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Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Sad Episode in Religion and Politics

Our textbook goes into great detail about the relationship between religion and politics. Some chapters in that story are sad and ugly. Carl Cannon reports:

It’s Thursday, October 27, the anniversary of one of the most notorious orders ever issued by a governor in U.S. history. Its official name was Missouri Executive Order 44, and it was directed to General John B. Clark of the state militia by Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs on Oct. 27, 1838:

“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.”

Gov. Boggs’ vile edict became known as “the extermination order” and it achieved its desired result: The adherents of the sect known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were forced out of Clay County, Missouri, just as they had been driven out of Jackson County – where their newspaper was destroyed by a mob – five years earlier, and driven from New York and Ohio before that.

Missouri’s “Mormon War,” as it came to be known, was precipitated on Aug. 6, 1838, in the town of Gallatin when LDS members tried to vote. Yes, that is how the adherents of America’s own home-grown-religion were thrown into armed conflict with their fellow citizens. By wanting to vote, and publish a newspaper (and also to bear arms). How subversive of them.

As for Gov. Boggs’ “extermination” order, it came amid the fog of war. At the Battle of Crooked Creek, state militiamen disarmed Mormons and took three prisoners. An armed Mormon rescue party freed the captives, but in the skirmish three Mormons and one member of the militia were killed. Given wildly inaccurate reports that almost all of the Missourians had been slaughtered, Boggs issued his notorious order.

In our era -- a time when two LDS members are running for president of the United States -- it’s worth remembering that the Mormon extermination order wasn’t rescinded when Joseph Smith was taken from his jail cell and murdered by an Illinois mob in 1844.

It wasn’t rescinded when “the saints,” as they called themselves, removed to the Utah territory under the leadership of Brigham Young over the next two decades. It wasn’t rescinded when Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896.

It was finally withdrawn by another Missouri governor, Republican Christopher “Kit” Bond, in 1976. Bond's gesture was praised on the Senate floor by a Democratic senator who converted to the LDS faith as a young man. C-SPAN's video of that floor speech is here.