Programs highlight Joseph Smith's legal issues, ongoing questions of legal protections

Posted: Sep. 10, 2013 10:32 am Updated: Oct. 1, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

NAUVOO, Ill. -- Heading home to Nauvoo, Joseph Smith and supporters in his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints penned a 14-verse song celebrating his freedom after an extradition hearing in Springfield.

"When it didn't adequately satisfy the joy in their heart, another church member wrote another 16 verses," said Lachlan Mackay, director of historic sites for Community of Christ.

All 30 verses were sung at a celebratory feast, a jubilee, hosted by Smith and his wife, Emma, for 75 of their closest friends at the family's homestead, and at least five verses praised Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford.

Just a year later, Mackay said the LDS members were singing a very different tune about Ford, transitioning from seeing the governor as a champion in 1843 to an enemy in 1844 because of the use of habeas corpus by Smith and his church.

Events in Nauvoo on Sept. 23, Springfield on Sept. 24 and Chicago on Oct. 14 will highlight Smith's legal issues in Illinois and ongoing questions of legal protections.

"We're educating people about one historical event and the underlying cause or reason that still has ramifications in today's society," said John Lupton, executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, which works to preserve the state's judicial history. "There's this Mormon Illinois connection that is dealing with similar issues we have today with Guantanamo Bay. They sound like worlds apart, but there is a common thread, this writ of habeas corpus."

Simply defined, habeas corpus is a remedy against false imprisonment, Lupton said.

Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs' attempt to "eradicate" the Mormons caused legal problems for Smith, who founded the LDS church. He employed the writ of habeas corpus while an Illinois resident to free himself from extradition to face charges in Missouri.

"In three different hearings on those habeas corpus points, the Illinois courts decided Smith should be free," Lupton said. "I'm not a Mormon and not a Mormon scholar, but I am interested in Illinois history, and this was a major event in Illinois history that a lot of people aren't aware of."

Nauvoo events feature tours of historic sites with expert interpretation providing a look at life in the 1840s and an evening presentation by Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the LDS Quorum of Twelve. A dramatic presentation of Smith's three habeas corpus hearings in Illinois followed by a panel discussion on the use of habeas corpus from Smith's time to the present day will be held in Springfield, then repeated Oct.. 14 in Chicago.

The legal-oriented programs are the third in a series sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Previous efforts targeted a retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln's insanity hearing and a retrial of Mary Surratt, the woman executed in 1865 for her role in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln.

"This is a way of using a historic event, or in this case a historic trial, and bringing that issue up to modern day," Lupton said.

Mackay said the events offer a way to explore the impact of the legal maneuvers.

"Even the LDS community doesn't really understand the importance of habeas corpus in the 1840s part of the Nauvoo story. It was critically important and was one of the major reasons the conflict kind of not just developed but exploded," Mackay said. "Joseph had been exposed to the power of habeas corpus during these extradition hearings, but he also realized he could use it in other ways in the Nauvoo community."

What the LDS church saw as efforts to defend and protect themselves after the deeply scarring Missouri events, the neighbors often saw as threats or ways to elevate the church above the law.

Nauvoo Tourism Director Kim Orth said the program will be "a big deal" for the community.

"It pulls together a lot of the different viewpoints that there are about the history of Nauvoo," Orth said. "It will be bringing a different group of people that maybe have not visited Nauvoo recently or maybe they haven't thought about the different topics."




Programs on Joseph Smith's legal legacy

Monday, Sept. 23

• Free interpretive presentations and tours of historic Nauvoo, 12:30-4 p.m. Topics: "Understanding Mormonism in Antebellum America," "Nauvoo Journey Stories," "The Missouri Extradition Attempts of Joseph Smith and the Constitution," "Joseph Smith's Run for the Presidency," "The Nauvoo Legion," "Habeas Corpus in the City of Nauvoo," "When Foul Oppression's Hand Was Stay'd: The Mormon Jubilee," "Stephen Douglas and the Mormons in Lincoln's Illinois."

• Dallin H. Oaks presentation, "Behind the Extraditions: Joseph Smith, the Man and the Prophet," 7:30 p.m., Nauvoo Historical Visitors Center. Oaks has served as a member of the LDS Quorum of Twelve since May 1984. Previously, he practiced law and taught at the University of Chicago Law School, was president of Brigham Young University and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court. The program is sold out, but a video feed of Oaks' presentation will be available at the Nauvoo Stake Center, 380 Durphy. No tickets are required for the video feed.

Tuesday, Sept. 24

• A presentation of Smith's three habeas corpus hearings in Illinois, followed by a panel discussion on the use of habeas corpus from Smith's time to the present day, 6 p.m., Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield. Panelists include U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough, Illinois Solicitor General Michael Scodro, Jeffrey Colman of Jenner and Block, and Jeffrey Walker of the J. Reuben Clark Law School. Moderator will be Gery Chico of Chico and Nunes. The main theater is sold out, but tickets for a live video feed are available.

Monday, Oct. 14
• An encore of the Springfield presentation and discussion, 6 p.m. at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago. Tickets are available.
For more information, conatact John Lupton, executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, at (217) 670-0890 or, or got to