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9 Utah L. Rev. 862 (1964-1965)
The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor

handle is hein.journals/utahlr9 and id is 868 raw text is: The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositort
By Dallin H. Oaks*
The suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor by the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illi-
nois, in 1844 has interest for historians because it was the first in a series of
events that lead directly to the murder of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith.'
The effect of the suppression of this anti-Mormon newspaper on the non-
Mormon elements in the vicinity was explosive. In the neighboring cities of
Warsaw and Carthage citizens in mass meetings declared the act revolutionary
and tyrannical in tendency and resolved to hold themselves ready to cooperate
with their fellow citizens in Missouri and Iowa to exterminate, utterly ex-
terminate the wicked and abominable Mormon leaders and to wage a war
of extermination ... to the entire destruction, if necessary for our protection,
of his adherents. 2 Thomas Ford, then Governor of Illinois, called the event
a violation of the Constitution and a very gross outrage upon the laws and the
liberties of the people. 3 Even B. H. Roberts, a Mormon historian, conceded
that the procedure of the city council... was irregular; and the attempt at
legal justification is not convincing .... ,4 Roberts placed his defense of the
action on the grounds of expediency or necessity. 5
This article will examine the legal basis of some of the charges the Expositor
made against the leading citiziens of Nauvoo and the legal implications of the
suppression of the newspaper by those citizens. Before this is done, however, it
will be helpful to review some facts that put the event in historical perspective.
I. HiSTOI cL BACKGROUND
After successively fleeing or being driven from their homes and property in
Lake County (Ohio), Jackson County (Missouri), and Clay, Davies, and
Caldwell counties (Missouri), the Mormon people gathered along the Illinois
bank of the Mississippi River about forty miles north of Quincy. There, in the
winter of 1839, they commenced to build the city of Nauvoo. Under the leader-
t The valuable suggestions and criticisms of Marvin S. Hill, Assistant Professor of
History, East Carolina College, on earlier drafts of this paper, and the capable research
assistance of Thomas E. Cahill, Kenneth G. Johnson, and David L. Paulsen, students at
the University of Chicago Law School (now members of the Wyoming, Illinois, and
Utah Bars, respectively), are gratefully acknowledged.
* Professor of Law, University of Chicago; A.B., 1954, Brigham Young University;
J.D., 1957, University of Chicago; Member of the Illinois State Bar.
' For other treatments of some of the historical material discussed here, see H. SmITH,
THE DAY THEY MARTYRED THE PROPHET (1963); Gayler, The Expositor Affair -
Prelude to the Downfall of Joseph Smith, 25 Northwest Missouri State College Studies,
Feb. 1, 1961, p. 3. An interesting contemporary account of these events, written by a non-
Mormon resident of Hancock County, is a Letter From H. H. Bliss to Franklin Bliss, June
1844, on file, Indiana University Library, Bloomington, Indiana.
'6 J. SMITH, HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTERDAY SAINTS
464 (2d ed. 1950) [hereinafter cited as SMITH].
'Id. at 534.
'2 ROBERTS, A COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF
LATTER-DAY SAINTS 231-32 (1930).
'Roberts, Introduction to 6 SMITH at xxxviii.
862

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