Mormons, Mobs, and Missouri…Again
On October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order #44, also known as the “Mormon Extermination Order.” At that time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known by most then, as now, as simply the “Mormons,” was less than a decade old as a formally organized religion. Founded in Fayette, New York, in April 1830, the church quickly came under severe persecution, surprisingly so for such a tiny, obscure church, in large part due to outrage from many Protestants at the claim of Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, to have seen the resurrected Jesus Christ, and God the Father, in the flesh.
Over the next eight years, the Saints would be persecuted and driven out of New York into Ohio, and from Ohio to Missouri, and from there to Illinois and eventually out to the Utah territory. The persecution in Missouri was particularly grievous, when initially it seemed the state might be a peaceful home for them.
Missouri was a slave state, and deeply so. The Mormon Church was anti-slavery, and deeply so. The first Mormons first began settling in Jackson County in 1831, but before long were attacked by mobs, their leaders dragged from their homes, beaten, tarred and feathered. The Mormons fled from Jackson to Clay County, but persecution followed and soon drove them from Clay County to Caldwell and Daviess counties. For a short time, there was hope of peace, the Missourians believing the Mormons effectively corralled into these two counties.
However, the mobs, which often included agents of the Missouri government, continued to harass and attack the outlying Mormon settlements, and soon many of the Mormons began to organize for their defense. As Mormons from the East and England began migrating by the hundreds, and the thousands, to join their fellow Saints in Missouri, they began to become a more potent political force, and they grew so large that they began moving into adjacent counties. In slave-loving Missouri, that could not be tolerated.
On July 4, 1838, with mob attacks escalating, Sidney Rigdon, one of the top leaders in the Mormon Church, addressed a crowd in Far West to which he made clear that, though the church sought peace with its neighbors, the time had come when the church would no longer submit to the indignities and violence that had been wrought upon them. From henceforth, said Rigdon, we “warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever. For from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives.” The Mormons, who had been driven from their homes at gunpoint, allowed to take only what they could carry, and often in harsh winter conditions, had had enough.
The result was an escalation of conflicts between the Mormons and their neighbors. A few months later a number of Mormon homes and farms were burned and looted, and in response a group of Mormons retaliated against the town of Gallatin, burning a number of structures there. Previous appeals to the governor having gone unheeded, some Mormons lashed out, and “The Mormon War” of 1838 was underway. False claims of pending Mormon attacks only exacerbated the tensions.
In response, Governor Boggs issued the Mormon Extermination Order, claiming that the Mormon declaration of self-defense amount to a declaration of war upon the people of Missouri, and he directed the leaders of the state militia to assemble nearly 1500 men and march on the Mormon settlements, where the Mormons were to be “treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.” Just three days after the order was issued, a group of Mormon men and young boys were massacred at the settlement of Haun’s Mill.
There was no way the Mormons could hope to defeat the Missouri militia, and after much bloodshed they were forced to surrender and pay “reparations” to reimburse the state for the cost of the war against them. Missouri citizens, and militia units operating without authority, forced the Mormons to surrender their property and flee the state. The actions were later ruled unconstitutional, but by then the damage was done. Some, such as Militia General and state legislator David Atchison, attempted to persuade the legislature to declare Boggs’ actions unlawful, and provide legal protection for the church, but a solid majority of the legislature refused, and the persecution continued until the Mormons were driven from the state.
This relatively obscure and long-forgotten episode from our nation’s history was brought fresh into my mind last week as I listened to the words of another Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, faced with rioting, looting, and mobs in the city of Ferguson, as he demanded a “vigorous prosecution” of police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, who shot and killed 18-year old Michael Brown, who is black.
For the highest-ranking executive officer in the state, the man charged with maintaining law and order, and with overseeing the administration of justice, to make such a comment just days after the shooting took place, before all of the evidence has been collected and witnesses interviewed, is beyond irresponsible, it is borderline criminal. Such comments do nothing to quell the violence in that city, and indeed give the patina of moral justification for such lawlessness.
What makes it worse is that this is a clearly political decision. Nixon, a Democrat, has hinted at national political aspirations and seems to be trying to make a name for himself. In doing so, he has not only fueled the riots, but he has broken trust with the very law enforcement officers who must maintain peace, often risking their lives to do so, as Officer Wilson did.
Initial claims depicted Michael Brown as a 6'4", 300-lb “gentle giant” who was about to start college, who was stopped for jaywalking and then shot in the back by a racist white cop. In addition to Nixon, racial grievance whores like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson rushed to the state to get in the spotlight, more interested in increasing their own political influence than in helping restore peace and finding justice.
The question must be asked, is it “justice” that is wanted by Governor Nixon, race pimps like Sharpton and Jackson, and too many in the press who seem to be sensationalizing the conflict to increase tensions, and therefore ratings? In a shockingly irresponsible show of “journalism,” the Washington Post published the officer’s home address, and CNN aired videos of Wilson’s house and neighborhood, essentially giving concise directions to a mob which may just decide to take justice into its own hands.
As pertains to the shooting death of Michael Brown, had the autopsy shown, as Brown’s friend claimed, that Brown had been shot in the back, after attempting to surrender, then justice would require a conviction of the officer for murder. However, if it turns out, as new evidence seems to indicate, that Brown, just minutes after committing a strong-armed robbery, then assaulted the police officer, shoved him back in his car, wrestled for his gun, and possibly broke his eye socket (unconfirmed) or at the very least assaulted him with enough force as to cause severe swelling in his face (confirmed), then the officer had sufficient reason to fear for his life against a young man that was roughly the size of an NFL starting offensive lineman (6'5", 310 lbs, versus Brown’s 6'4", 300 lbs). The location of the shots are all on the front of the torso, with the final two impacting the top of his head, consistent with the officer’s claim that Brown was charging him. If the latter is the case, and the officer was being assaulted by Brown and shot him in self-defense, then justice has already been done, regardless of the outcome of the due process adhered to in the legal proceedings to come. If the Grand Jury finds insufficient evidence to bring a true bill against Officer Wilson, then the judicial system confirms through the legal process that justice has been done. If, assuming evidence confirms what now seems to be the case, that Brown was assaulting the officer, and the Grand Jury returns a true bill which eventually results in a conviction, like the Missouri governor demands despite compelling evidence that such a charge is NOT warranted, then an injustice will have been done against the officer. Our legal system, ideally, is an impartial arbiter of justice. However, the judicial system is administered by people with their own biases, prejudices, motives, and agendas, so “justice” must not be categorically associated with a legal judgment.
Like the persecuted Mormons of nearly two centuries ago, Officer Wilson has fallen into political disfavor with the top agent of state government, Governor Jay Nixon, who is more intent on appeasing the angry mobs than in enforcing the law and making sure justice is done. This goes as well for other Democrats eager to score political points in a bad year politically for Democrats, like Senator Claire McCaskill. Obama, the nation’s chief executive, dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, where he promptly expressed sympathy and solidarity with Brown’s family and declared that he understands why black people don’t trust cops (a particularly vile statement when one considers that a black person in America who suffers a violent death has an astronomically higher chance of dying at the hands of a black thug than a white cop).
When government has the power to deprive us of life, liberty, and property, it is our solemn duty as citizens, and certainly as agents of government wielding that power, to constrain our passions and prejudices and calmly, rationally, and dispassionately search for the truth. To do anything less is the TRUE injustice.