I’ve been reading a book by Apostle Dallin Oaks called Carthage Conspiracy. Oaks is a lawyer, former Utah Supreme Court judge, former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, and president of BYU from 1971-1980 (updated 8/9/2009). He wrote the book in 1975, and analyzes the trial of the assassins of Joseph Smith. I plan to do a future post on the book, but let me say that when we look at Mayor(s) Daley and Gov. Blagojavich (sp?), it seems that crooked Illinois politics are alive and well, just as they were in the days of Joseph Smith. The trial was a travesty, though I admit that Mormon unwillingness to assist the prosecutor in convicting these murderers did not help matters. Apostle John Taylor, who was shot in the melee, went into hiding rather than testify. Certainly this didn’t help the Illinois prosecutor in trying to convict the murderers.
I want to look at one specific incident in the book describing events in Missouri, and contrast LDS views with CoC views on the topic. I want to review a specific statement from Prophet/President Veazey. While Pres Veazey wasn’t addressing any particular events, I think the event I want to illustrate could have been something he might have been referring to.
At the beginning of the book, Oaks discusses the events in Missouri. Mormons were kicked out of Jackson County, Missouri, and a non-Mormon legislator, Alexander Doniphan brokered a deal in which the Mormons were required and restricted to Caldwell County, Missouri (location of Far West). While I am sure Doniphan was a fine man, and I welcome his willingness to come to the aid of Mormons, it strikes me as odd to suppose that the Mormons would remain so small as to be contained in just one county. Certainly the ACLU would have found such a compromise problematic, wouldn’t it?
When Mormons started spilling over into Daviess County, page 10 tells us that,
In the fall the Mormons, still Democrats from their Kirtland days, made preparations to vote at Gallitin, the Daviess County seat; the Whigs reacted by organizing to keep them from the polls. The resulting fight between the Whigs and the Mormons at Gallatin initiated a series of belligerent acts by both parties and brought on armed conflict that verged on civil war.
Soon after this, armed Missourians by the hundreds laid siege to two outlying Mormon communities, demanding that the inhabitants withdraw to Far West in Caldwell County. Joseph Smith made an appeal to Governor Lilburn Boggs to relieve the siege at one of these towns, DeWitt, but was told that Mormons must fight their own battles. Angry at this, and tired of legal harrassments, dissent, and persecution, the prophet told his people the he would endure no more. A Mormon army rode into Daviess County and drove the mobbers out, finding sustenance by sacking dwellings and stores in two or three towns. The governor immediately declared the Mormons in rebellion and called the militia to arms. Thousands from surrounding counties seized their muskets and hastened toward Far West.
At Haun’s Mill, a nearby Mormon village, an army of two hundred angry Missourians, encouranged by the governor’s proclamation to drive out the Mormons or extreminated them, massacred eighteen unarmed men and a boy who had not followed the prophet’s urging to gather at Far West….
It is apparent to me that cooler heads were not prevailing. Governor Boggs response to Joseph to fight his own battles was terrible advice. When Joseph did, Boggs did not apparently see how his own advice was to blame to enflaming the situation. On the one hand, I can completely sympathize with Joseph’s actions, especially in light of all the previous persecution to this point. On the other hand, ran-sacking dwellings on the way to rescue those in DeWitt wasn’t exactly acting in a peacemaking role either. While Mormons tend to highlight the “self-defense” nature of the conflict, I can’t say that ransacking houses was the wisest course of action, especially in 20/20 hindsight.
I was interested in Pres Veazey’s recent address on church history. (It’s part 3.) While not specifically addressing this incident Oaks just described, I think it is interesting to see the recent CoC statement which seems to take a different view of this episode.
Despite how our story has often been told, we no longer can claim, that we were just the innocent victims of violence during the church’s early years. While our forebears were certainly the targets of persecution on various occasions, more than once they provoked, and even initiated violence.
In the pressure filled years of the early church, violence, and militancy overtook Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. To move ahead with integrity in our emphasis on sharing the peace of Jesus Christ, we must repent of and learn from the violent episodes in church history. Only through honest examination, including identifying any remaining signs of these tendencies within the movement, can we continue on the restoring path of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit to which God calls us. And we can take these steps, because we know that our history does not have to be without blemish to reveal the hand of God working in the movement.
Ironically, one of the primary principles of scripture is that God’s grace and God’s power is revealed most clearly by its working in an through humanity, especially human weakness and sin. Viewing our history through this lens allows us to be affirming, honest, and sympathetic.
It is apparent to me that the CoC is a much more pacifist organization that the LDS church. What do you make of Pres Veazey’s statement? On the one hand, I think Pres Veazey is correct. On the other hand, I greatly sympathize with Joseph Smith and the early saints, and I don’t believe I would have kept “turning the other cheek” to all these hostilities.