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- FEATURE ARTICLE -
Sidney Rigdon and the Quincy Whig: 1839-1841
DALE R. BROADHURST
-- Sections of this Article --
Intro. | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Notes | Appendix
-- A Mormon Chronology to Accompany this Article --
1838 (Jan-Dec) | 1839 (Jan-Jun) | 1839 (Jul-Dec) | 1840 and 1841
1838 to April 22, 1839
1839 Quincy handbill and a roughly contemporary view of Quincy painted by Henry Lewis
The frigid and stormy winter of 1838-39 was a faith-testing low point for the early Latter Day Saints. Most were forced to flee the State of Missouri as destitute refugees. The Mormon followers of Joseph Smith struggled with grim determination to reach shelter at the nearest point of reasonable safety, the eastern shore of the Mississippi River. Across the river they congregated, a leaderless and broken people, in and around Adams County, Illinois, particularly in the county-seat of Quincy. This bustling port was then the largest town on the upper Mississippi and a rival of St. Louis. The well-known liberality of its citizens (it was the gateway to the abolitionists' "underground railway") and an abundance of goods in its waterfront storehouses attracted the fleeing Saints like a magnet. Ten years later, when the Mormons were again gaining national attention, a writer for the Southern Literary Messenger recalled the arrival of these fugitive Mormons:
They began to arrive in Quincy and its vicinity, during the winter of 1828-9. They were, for the most part, wretchedly poor, scantily supplied with clothing, and almost destitute of food. They were compelled for want of houses, to camp out for weeks together at that inclement season, in the river bottoms, under such shelter as poles and blankets afforded them. They were the most humble and submissive of men. They described their wrongs and sufferings in the most moving terms: but still, rather in the language and tone of unresisting martyrs, than those of defeated and vindictive partizans. Every body was filled with compassion. Contributions were freely made for their relief, in money and necessaries, both by the public authorities and by individuals. Employment was given to them on farms, in workshops, and in private families: and many of them distributed themselves through the adjoining counties, and even in distant parts of the State, pursuing various avocations. There seemed to be a fair prospect of their being gradually absorbed in the general population of the country: and their inoffensive demeanor conciliated the good will of their new neighbors, while it confirmed the prejudice against Gov. Boggs and the Missourians.
Although fearful at first of their church being decimated and their lifeline to divine realms being severed, these all but penniless escapees from Missouri did not have to wait long for the arrival of either charity or leadership. As the more recent saintly arrivals hunkered down along the river bottoms in wagons, tents and an occasional shed of a benevolent Gentile, a select circle of Mormon escapees were already warming their feet at the toasty fireside of Mormon sympathizer, Judge John Cleveland, four miles east of Quincy.
All three members of the Saints' ruling First Presidency escaped Missouri's jails and secured their safety in Illinois before the cruel winter's storms subsided. Mormon Presidents Joseph and Hyrum Smith slipped away from a Missouri sheriff on the 15th of April. The latter-day prophet was safely sheltered at the Cleveland farm by the afternoon of the 22nd. There he found his companion Emma and their children settled in the gracious care of his faithful follower (and future plural wife) Sister Sarah Cleveland. President Sidney Rigdon gathered his belongings and departed his own temporary abode with the Clevelands a few days before Joseph's arrival. Prophet Smith would renew his long-standing acquaintance with Sidney a week later in a nearby hamlet, a spot on the river which Joseph would one day rename "Nauvoo."
The veiled intercourse of such latter day "prophets, seers, and revelators" is, of course, unrecoverable from this temporal distance; but their public wheelings and dealings can be documented without undue effort. And sifting of recorded evidence provides clues to the motives and methods of the Mormon masters. This paper examines some of the lesser known activities of Sidney Rigdon, along with those of Joseph Smith and their associates during a time of testing and transition. In particular, it concentrates upon the reputation of President Sidney Rigdon as it was broadcast by a novel newspaper, the partisan and recalcitrant Quincy Whig. This paper also seeks to help explain the inconsistent portrayal of this illusive Mormon by the journalists, editors, and politicians in ante-bellum Quincy.
Western Whiggery and Regional Rivalry
The Quincy Whig was one of many periodicals which sprang up in support of the nascent Whig political cause between the early 1830s and 1850. While western Illinois was never a major Whig stronghold, by 1838 the new party had acquired enough adherents in that region for two local lawyer-politicians to start up the Whig in Quincy on May 5th of that same year. These men were junior partners in the local law firms of Browning & Bushnell and Williams & Johnson. Callow, energetic, and afraid that Jacksonian Democrats were set to destroy the Republic and institute regional oligarchies, N. Bushnell and A. Johnson were ready to rouse and rally disaffected voters with a new mouthpiece for Whiggery in western Illinois.
