Governor Ford writes to the Nauvoo City Council condemning the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and outlining the steps he intends to take.

Jun 22, 1844
Thomas Ford

"Letter from Thomas Ford, 22 June 1844," The Joseph Smith Papers website accessed December 21, 2021

Thomas Ford
J. G. Rolph, John Alexander Hicks, A. J. Higbee, P. J. Rolf, John Portineus Greene, Nauvoo City Council, Nauvoo Legion, Peter Lemon, Nauvoo Expositor, David Bettisworth, Joseph Smith, Jr., Thomas Morrison, John Eagle, Thomas Ford, Henry Norton
Nauvoo City Council, Joseph Smith, Jr.

To the Mayor & Council of the City of Nauvo

Gentlemen After examining carefully all the allegations on the part of the Citizens of the country in Hancock County; and the difencive matters Submitted to me by the Committee of your citizens, concerning the existing disturbances I find that there appears to be but little contradiction, as to important facts; So that it may be safely assumed, that the immediate cause of the existing excitement, is the distruction of the press and fixtures of the Nauvoo Expositor; and the Subsequent refusal of the individuals accused to be accountable therefor according to the general laws of this State; And the insisting on your parts to be accountable only before your own Municipal Court, And according to the ordinances of your City

Many other facts have been asserted on both sides as tending to increase the excitement; but as they mostly relate merely to private persons; and committed by individuals; and tend simply to show the present State of affairs I will not further notice them in this communication

The material facts to be noticed are, that a Newspaper called “the Nauvoo Expositor,” was established in Nauvoo; that it this Newspaper was deemed offensive to the people of that City That the common council without notice or process to the owners, entered into a trial and heard Statements and not under oath, and evidence which was under oath in relation to the character of that paper; and in relation to the character conduct and designs of the owners & Editors of the press; that upon hearing such statements and evidence the Common Council passed an ordinance or resolution, declaring Said press and paper to be a public nuisance; and ordered the same to be abated as such; that a writ was issued by the Mayor to the Marshall of the city for that purpose; that a military order was issued at the same time, by the Mayor, who is also Leutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion, to the Major General in command of that Legion, for a force sufficient to ensure the execution of the writ aforesaid

It appears, also the press was distroyed in obedience to the foregoing ordinance and writ according to a return on the same by the Marshall in the following words; “The within press and type is distroyed and pied according to order on this 10th day of June 1844 at about 6 oclock P. M. J P Green [John P. Greene] C. M.[”]

It appears also that the owners of the press obtained from a justice of the peace at Carthage a warrant against the authors of this distruction, for a riot; that the constable charged with the execution of this process, arrested some of the persons accused, who immediately obtained writs of habeas Corpus <​from​> to the Muni[ci]pal Court of your City, by virtue of which they were tried in Nauvoo and discharged from arrest; and that they have ever since refused to be arrested or to Submit to a trial at any other place or before any other court except in the City and before the Municipal Court aforesaid

It has also been reported to me that marshall law has been declared in Nauvoo that persons and property, have been and are now forcibly imprisoned and detained there and that the Legion has been ordered under arms to resist any attempt to arrest the persons accused. I have not particularly enquired into the truth of these latter reports; for although they may become matters of great importance in the Sequel, they are not necessary to be ascertained and acted upon at present

I now express to you my opinion that your conduct in the distruction of the press was a very gross and outrage upon the laws and the liberties of the people. It may have been full of libels, but this did not authorise you to distroy it. There are many Newspapers in this State which [have?] been wrongfully abusing me for more than a year, and yet such is my regard for the liberty of the press and the rights of a free people in a republican Government that I would Shed the last drop of my blood to protect those presses from any illegal violence You have violated the Constitution, in at least four particulars you have violated that part of it which declares that the printing presses Shall be free being responsible for the abuse thereof and that the truth may be given in evidence This article of the constitution contemplates that the proprietors of a libellous press may be sued for private damage or may be indicted criminally; and that upon trial they should have a right to give the truth in evidence In this case the proprietors had no notice of the proceeding— The constitution also provides that the people shall be protected against unreasonable Searches and Seizeures of their property; And “that no man Shall be deprived of life liberty or property, except by the judgment of his peers” (which means a jury trial) “and the the law of the land”; which means due process f law and notice to the accused. You have also violated <​the constitution and​> your own charter in this your council which has no judicial power and can only pass ordinances of a general nature, have undertaken to pass judgment as a court, and convict without jury a press of being a libellous and a nusuance to the city The council at most could only define a nuisance by general ordinance and leave it to the courts to determine whether individuals or particulars accused come within Such definition. The constitution abhors and will not tolerate the union of Legislative and Judicial power in the same body of Magistracy Because, as in this case, they will first make a tyrannical law, and then execute it in a tyrannical manner.

