Quite often LDS missionaries will explain that their religion has been singled out and persecuted ever since Joseph Smith began his visions and claimed to be the restoration of the only true Church. Christians need to be informed about the truth on this issue. Persecution is not the ultimate test of faith, and it does not prove if a church is more Biblical than the next. However, we should be able to explain to Mormons that their early persecution was due to Mormon vigilante groups and strange false doctrines and not due to Biblical doctrines. Early Christian martyrs were tortured, crucified, and thrown to the lions for believing the real Christian gospel. Christians need to be able to explain the difference between Biblical persecution and the religious persecution by 19th century secular government of Illinois.
There is evidence that Mormons were persecuted for strange LDS doctrines and Joseph Smith’s vigilantism. On October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs declared, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace--their outrages are beyond all description.”1 What exactly did the Mormons do to deserve this extermination order from the governor of their state? Here are some historical facts that resulted in this executive order:
- Polygamy became a Mormon practice began by the Joseph Smith in 1831 (see D&C 132 introduction). This doctrine disturbed many local citizens and some vented their anger in violence against Mormons. On occasion, mobs would burn Mormon homes and shoot at individuals.
- In August 1833, Smith recorded a revelation that promoted vengeance and vigilantism: "Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified," (D&C 98:31, Revelation from Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, August 6, 1833). In order words, catch your opponent trying to kill you and you can kill them!
- In 1834, a private militia of Mormons became to be known as the Danites. Also, Joseph Smith formed another vigilante group known as the "Armies of Israel" to defend Mormons right to practice polygamy.
- In the fall of 1836 and beginning of 1837, nearly all the Mormons in the state had collected in Caldwell County.
- In June of 1838, Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington, two of Joseph Smiths militia, were recruited to kill two anti-LDS men before they could injure the church. These two families packed and left their homes rather than stay and fight. About the same time, Mormon activists Sampson Avard and Jared Carter, under the instructions of Joseph Smith, had formed a secret military Society, called the "daughter of Zion," (The Reed Peck manuscript, 1839).
- Joseph Smith’s scribe, Sidney Rigdon, in July of 1838, said: “And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled; or else they will have to exterminate us, for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed,” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 441).
- June of 1838, Joseph Smith’s scribe, Sidney Ridgon stated: “He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency, laying plans to take their lives, accused them of counterfeiting, lying, cheating and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of such a nuisance. He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth, and, if the county cannot be freed from them any other way, I will assist to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the Square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburg and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation,” (The Reed Peck manuscript, 1839).
- October 14, 1838, Mormons were cited to say, “We will take our affairs into our own hands and manage for ourselves. We have applied to the Governor and he will do nothing for us, the militia of the county we have tried and they will do nothing, all are mob, the Governor is mob . . . ”
- On October 18, 1838, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, D. W. Patten at the head of 40 men made a descent on Gallatin, the county seat of Daviess, and they burned the only store and stole their goods. Previous to the 25th of October a great part of the Mormons residing in Caldwell County had returned home with their dividend of plunder.
- On October 25, 1838, the Battle of Crooked River: Mormon forces attacked (unknowingly?) the Missouri state militia under the command of Samuel Bogart. This incident became one of the principal points of conflicts in 1838 Missouri. The battle resulted in the death of three militia and the LDS leader, David Patten. One of the militia was taken prisoner by the Mormons.
- Executive Order 44, sometimes called the "Extermination Order," was issued on October 27, 1838, ultimately the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri.
- Three days later, on October 30, 1838, a militia unit from Livingston County planned a revenge attack upon a Mormon settlement at Hauns Mill, Missouri. Seventeen Latter-day Saints and one friendly non-Mormon were killed. Another thirteen were wounded, including one woman and a seven-year-old boy. It was reported that no Missouri militiamen were killed, but three were wounded. Because the raid was by the Missouri military none of the 55 men involved in the raid were ever brought to trial.
Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs overreacted by calling out 2,500 state militiamen to put down what he perceived open rebellion by the Mormons. LDS Church leaders were captured, and the bulk of the LDS membership was forced to leave the state.
See “The Missouri Mormon War” documentation can be seen on-line at http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/findingaids/miscMormonRecords.asp?rec=doc
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- 1. Missouri Executive Order 44, a.k.a. "extermination order" an Governmental executive order issued on October 27, 1838, by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs due to the on-going conflicts with Mormon settlers.