They found a willing publisher and associate editor in businessmen Henry V. Sullivan. He supplied the press and printers for a regional journalistic instrument which survived hard times, mergers, and even the utter disappearance of its namesake party, to prosper even down to the close of the 20th century under the banner of the Quincy Herald-Whig. But, though Sullivan would long stay associated with the endeavor, dilettantes Bushnell and Johnson quickly hired an experienced editor away from the Galena Gazette and Advertiser in Jo Daviess Co. and retired back to the comfort of their legal offices. With the appearance of the sixteenth issue, on August 18, 1838, the names of the papers's founders, were dropped from the masthead and replaced with those of Sylvester M. Bartlett and publisher Henry V. Sullivan. Although Sullivan was always listed there as a co-editor, it is thought that he primarily attended to the publishing end of the business, leaving Bartlett most of the editorial authority.
The late 1830s and early 1840s was a time when western Americans entered into local politics with a passion. At a time when issues like states' rights, abolition of slavery, and national finances were on almost everybody's mind, the political concerns expressed in regional papers like the Quincy Whig often had a significant impact on State and National policy. The rising national Whig party of the mid-1830s institutionalized a coalition of Jeffersonian Republicans and "National" Democrats first organized by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, in opposition to the administration of Andrew Jackson. Hopping onto the Whig bandwagon generally required no more than an expressed disdain for the Democrats and Bartlett and Sullivan found many of their neighbors ready to do just that. They saw it as their duty to unite the voters in turning the "loco-foco" Democratic rascals out of office from Washington D. C. all the way to frontier Missouri, but more particularly in Illinois, of course. They cheerfully emlisted their four page weekly in the national struggle of uniting North and South, East and West, in providing alternatives to Jacksonian Democracy.
Suckers, Pukes, and Them Thar Marmons.
The far west branch of the Whigs came into being at a time when the State governments of Illinois and neighboring Missouri were both firmly in the hands of the Democratic party. The prairie Whigs sprang up all along the frontier like weeds in June; their numbers by 1839 roughly equaled those of the rival party. But equal numbers did not translate into equal power for the western Whigs and they faced an uphill battle in their attempts to dislodge the entrenched administrations like those of Governor Lilburn W. Boggs in Jefferson City and Governor Thomas Carlin in Springfield. These regal "public servants" ruled over sovereign domains largely unhindered by their national master, President Martin van Buren -- so long as they consistently delivered the necessary numbers of Democratic votes in the national elections. Carlin and Boggs were regional rivals who were generally on less than friendly terms and who presided over two differing and equally unfriendly populations. This created a bit of a problem for upstart river-front Whigs who were always giving lip service to the lofty goals of Republicanism and national unity.
Although situated as close to many eastern Missourian towns as they were to those scattered across western Illinois, the citizens of Quincy and Adams County, along with much of river-front Illinois, looked down upon the Missourians as uncouth, slave-beating, backwoodsmen, more likely to spend their time reading the labels on whisky bottles than the columns of upstanding journals like the Quincy Whig. And the "pukes" of Missouri were equally disdainful of the Illinoisian "suckers," whom they pictured as rabid abolitionists and meddlesome sharpsters who welcomed disgusting Yankees into their midst. The Mississippi shoreline of 1839 was obviously no place to speak too loudly about "national unity." Even before the Quincy Whig came along to mouth such cant slogans, the Democrats' Quincy Argus, was finding it difficult to find anything fraternal to say in regard to their party's brethren across the river. Editor Isaac N. Morris and his writers at the Whig's established rival generally looked upon their fellow partisans in Missouri more as fallen souls than as respectable allies -- even in a no holds barred verbal battle with the troublesome Whigs of either state.
Into this four-way journalistic war of words, raucous stump speeches, and secret midnight caucuses descended the hordes refugee Mormons in 1839. The Latter Day Saints had been a politically-minded people ever since Joseph Smith's followers in New York had united with the "Reformed Baptists" united around Sidney Rigdon in northern Ohio. The social fabric of their new religion (especially their wonted flocking together to seek "refuge" from an imagined end of the world) naturally worked to set them at odds with their Gentile neighbors, no matter where they chose to settle as a people. They walked into Illinois carrying little else besides their strange political baggage of being Democrats fleeing an order of extermination from a Democratic governor, and of being clannish northern religionists in a land of egalitarian southern pioneers. And in six months all the adult males would be valid voters in Illinois. What a complication to add to that already complex microcosm called Adams Co., Illinois in the year before a national election! As Robert Bruce Flanders puts it:
Of the most far-reaching consequence for Mormon life in Illinois was the fact that the Church became involved in a complex process of political action. Nothing could have been more typically American than such use of the power of their numbers, actual and potential. Nor could anything have been more hazardous.
When is a Democrat not a Democrat?