You have also assumed to yourselves more power than you are entitled to in relation to writs of habeas, under your charter I know that you have been told by lawyers for the purpose of gaining your favor, that you have this power to any extent, In this they have deceived you for their own base purposes Your charter supposes, that you may pass ordinances, a breach of which will result in the imprisonment of the offender, For the purpose of ensuring more speedy relief to such persons authority was given to the Municipal Court to issue writs of habeas Corpus in all in a Cases arising under the ordinances of the city. It was never Supposed by the Legislature nor can the language <​of your charter​> be tortured to mean, that a jurisdiction was intended to be conferrd, which would apply at to all cases an of imprisonment under the general laws of the State or of the United States, as well as the city ordinances

It has also been reserved to you to make the discovery that a Newspaper charged to be scurrilous and libellous may be legally abated or removed as a nuisance. In no other State, county, city Town, or Territory in the United States, has ever such a thing, been thought of before. Such an act at this day, would not be tolerated, even in England Just such another act in 1830 hurled the King of France from his throne and caused the imprisonment of four of his principal ministers for life No civilized country can tolerate such conduct; much less can it be tolerated in this free country of the United States

The result of my diliberations on this Subject is that I will have to require you and all persons <​in Nauvoo​> accused or sued in Nauvoo to submit in all cases implicitly to the process of the courts and to interpose no obstacles to an arrest either by writ of habeas corpus or otherwise; and that all of the people of the city of Nauvoo Shall make the most comp and continue the most complete Submission to the laws of the State and the process of the courts and justices of the peace.

In the particular case now under consideration I require any and all of you who are a or shall be accused to Submit yourselves to be arrested by the Same Constable, by virtue of the same warrant and be tried before the same magistrate whose authority has heretofore been resisted Nothing Short of this can vindicate the dignity of violated law, and allay the just excitement of the people

I am anxious to preserve the peace. A Small indescretion may bring on a war. The whole country is now up in arms; and a vast number of people are ready to take the matter into their own hands Such a state of things might force me to to call out the Militia to prevent a civil war. And such is the excitement of the country that I fear that the Militia when assembled would be beyond legal control You are wrong in the first instance and I can call out no portion of the Militia <​for your defence​> until you submit to the law. You have made it necessary that a Posse should be assembled to execute legal process; and that posse as fast as it assembles in is in danger of being imbued with the Mobocratic Spirit. If you by refusing to submit, shall make it necessary to call out the militia I have great fears that your city will be destroyed and your people many of them exterminated

You know the excitement of the public mind. Do not tempt it too far A very little matter may do a very great injury, and if you are disposed to continue the causes of excitement, and render a force necessary to coerce Submission I would say that your <​city​> was built, as it were, upon kegs of pow[d]er which a very little Spark may explode.

It is my intention to do all I can to preserve the peace, and even if obliged to Call the Militia, to prosecute the war so as not to involve the innocent, and Comprehend all in the Same punishment. But Excitement is a matter which grows very fast upon men when assembled The affair I much fear may assume a revolutionary character and the men may disregard the authority of their officers

I tell you plainly that if no such submission is made as I have indicated I will be obliged to call out the militia, and if a few thousands will not be sufficient many thousands will be I Sincerely hope that your people may do nothing which will make Such a proceeding necessary. I hope also that they will be well disposed to cooperate with me in allaying the excitement of the public mind. Immediately discharge such persons as you have under martial law Let them go without molestation. Abstain from all injury to private property Let people go where they please without Swearing them first to take no part against you. All Such proceedings tend only to inflame the public mind and raise up ten men disposed to fight you, where for every one thus foolishly disabled from appearing against you

Your Committee assures me that you are Sincerely desirous of preserving the peace; and if so I hope you will cooperate with me in every thing necessary to allay the Excitement in the minds of the People

The following named persons are reported to me as being detained against their will by Marshall law John A Hicks H[enry] O. Norton. A. J. Higbee John Eagle, P. J. Rolf, Peter Lemon, J. G. Rolph It will tend greatly to allay Excitement if they Shall be immediately discharged and Suffered to go without molestation

It is also reported here and generally believed but whether truly or not I have not yet learned, that there are many foraging parties abroad from Nauvoo committing depredations upon the cattle and property in the vicinity This pr These acts if correctly reported must absolutely cease immediately, if you expect any person here to have the power to preserve the peace In case the persons accused should make no resistance to an arrest it will be against orders to be accompanied by others If it Should become necessary to have witnesses on in the trials, I will See that Such persons Shall be duly Summoned, And I will also guarantee the safety of all such persons as may thus be braught to this place from Nauvoo either for trial or as witnesses for the accused

If the individuals accused cannot be found when required by the constable it will be considered by me as equivalent to a refusal to be arrested and the Militia will be ordered accordingly

I am Gentlemen With great Respect

Your Obedient Servant

Thomas Ford Governor and Commander in chief

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