Joseph Smith was no friend of johnny law. He faced accusations of a fortune hunting con in New York in 1826, being a disorderly person in New York in 1830, conspiracy to commit murder in Ohio in 1837, bank fraud in Ohio in 1838, treason in Missouri in 1838, and conspiring to assassinate Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs in 1842. He also founded Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. An angry mob killed him on June 27, 1844.
Smith bought the land of the town of Commerce, IL in 1839 and renamed it Nauvoo. The name meant, “to be beautiful” in Hebrew. The Nauvoo charter granted habeas corpus, which grants a semi-reprieve from unlawful imprisonment. This protected Smith from extradition for the outstanding charges in Missouri. The charter established the Nauvoo Legion, a militia that although subject to state and federal regulations, essentially functioned as Smith’s private army. Smith served as the Legion’s Lieutenant General. His follower John C. Bennett served as the Major General. Bennett concurrently served as the Assistant President for Smith’s church and as the first elected Mayor of Nauvoo.
Fissures developed in the sect when Smith unveiled his polygamous doctrines in 1841. Bennett applied a belief in spiritual wifery, which meant that loves were meant to be together despite previous marital status. Bennett’s abuse of the doctrine to get laid by single and married women led to Smith pressuring him to leave office. It brought unwelcome attention. On May 11, 1842, he was excommunicated.
Smith repeatedly proposed polygamous marriage to Jane Law, the wife of William Law. William served on the First Presidency, the highest ranks of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Jane claimed that Smith “asked her to give him half her love; she was at liberty to keep the other half for her husband.” The Laws were not interested. This heralded a fatal set of events in 1844.
Smith ejected William Law from the First Presidency on January 8, 1844. William and Jane were excommunicated on April 18. On that day, he also excommunicated William’s brother Nauvoo Legion brigadier general Wilson Law and Robert Foster of the Legion, who argued with Smith over the direction of Nauvoo’s economy. That same day, the excommunicated filed charges against Smith for perjury and polygamy.
On May 1, Nauvoo Legion colonel Francis M. Higbee filed to sue Smith for slander. He was excommunicated on May 18 for apostasy, a sort of spiritual treason. On May 23, William Law obtained an indictment against Smith for polygamy “in an open state of adultery” with Maria Lawrence since October 12, 1843. On June 7, William Law, Wilson Law, Francis M. Higbee and Robert Foster published the one-issue newspaper The Nauvoo Expositor. The paper called for the revocation of the Nauvoo charter and called out Smith’s polygamy as an excuse to lure women to the town for seduction.
Smith, acting as mayor, called for the destruction of The Nauvoo Expositor’s printing press on June 10. According to council minutes, he declared that he “would rather die tomorrow and have the thing smashed, than live and have it go on, for it was exciting the spirit of mobocracy among the people, and bringing death and destruction upon us.” On June 18, he used the Legion to impose martial law in Nauvoo. The Illinois state militia mobilized against them. Smith fled and returned within a few days. He and his brother Hyrum were sent to the Carthage, IL jail on June 23 for inciting a riot. The charges were escalated to treason.
On June 27, 1844, a mob came for Joseph Smith. Two hundred armed men, faces blackened with gunpowder, descended upon the jail. Hyrum was shot in the face and killed. Joseph’s friend Cyrus Wheelock provided him with a pistol earlier that day. Three out of six shots misfired, but the others injured three of the crowd. They fired upon Joseph, who fell through the window crying, “Oh Lord my God!” The mob fired more rounds into the body and left.
Five men were tried and acquitted for murder. Joseph Smith’s body remains in the Smith Family Cemetery in Nauvoo, IL.