Even though the Saints had voted a strictly Democratic ticket in Missouri, and although their most recent round of troubles in that State had been touched off by their election troubles with a Gentile Whig candidate in Caldwell County, the "leading men" of Mississippian Illinois at first tended to look upon these newcomers more in the light of their being escapees from the nasty frontiersmen of Missouri than as their being unshakably committed partisans to either of the two major political causes then vying for power in the State. The newly planted "Mormon vote" appeared to be up for grabs in February of 1839 and the time was right for both Democrats and Whigs (then holding about even numbers of adherents in Illinois) to begin the grabbing. Those adult males arriving within the next twelve months would be able to vote in the 1840 local August elections and there were by far enough new ballot-casters among these block-voting Mormons to decide the balance of power in Adams County (and perhaps even the new capital at Springfield) for years to come. B. H. Roberts implied this when he said:
Were there no benefits which the saint could bestow upon the state in return for the heartiness of the reception given? Would it not have been, under all the circumstances, the gravest of blunders for Illinois to have refused asylum to these exiles? Is it to be presumed that the public men of western Illinois were so blind to their own interests as not to see in these twelve or fifteen thousand people a mighty advantage to the state... about the time of the advent of the saints into Illinois, political parties were just taking form in the state, and it is within the record of the facts in the case, as well as of great likelihood, that a desire for obtaining political advantage was at least in the background of motives prompting the heartiness of the reception to the saints.While nobody cared to shout the fact too loudly in public, it was well understood that top Mormon leaders like Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and especially Joseph Smith, could influence the Saints' voting preferences mightily. This could be a danger or a boon, and each of the two established political parties in Adams County stood to gain much -- if the politicos just learned how to play their cards skillfully in this "new game in town."
The Mormons Come to Quincy
The appearance of the Mormons upon their doorsteps was not exactly unexpected by the citizens of Adams County. Local papers like the Whig and the Argus had reprinted articles from the Missouri papers of 1838, occasionally interspersing their own editorial comments regarding the coming relocation of this problematic people. On Nov. 17, 1838 the Whig pondered their fate, probably little knowing that influencial Saints like John P. Greene were already relocating in Quincy, with the idea that the Mormons would be "gathering" thereabouts:
The disposition of the captured Mormons presents a case of great difficulty. They are generally poor -- at least they have but little money and few means besides their stock and crops to preserve them from starvation. As it is, we suspect, these means are very much abridged. The presence of several thousand troops in their vicinity must have reduced them greatly. The proposition -- so it is given out -- is to remove them from the State. Who will advance the funds wherewith to consummate to such a measure? And where shall they be sent? Their numbers exceed five thousand, men women and children! Are these 5000 people -- without any means and literally beggars -- to be thrust upon the charities of Illinois, Iowa, or Wisconsin?With all the major Mormon leaders either pre-occupied in Missouri for one reason or another, or lost to apostasy and death, the Quincyites must have looked upon the sudden appearance of large numbers of the Saints in their region as something akin to an act of Nature, like the coming a great flock of migrating birds which were settling down for an unexpected rest in a foreign land. At least the newcomers seemed harmless enough -- at first. On Feb. 23, 1839 the Whig informed its readers about these "persecuted innocents" seeking refuge:
Illinois, at present, appears to be an asylum for this oppressed people, as they are coming in from all quarters. For several days they have been crossing at this place, bringing with them the wreck of what they could save from their ruthless oppressors. They appear, so far as we have seen, to be a mild, inoffensive people, who could not have given a cause for the persecution they have met with; and the whole proceedings towards this people, by the authorities of Missouri, must stand as a lasting stigma to the State...
Take me to Your Leader!
In that same Feb. 23, 1839 article the readers of the Whig learned that "The celebrated Mormon preacher and leader, Sidney Rigdon, arrived in Quincy, on Saturday last (Feb. 16)." Now that the Quincy city fathers and men of importance had somebody "official" to talk to, they began to consider how best to act in the current humantarian crisis and possible political windfall. Thomas B. H. Stenhouse describes that period thusly:
Early in the spring the citizens of Quincy saw a large increase to their numbers of poor, destitute Mormons. They were utterly helpless, and many of them bordering on starvation. Meetings were called and measures adopted for their particular benefit. At the same time, the ignorant were assured that the Mormons had no design of lowering the price of labour, but were only seeking "to procure something to save them from starving," and that they were, "by every law of humanity, entitled to sympathy and commiseration." Those wrere humble days; but they were about to change.And "change" they would, for the Right Reverend Mister Sidney Rigdon had just come to town, and not as a defeated martyr to his past religious struggle, but as an implacable planner of revenge and rebirth for the disarrayed Latter Day Saints. Whatever else the news reports coming out of Missouri the year before may have failed to convey to the "suckers" of Illinois, they had managed to let everybody know that here was a strange and wondrous fellow indeed. His first name might have been thought to be "Eloquent," for he never seemed to be mentioned in print without that designation prefaced to his moniker. Here was the fiery rabble rouser of Mormon Far West, the preacher who was bandying about slogans like "war of extermination" and "til the last drop of their blood is spilled" before that johnny-come-lately Lilburn Boggs ever learned to beat such a loud-sounding martial drum. In an era before mass media, an entertaining public speaker could always gather an appreciative crowd, even by spouting the dullest of time-worn clichˇs. But the speaker who could entertain, inform, and play upon the heartstrings of emotion with practiced fingers was a rare delight, not to be missed at the evening chautaqua lecturn or at the Sunday morning pulpit.
Didn't He Sign all those Three Dollar Bills in Ohio?
