Ending July 22, 1837. . . . Compiled by Jonathan Young Scammon. Chicago: Stephen F. Gale, 1839.

  13. 13

    Docket Entry, Copy, ca. 24 May 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee].  

  14. 14

    Subpoena, 14 Sept. 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee].  

  15. 15

    Subpoena, 19 Sept. 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee]. JS allegedly proposed plural marriage to Latter-day Saints Nancy Rigdon and Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt. John C. Bennett in his book History of the Saints further accused JS of attempting to seduce Emeline White and Melissa Schindle, married women who were not Latter-day Saints. According to Bennett, Higbee was the one who obtained an affidavit from Schindle about JS for him. (Bennett, History of the Saints, 226–247, 253–255.)  

    Bennett, John C. The History of the Saints; or, an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland and Whiting, 1842.

  16. 16

    Subpoena, 14 Sept. 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee]; Subpoena, 19 Sept. 1842 [State of Illinois v. C. L. Higbee]. There are no docket entries in the October term mentioning an indictment against Higbee. (Hancock Co., IL, Circuit Court Records, 1829–1897, vol. C, p. 319–334, microfilm 947,496; Hancock Co., IL, Circuit Court, Index to Court Papers, 1830–1865, vol. A, p. 75, microfilm 955,126, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.