The Mormons in Nauvoo

A brief history of the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, and the death of Joseph Smith.

Reference Links

Orrin Porter Rockwell
Attack on the Press and Smith's Death
Smith as General, President, and King
The White Horse Prophecy
This video relied heavily on "One Nation Under Gods"

Video Transcript

After fleeing Missouri, the Mormons settled in Commerce, Illinois, which they renamed Nauvoo. This was to be the last stop for Joseph Smith, who had led the Mormons all the way from New York.

Since his Zion prophecies went unfulfilled in Missouri, Smith had to explain that if a command by God was impossible to complete because of the hindrance of enemies, then the task would no longer be required, indicating that the God of Mormonism is neither all powerful nor all knowing.

So Smith began building the new Zion in Nauvoo, which he ran not unlike a dictator in a police state. Visitors had to be registered, the Mormon voting block was controlled, and Smith had the power to create laws. This included a law wherein anyone who would attempt to extradite Smith to stand trial for his treason in Missouri could be imprisoned for life.

And his fugitive status was further compounded when he was suspected of sending Orrin Porter Rockwell, the so-called Destroying Angel of Mormonism, to murder Lillian Boggs, the Missouri governor who had issued the extermination order on the Mormons. Although nothing was proved, several people made statements that had Smith prophesied Boggs’ death and had indeed sent Rockwell to do it.

Smith was not limited to political and religious power, he also appointed himself as the Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion, a 4,000 man army which he operated independently of the government.

And Smith had many grievances with the government. He and other high ranking Mormons had prophesied many threats of destruction against the government because it refused to pay the Mormons reparations for their treatment in Missouri.

When these prophecies failed, Smith decided he would run for president himself, with Sidney Rigdon as his running mate. He put together the Council of Fifty to help establish God’s rule on earth, and they ordained Smith as a king.

But all this information had made its way to the non-Mormons, who saw Smith’s power and ambition as a danger to their community. Also, his activities with women, which included marriages to other men’s wives and teenage girls were leaked. Finally, Joseph Smith sent a few hundred soldiers from the Nauvoo Legion to attack and destroy a newspaper press which had promised to publish affidavits substantiating their case against him.

The governor of Illinois then ordered Smith to give himself up to stand trial in Carthage, which, after fleeing to Iowa for a time, he eventually complied with. But before he could be tried, a mob attacked his jail cell, and although he had a gun with which to defend himself, he was vastly outnumbered and was shot to death.

This left a power vacuum in the Mormon church, and Nauvoo descended into lawlessness. Mob violence and criminal activity broke out on both sides, but it was a string of murders committed by Mormons that caused the Illinoisans to demand that the Mormons leave for good.