Naturally enough, the Elder Rigdon the Quincy newspaper readers knew was mostly a creation of the copy-writers. Few knew him as the adept expounder of millenarian theology, and fewer still as the once loyal lieutenant of would-be American reformationist Alexander Campbell. Probably none had heard of his being accused of editing the Book of Mormon, or of playing midwife to the Latter Day Saint cause when it was still known more for money digging than building templecentric cities of Zion. Nor is it likely that such niceties like Rigdon's ecclesiastical subservience to Prophet Smith were clearly discerned by many on the Illinois shore. Perhaps one or two of Quincy's citizens had a Mormon Kirtland banknote with Rigdon's signature on it and maybe another equally small handful had heard a scurrilous second-hand report emanating from some obscure apostate named John Corrill. But there was no use in antagonizing these promising new settlers with questions about such matters. It was enough just to know that there was somebody in town to speak for the Mormons other than little-known Elders like John P. Greene and Ebenezer Robinson.
The Democratic party bosses must have suddenly felt better, realizing that there was somebody they could speak with privately to answer their questions and discuss issues of mutual concern. And the Whigs must have realized that there was suddenly a much bigger fish swimming in the troubled waters of Quincy port than before. Perhaps that fish, having fled the Democrats of Missouri, would find their Whiggish bait alluring. The time was ripe for the "public men" of Quincy to begin to tackle this new Mormon issue. But before they could really begin to deal with the fugitive Saints, they would have to deal with Elder Rigdon.
First Contact: The "Democratic Association"
The story of Rigdon's coming to Illinois that winter was not one he likely was prone to dwell upon in polite conversations with either Saint or Gentile. It was true that he, unlike the other top Mormon leaders, had been freed from jail in Clay Co., Missouri by a local judge. That had happened way back on January 25th in the little town of Liberty. But what was less likely to have been known in Quincy was that Rigdon had not been able to summon up enough intestinal fortitude to walk out of the courtroom that day. He chose to slink back into his jail cell to keep Joseph Smith company for a time. No doubt Smith would have been glad to rid himself of the sour faced complainer, a man who felt that in a few short weeks of imprisonment his sufferings made those of Jesus Christ look like fools' play. But Smith's good nature allowed him to put up with his whining Counselor until the night of February 5th, when the County Sheriff and the County jailer were all too happy to let Parson Rigdon slip out of their custody unseen. Since the judge had only made a decision that Rigdon might go free on bail, awaiting an upcoming trial for alleged crimes committed in Missouri, Sidney's next act was highly illegal. By all that was right he should have stopped by the court house the following morning, paid his bail bond, and gone to work doing something useful -- like perhaps seeing to the needs of all the dispossessed Latter Day Saints then hoping to exit the state. But Rigdon's instinct for self-preservation and his high opinion of his own value to the Church immediately got the better of him. He fled Missouri, like a common criminal, hiding in a wagon he had appropriated at Far West -- from Joseph Smith aged parents.
Rigdon and his family reached the Mississippi at about the time that Joseph Smith's wife Emma and her children did. No record exists of his having met and comforted his master's companion. Emma walked across the frozen river. When Sidney reached the shore it was evening and some of the ice had begun to melt; he crossed the open waters in a hired canoe. He left his longsuffering wife Phebe and his childen back on the Missouri side, to fend for themselves as best they could.
With a Little Help From His Friends
After crossing the river to the haven of Adams County, Illinois, on Feb. 15, 1839, Rigdon probably located Elder John P. Greene (Brigham Young's brother-in-law). Greene had moved to Quincy on Nov. 15, 1838 and had briefly resided with "Sister" Sarah Kingsley Cleveland and her non-member husband "Judge" John Cleveland. They owned a farm in the quiet countryside, four miles east of Quincy. Their farm was now chosen as a place where Sidney Rigdon could rest, hidden from prying Gentile eyes. John Cleveland's farm and his wife would both one day end up in the hands of Joseph Smith; the farm he would swap for property in Mormon Nauvoo and his spouse would join the ranks of Joseph's plural wives.
Perhaps Sidney selected the Cleveland home as his destination even before he crossed the river from "Muzzurah." A Mormon Kingsley family had lived at Far West, a member of which accompanied Joseph Smith on his "Zion's Camp" march of 1834. The Quincy residence of another loyal member of the same family may have been the "safe house" Smith and his jail-mates chose flee to whenever they might escape the custody of their enemies.
Rigdon's temporarily abandoned family made it to Quincy a day or two later; after that the Mormon leader enjoyed the comforts of his new hideout, surrounded by whatever luxuries they had salvaged from Far West. Rigdon's whereabouts was not a total secret, however. At about that same time a Gentile land promoter who lived sixty miles upriver was penning a letter to some of the Quincy Mormons, inviting them to bring Rigdon northward for a looksee at some property he had for sale. That man was Isaac Galland and the property was in the hamlet of Commerce (later Mormon Nauvoo). The offer was sweet enough to entice Rigdon to make the trip within four or five days of his arrival in Illinois.
