Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Nauvoo police violence

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Nauvoo police violence?

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims


One Nation under Gods, page 212 (hardback and paperback)

  • The Nauvoo police committed "many murders, vicious beatings, and intimidating assaults" against "perceived enemies of the church."

Author's Sources


Endnote 31-34, page 551 (hardback); page 549 (paperback)


Question: Did the Nauvoo police commit "many murders, vicious beatings, and intimidating assaults" against people that they thought to be enemies of the Church?

Nothing in the cited sources provide evidence for these claims

The critical work One Nation Under Gods claims that Nauvoo police committed murders and inflicted beating on those that they thought were enemies of the Church. [1] The citations supporting this claim are listed as:

Nothing in the cited sources provide evidence for these claims. A best, the expressed desire for vengeance upon Joseph Smith's murderers provides motive for violent acts against those complicit in his assassination. But, no proof of this has been here presented. One Nation Under Gods claims much more than the sources report.

The author's remark about "perceived enemies of the Church" is likewise disingenuous. Surely anyone who participated in Joseph Smith's murder would be a definite enemy of the Church he founded. The author wants to create a portrait of arbitrary and capricious violence—but he has here presented no evidence to sustain that charge.

Examining the source: Quinn

  • Nothing on Quinn, 151 supports this claim: it speaks only of
    • Orrin Porter Rockwell's desire (not carried out) to kill apostate Robert D. Foster
    • Allen Stout's report that he would not let Joseph and Hyrum's murders go unavenged
    • Stephen Markham's desire to avenge Joseph's murders
  • Quinn, 643 discusses the period from 8 Mar to 18 April 1844, while Joseph Smith was alive. There is no mention of violence of any sort.

Examining the source: Allen Stout

Allen Stout's journal is cited by Quinn. It thus adds nothing.

Examining the source: Hosea Stout

Hosea Stout's journal for 22 February 1844 reads only:

February 22, Saturday. In the morning went to Brother J. P. Harmon's there met Bishop [George] Miller, when we three went to the [Nauvoo] temple while consulting on matters pertaining to our safety and also the manner to pursue to rid ourselves of traitors who are in our midst seeking our lives.

Stout only worries about keeping the Saints safe, and keeping out traitors seeking to cause the death of the Saints. Stout's 13 March 1847 journal reads:

At dark I went to a meeting of the seventies at the Council house. Here J.P. Packer was up before them for a charge of stealing a brace of six shooters by getting them with a forged order. Some was for cutting him off. Some for keeping him on trial for awhile and so on. I spoke quite lengthy on the subject and was for keeping him in fellowship as I could fellowship any man that could be suffered to live amongst us and when we could not stand it any longer to cut him off –behind the ears- according to the law of God in such cases. I came home about twelve o’clock at night.

Stout here advocates mercy for a member guilty of stealing weapons through fraud. Stout does argue that there are crimes for which people may be killed ("cut...off-behind the ears") under divine law. Examples could include murder: Genesis 9:6, Alma 42:19, D&C 42:19.) There is nothing about this citation which supports the book's claim that the leaders or members of the Church generally advocated killing those who were the church's "enemies." The criminal in this case is guilty of theft—a civil crime. And even then, Stout does not advocate excommunication, much less judicial murder. As his previous entry shows, those "seeking our lives" might be subject to more severe justice. Such an attitude toward plotted or attempted murder is not at all out of place on the 19th-century American frontier, as two frontier legal scholars noted:

Under English common law...a person who was assailed and in fear of death or great bodily injury was required, if at all possible, to flee the scene and thus avoid a confrontation....

But American pioneers had no use for that kind of thinking...."A man is not born to run away." Those were the words used by U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to explain the rationale of his 1921 Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. United States, which rejected the English common law doctrine of 'duty to retreat' in favor of a rule more in tune with the combative spirit of the American frontier—the 'stand your ground' rule. In the Brown opinion, Holmes went on to explain that "detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife."[2]


Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 31-34, page 551 (hardback); page 549 (paperback).
  2. Bill Neal and Morris Bakken, Getting Away with Murder on the Texas Frontier: Notorious Killings & Celebrated Trials (Texas Tech University Press, 2006), 14–15.