Mr. Galland, however, was away when Rigdon and his escort of Quincy Saints came calling. The Latter Day Saint leader looked around and decided prospects at Commerce and along the Iowa shore across the river were worth keeping in mind. His Church might consider purchasing some land in the area, but it was only one of several possibilities. Rigdon and his party returned to Quincy, where the Quincy Whig had just printed an article announcing his Feb. 15th arrival in town. After that the world knew where Elder Rigdon hung his hat. By then Rigdon was ready to meet the good people of Adams County -- at least ready to converse with an influential group of them. Perhaps his intermediaries were the faithful John P. Greene and the sympathetic Judge Cleveland. However that first contact was made, Rigdon was soon afterward introduced to representatives of the Adams County Democratic party chieftains. He was most happy to make their acquaintance.
Pleased to Meet You, I'm Sure
Perhaps one of the first to make an appearance on the Saintly President's doorstep was Isaac N. Morris, editor of the Democratic newspaper, the Quincy Argus. Morris had hired one of Rigdon's former acquaintances at Far West, an enterprising former Methodist preacher named Robert B. Thompson. Thompson was writing copy for the Argus and Morris was pleased to have a literate Mormon and a fellow Democrat under his direct command. However, Rigdon's initial contact may have been Quincy businessman J. W. Whitney, or a public official named Samuel Leach. Messrs. Whitney, Morris, and Leach were all members of a select committe which had been quietly assembled by the "Quincy Democratic Association" on Feb. 23rd to look into Mormon wants and needs. Ostensibly their motive was purely humanitarian; they wished to know how they could help out the destitute Mormon. But if Rigdon's major concern was feeding and clothing the hungry deportees, his activities of those days little reflected such charitable intentions. On the same day that the Democrats met to select their committee to interview the Mormon leader, he himself was writing a letter to U. S. Attorney General, Felix Grundy, asking whether "recourse can be had to the federal [government] and whether or no we can enter suit in the court not only against individuals inhabitants of Missouri but against the state also for the unconstitutional acts of the executive of said state..." More worried about the long term requirements of the Church than the immediate humanitarian needs of its members, Rigdon was already seeking a means by the recent Mormon losses might be recovered. By moving quickly to voice his claims for restitution against Missouri Rigdon also diverted popular attention away from the LDS leaders' personal responsibility for loss of life and property in that state.
The Quincy Democratic Association's committee which met with Rigdon on about Feb. 25th asked him to "draw up and send us, in writing, a condensed statement of the facts" detailing Mormon wants and needs. This Rigdon was all too happy to provide. The statement was quickly prepared by Elders Elias Higbee and John P. Greene and was sent over to the Democrats. Its conclusion said: "... give us employment, rent us farms and allow us the protection and privileges of other citizens..." because this kind of assistance would help to "raise us from a state of dependence, liberate us from the iron grasp of poverty, put us in possession of a competency and deliver us from the ruinous effects of persecution, despotism and tyranny." This plea was neatly worded to express what Rigdon really had in mind without making too much of a beggar out of him. Though the refugee Saints had a pressing need for physical charity, the LDS President's long-range purpose was summarized in his desire to gain for his people the "privileges of other citizens" and liberating them from the "persecution" which he spoke of constantly. The man who was said to have seen Jesus Christ face to face was now looking beyond his current difficulties to a time when he might look U. S. President Martin van Buren in the eye and get his sacred pledge for such "privileges," along with Federal protection from Gentile persecution. Spokesman Sidney was planning for the day when his people would wreak their vengeance upon the State of Missouri and replenish their shrunken exchequer to overflowing. To begin that work he needed political leverage. The best place to start was in Quincy -- the town where Democratic Governor Thomas Carlin of Illinois maintained his primary residence.
But First of all I have to Preach a Quick Sermon
The Mormons rushed their "condensed statement" back to the Democratic Association of Quincy and accepted the politicians' invitation to a secret parley -- a private get-together where they could discuss exactly who might be able to help whom. The Saints needed material assistance and access to the higher corridors of party power. The Democrats could use a few hundred additional well-disciplined parizans in their cause: that Mormon vote could be the deciding factor in the coming elections. The secret conclave was agreed upon for the night of Wednesday, Feb. 27th. Sidney had his underlings add just one more detail: the meeting would have to wait until a couple of hours after Rev. Rigdon had taken care of a little preaching engagement which had just been imposed upon him.
That Wednesday he preached at the Adams Co. Court House to a crowd of the Saints who had come to pay their last respects to "Brother Lee." According to a report later published in the Quincy Whig, "after the services were concluded, [Rigdon] gave notice that a meeting would be held in the evening of the same day in the court room, for purposes which would be explained at the time." Of course that particular evening meeting was the previously planned consultation between the Mormon leadership and the Democratic Association of Quincy, but Rigdon didn't bother to disclose that small detail. Rather, it appears that Rigdon mindfully changed the site from some obscure chamber and remade the planned hidden gathering into a public one, probably in hopes of luring in a few more charitable attendees, drawn from the ranks of the Democrats' rivals: the upstart Whig party.
The question naturally arises, why Sidney Rigdon would make such an important change and implicit disclosure of his plottings without consulting his political-minded hosts. The Mormons had the reputation of being strict Jacksonian Democrats in Kirtland and Far West. Although Governor Boggs' Democratic administration had dealt with them harshly, those "persecutors" were judged far inferior to the enlightened citizens of Illinois. The Democrats held most of the elected offices in Illinois, from the governorship to the clerks' positions in county offices. Was there any possible reason to suppose that Rigdon would not naturally gravitate to the company of the Saints' own political affiliation in Illinois? Who other than that same Democratic adminstration, which then held command in Springfield, had the power and willingness to see to the Mormons' wants -- both those stated openly and those implied in more guarded communications? Or, was there more to this Mormon game than had met any Gentile eye?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You the Rev. Mr. Rigdon
The Quincy Whig of March 2 provided further details on the first recorded meeting of the Mormon leadership and the Democratic bigwigs in Quincy:
Rigdon... gave notice that a meeting would be held... thus thwarting the expectation of the "Democrats," in their purpose of having the meeting secret, and compelling them, if they had any intention of assisting the Mormons, to toe the mark at once. Well, evening came -- few, very few, of our citizens had any knowledge of the meeting until dark, when such as had, repaired with all diligence to the Court House. The [Democrat politicians] were in a quandary at seeing so many strange faces assembling, who were not of their "kith or kin;" and after some considerable whispering and talking among themselves, one of their number nominated Gen. Leach, (Receiver at the Quincy Land Office, and member of the "Democratic Association,") to the chair, and James D. Morgan, (another member of the same Association,) Secretary. --
Once the meeting on the 27th was underway, the select committee read their report and the attendees heard their predictable findings: "that the Mormons stood in need of assistance." The Whig article of March 2nd inserted this sardonic remark in regard to the committee's report: "[they] should have added, as the last clause: "All this will the 'democratic association' do for the people denominated "latter day saints," provided, this people will claim kindred with us of the 'association,' and agree to sustain such men for office next August, as we may set up for their support." The State and local elections were set to tale place in the coming year. The residency requirement in Illinois for new voters was six months. The intent and timing of the Democrats were obvious, no matter what claims of altruistim they might offer publicly.
The Whig further reports that "Mr. Sidney Rigdon, rose and read the memorial which his people had presented to the Legislature of Missouri, and other documents, going to show the absence of all law and justice, in the course which the Missouri authorities had pursued towards them, from Gov. Boggs down to the lowest grade of officers." In an obvious show of Whiggish sympathy for the Saints, this same "Memorial" was published in full in the Mar. 16, 1839 issue of the Whig, along with the detailed minutes on the Feb. 27th meeting and an eye-opening restatement of Missouri Governor Boggs' infamous "Extermination Order."
The reporter from the Whig (evidently Sylvester Bartlett himself) availed himself of this opportunity to hear "the celebrated Mormon preacher and leader." In Bartlett's words:
Mr. Rigdon, again took the floor, and in a very eloquent and impressive manner, related the trials, sufferings and persecutions which his people had met with at the hands of the people of Missouri. We saw the tear standing in the eyes of many of his people, while he was recounting their history of woe and sorrow; and, in fact, the gentleman himself was so agitated at different periods of his address, that his feelings would hardly allow him to proceed. We are satisfied that his address will have a lasting and good effect, sustained as it was by the public documents which he produced. We will not attempt to follow him through the account he gave of the cold blooded murder by the mob of Missouri of Mormon men and children, the violation of females, the destroying of property, the burning of houses...
A Touch of Whiggish Wizardry
One of the few Whigs in attendance that night was Quincy Attorney N. Bushnell (Bartlett's predecessor as an editor at the Whig). Sensing Rigdon's intention to turn the Mormon-Democrat dialog into a town meeting, Bushnell shrewdly presented a motion to the gathering, asking that the proceedings be postponed until the following night. The mortified bosses of the Quincy Democratic Association had no choice but to allow this brazen challenge to be put before the entire assembly. Bushnell's motion was accepted and passed by the attendees without dissent.
The next evening this public meeting to devise "ways and means for the permanent relief of the ... Latter day Saints" was resumed with a somewhat larger representation of Quincy's citizens. The RLDS History of the Church (deriving its information from articles published in the Millennial Star) dryly summarizes these events (pp. 340-342):
The Democratic Association of Quincy, Illinois, on February 28, 1839, after inviting other citizens to meet with them, passed appropriate resolutions, which were signed by Samuel Leach, chair man, and J. D. Morgan, secretary:
The execution of Mr. Rigdon's cherished plan was off to a good start. He was given the opportunity to speak at length under the guise of a respected religious statesman and champion of the unjustly abused Latter Day Saints. The remarkable Rigdon captivated his audience with two emotional sermons, including a reading of the Mormons' pleading "Memorial" to the Missouri Legislature. One of his companions, Mormon lawyer Elias Higbee, supplemented his master's prose with a reading of the "condensed statement" previously requested by the Democrats. This impressive display in public relations soon had both rivals of the local popular press competing to see which newspaper could devote the most column space in promoting the Mormons agendna over the next several weeks. Sisney "the spokesman" managed to simultaneously win the sympathies of Quincy's citizens while lightening their purses by $100 when the hat was passed. After his disgrace in being treated like a common criminal in Missouri, those nights in the Quincy Court House must have been among the high points of the latter-day egocentrist's public life.
Rigdon had already set his gun-sights for bigger game than the applause of common citizens and petty politicians, however. Illinois Governor Thomas Carlin was then living in Quincy and the Mormon leader was reckoning how much leverage he could finagle from this Democratic chieftan. He needed the help of Carlin and other major Democrats in order to push his campaign against Missouri directly under the noses of preeminent power brokers in Washington, D. C.
Dreams and Schemes
The influx of hundreds of unemployed outsiders soon made available paying jobs in Quincy as scarce as Saints in a Missouri grog shop. The Mormons were willing to work at any part-time and temporary employment they could find. As Donna Hill put it:
They treated the Mormons not only with sympathy but with respect, offered them jobs, took them into their homes. However, Quincy could not hold all of the refugees, who were about five thousand in number and more than three times the town's population. When Ebenezer Robinson arrived about the first of February, after walking the whole distance in bitter cold and snow, he found the town already crowded with indigent Mormons and work very scarce. The Mormons soon began to occupy the countryside for several miles around.
Elder Robinson's printer's skills opened doors at the Quincy Whig. He boarded with Bartlett and Sullivan, thus providing them with the novelty of having a Mormon on their staff as well as a ready source of information on the pious newcomers. Robinson's presence in the newspaper office probably helped swing editor Bartlett over to a more sympathetic viewpoint of those his publication had labeled a "misguided sect" as recently as Dec. 22nd. About the same time that Elder Robinson was put to work at the Quincy Whig, Elder Robert B. Thompson signed on as a staff writer with Bartlett's competitor, the Quincy Argus. No doubt President Rigdon was pleased to see his Latter Day Saint underlings established in such potentially useful positions, even as he initiated his own dreams and schemes in Adams County.
Sidney's Solo: "Sovereign for a Season"
Throughout March and most of April of 1839 Rigdon was the highest ranking Mormon leader free from the clutches of the Missourians and positioned to carry out plans for regrouping and revitalizing the scattered Saints. While he had neither the full authority nor the personal inclination to make final decisions regarding a new Mormon "gathering" in Illinois, his actions and advice during this period left that option open. Rigdon was largely free of the influence (or interference) of the Council of the Twelve Apostles during this time. The few remaining faithful apostles among the decimated ranks of the Twelve were engaged primarily in efforts to remove themselves and other straggler Saints from hostile Missouri. In the absence of the Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Twelve lacked conspicuous authority. Their new leader, Brigham Young, was just beginning to amalgamate their tattered remnants into an effective ecclesiastical hegemony. Whatever his feelings for President Sidney Rigdon may have been, he was in no position to challenge the Church's provisional director, nor were lesser leaders like Bishops Whitney, Knight or Rigdon's old Kirtland comrade, Bishop Edward Partridge. Biographer William H. Whitsitt summarizes the condition of the Twelve during this period:
[Mormon] Apostles were not very numerous at Quincy or elsewhere... Luke and Lyman Johnson, John F. Boynton, William E. McLellin, Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde were in apostasy. William Smith, as usual, was next door to apostasy... David W. Patton was dead; Parley P. Pratt was confined, for his crimes, in the jail at Richmond. Thus it will appear that nine of the original number were quite out of the combat: the burden of the day rested upon the shoulders of the remaining three: namely, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Pratt, whose energies were supported by the pair of new apostles who had already obtained their ordination, namely, John Taylor and John E. Page.
Following the induction of Taylor and Page into the Twelve, two more nominees were selected; these were George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff. During the next few weeks Brigham Young appears to have purposely kept his distance from Sidney Rigdon and his two new inductees were not ordained to their offices in Illinois. Brigham delayed that ceremony until Apr. 26, when it was conducted during a secret meeting in deserted Far West.
Waiting in the wings for future appointment to the Twelve were Willard Richards and Lyman Wight. Like Richards, "Father" Wight would not join the Quorum for several months. However, within that waiting period he would increasingly display his useful abilities to the Saints in Illinois. Wight was one of the few Mormons at Far West who had maintained speaking terms with the Caldwell County Whigs, an experience that would serve him well in weeks to come. In early April this old subordinate of Rigdon's was still confined with the Smiths in Liberty Jail. For a short period Rigdon had the ecclesiastical playing field all to himself. That April he wrote the following interesting message to Joseph Smith and the other Mormons confined at Liberty, Missouri:
Quincy, Illinois, April 10, 1839.
Rigdon's plan was a bold one, perhaps even a fool's quest: he would call upon the public men in each State to rally their various governments to join together and "impeach the state of Missouri" within the National Legislature -- possibly even demand its expulsion form the Union. Whether Joseph Smith had previously concurred in launching such a far-out scheme is unknown. But Smith must have been impressed with Rigdon's having brought Illinois Governor Carlin on board the Mormon cause with a promise of support for Rigdon's first step: soliciting all the State Governors to protest to Congress Missouri's allegedly unconstitutional treatment of the Saints. Mormon historian B. H. Roberts provides a summary of traditional LDS views regarding this project:
When Sidney Rigdon arrived in Quincy early in the spring of 1839, he soon won the friendship of Governor Carlin of Illinois, a Whig, and other leading men of western Illinois; and of Governor Lucas of the territory of Iowa... Rigdon conceived the idea of impeaching Missouri on the ground that she had abdicated republican government in her treatment of the Latter-day Saints, and as the Constitution provides that the United States shall guarantee to every state in the Union a republican form of government, his idea seems to have been that the general government could be brought to coerce the state in some way to deal justly by the saints and indemnify them for their losses. His plan was to have the governor of every state make Missouri's abdiction of republican government a subject in their messages to the legislatures of the respective states, and after the action of the state legislatures, the case was to be presented by petition to the president of the United States and congress. Governor Carlin gave his approval to the plan, and promised to bring the matter before the Illinois legislature and have the action of that body upon it. Elder Rigdon also represents that Carlin was active in preparing papers to be signed by leading men in western Illinois asking for a favorable hearing in Washington for representatives of the church. "Governor Carlin and his lady," wrote Elder Rigdon to the Prophet, while the latter was yet in prison, "enter with all the enthusiasm of their natures into this work, having no doubt but that we can accomplish this object."
It is more likely that Carlin was happy to nod his head to any pet hobby of the Mormons, so long as they implicitly promised to cast their ballots for his party in coming elections. Whatever the overblown exceptions and rhetoric of the day may have signified, it is likely that the top LDS leaders (the Smith brothers and Rigdon) realized that the expulsion of Missouri was an impossible goal, and that the best that they might reasonably expect would be a national censure of that State which might lead to some measure of compensation for the considerable Mormon losses there. Apparently Smith truly expected the better educated and highly persuasive Rigdon to succeed in at least this more feasible task. The saintly masters were already mentally spending and investing the expected compensation money on grandiose plans for their perennial "city of Zion."
Rigdon continued his Apr. 10th reassuring communication to the still jailed Smith with these words:
Brother George W. Robinson will be engaged all the time between this and the next sitting of the legislatures, in taking affidavits, and preparing for the tug of war; while we will be going from state to state, visiting the respective governors, to get the case mentioned in their respective messages to legislatures, so as to have the whole going on at once. You will see by this that our time is engrossed to overflowing....
Rigdon's efforts, carried out in conjunction with his well to do son-in-law, George W. Robinson, paid off in paper, if not in coin of the realm. During the later winter and early spring of 1839 the Mormons mounted an impressive campaign of buttonholing the region's "principal men," obtaining their letters of recommendation for Mormon leaders (most notably from Illinois Governor Carlin), and compiling great piles of "redress petitions" intended for the eyes of top officials and politicians in Washington. While all of this activity kept the Mormons occupied and hopeful, it did little to solidify Mormon-Whig relations in western Illinois. Most of the ensconced politicians and "principal men," wooed by Rigdon and his agents were Democrats, whose supportive letters and legislative efforts were meant to catch the eye of Democratic President Martin Van Buren and other powerful men of his party in the East. No doubt the Whigs of Adams County were left feeling that they were being ignored in the plotting of these LDS schemes.
Strike Missouri from the Union!
The editors of the Quincy Whig cast about for some juicy catch in these troubled waters and found what they were looking for in the published rhetoric of a Mr. J. J. Bradley, Democrat candidate for Adams County Surveyor in the upcoming 1840 elections. In a moment of excitement the rival Bradley had borrowed Rigdon's line about impeaching the State of Missouri and the Quincy Argus had been so intemperate as to publish the nonsense. The attack from the Whig was swift and ruthless. Picking up some rude comments on the subject from a Democratic newspaper printed on the western side of the river, on April 27th Bartlett and company gleefully hurled the Missourian condemnation at Quincy's own "loco-focos."
Bartlett had skillfully alerted the Mormons that his paper and its Whig patrons in Springfield had the power to shine an unfavorable light upon them, if that is what it took to get their attention. His insinuation that Rigdon had in some way paid off the Illinois Democrats for the favors he was seeking was, perhaps, not a totally untrue estimation of the dealings then going on between the Saints and their "lawyers." Thus, while poking a good deal of fun at the exposed flank of the Democrats, the Whig also managed to remind the Mormons of the power of the press. The Whigs underlined their subtle assault upon Rigdon's forces with these final words: "... we have no disposition even now, to enter into a dispute, as to who were the aggressors, and cause of so much disturbance, and acts of the most flagrant violations of justice [in Missouri]. We leave it to those of our friends who live nearest the scene of difficulties, and who are better acquainted with all the circumstances connected with the transaction." In other words, Bartlett and his associates were ready and willing to consult the Missourians for their side of the story, if the Mormons continued to find their own "friends" exclusively among the Democrats.
But Sidney Rigdon did not have the time or inclination to spar with the Whigs during those last days of April, 1839; he had troubling new opportunities and challenges before him. On the morning of April 22, a freshly escaped Joseph Smith, coat collar raised high and slouch hat pulled low, boarded the ferry across the river to Quincy and slipped into town unannounced and unnoticed -- until spotted by Elder Dimick Huntington. The prophet had miraculously returned. Suddenly Sidney Rigdon was no longer master of his own destiny in Illinois.
Go to: Part II: April 22, 1839 to May 18, 1839
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