In late July 1842 members of the Female Relief Society petitioned Illinois governor Thomas Carlin not to extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri for trial. More than two months earlier, on May 6, 1842, Lilburn W. Boggs, a former governor of Missouri, was shot and seriously wounded at his home in Independence, Missouri. In October 1838 Boggs had sanctioned the expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from Missouri in his “extermination order.” Suspicion for the attack on Boggs quickly centered on the Mormons. On May 21, for instance, the Illinois Quincy Whig suggested that Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints were responsible for the attack.1 In July the Sangamo Journal, a newspaper in Springfield, Illinois, began publishing explosive letters from John C. Bennett, who had been both mayor of Nauvoo and assistant president of the church before his excommunication for adultery in May 1842. In one of his letters, published on July 15, Bennett accused Smith of ordering Orrin Porter Rockwell, a Latter-day Saint who was in Independence at the time of the attack, to shoot Boggs.2 Five days after the publication of Bennett’s letter, Boggs made a sworn statement that Joseph Smith “was Accessary before the fact” in the assassination attempt and requested that Governor Thomas Reynolds of Missouri seek the extradition of Smith from Illinois to stand trial.3 Reynolds officially requested the extradition two days later.4
The threat of Smith’s potential extradition led church members and other citizens of Nauvoo to write three petitions to Governor Carlin. First, on July 22, the Nauvoo City Council appointed John Taylor, William Law, and Brigham Young as a committee, assisted by city recorder James Sloan, “to prepare a Petition to lay before the Governor of this State, praying that he will protect Lieut Genl. Joseph Smith from arrest under any Writ from Missouri, and the Inhabitants of this City and its vicinity from the intrigues of evil designing Men.”5 About eight hundred men signed the petition.6 A second petition, the Relief Society petition featured here, was prepared that same day and was at some point thereafter copied and “signed by about one thousand Ladies.”7 Finally, a “petition was also drawn up by many Citizens in, and near Nauvoo, who were not Mormons, setting forth the same things” as the first and second petitions.8
The Relief Society petition’s affirmation of female decorum and its emotional appeal for protection parallel contemporaneous women’s petitions to local, state, and federal officials.9 The draft of the petition is in John Taylor’s handwriting, and both Taylor and James Sloan made corrections; the extent of Relief Society leaders’ input on the document is unclear. Because Carlin’s copy of the petition is apparently not extant, the unsigned draft of the petition is reproduced below. Since both Taylor and Sloan had also been involved in preparing the city council petition, the city council and Relief Society petitions highlight many of the same themes.
Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Amanda Barnes Smith delivered the Relief Society petition to Governor Carlin in Quincy on July 28.10 Snow recorded that Carlin “received us with cordiality, and as much affability and politeness as his Excellency is master of, assuring us of his protection, by saying that the laws and Constitution of our country shall be his polar star in case of any difficulty. He manifested much friendship, and it remains for time and circumstance to prove the sincerity of his professions.”11 Much later, Snow recalled that, notwithstanding Carlin’s acknowledgment of Smith’s “innocence,” “soon after our return, we learned that at the time of our visit, and while making protestations of friendship, the wily Governor was secretly conniving with the basest of men to destroy our leaders.”12
Indeed, Governor Carlin issued a writ for Joseph Smith’s arrest on August 2. Though Smith was arrested on August 8, he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, which the Nauvoo Municipal Court granted. The arresting officer then returned to Quincy to receive instructions from the governor, and Joseph Smith went into hiding for most of the time until January 1843.13 Between August 16 and September 7, Emma Smith and Carlin exchanged four letters. She argued for her husband’s innocence and asked Carlin not to extradite him; Carlin responded that he was bound by law to accede to Missouri’s extradition orders.14
On August 31 Joseph Smith attended a Relief Society meeting and thanked the women for their petition, commenting, “The Female Relief Society has taken the the most active part in my welfare— against my enemies— in petitioning to the Governor— These measures were all necessary. . . . If these measures had not been taken, more serious consequences would have resulted.” He also told the women that “God had enabled him to keep out of” the hands of his enemies, and he “had war’d a good warfare inasmuch as he had whip’d out all of [John C.] Bennett’s host.”15 Smith’s legal battle continued over the next several months, until a federal judge in January 1843 ruled that Boggs’s affidavit (and thus Reynolds’s requisition based on that affidavit) was legally flawed, ending this particular attempt to extradite Smith to Missouri.16
To his Excellency Thomas Carlin Gov. of the State of Ill.
We the undersigned members of the Nauvoo Releif Society & Ladies of Nauvoo hearing many reports concerning; mobs threats of extermination & other excitement set on foot by John C. Bennet calculated to disturb the peace happiness & well being of this community, have taken the liberty to
lay before <petition>17 your excellency the following statements <for protection>
It may be considered irrelevant for Ladies to petition your excellen[cy] on the above named subject & may be thought by you sir to be officious [p. 1]18 & that it would be more becoming for our husbands
our Fathers our brothers & sons to engage in this work & in our defence; this sir we will admit in ordinary cases is right & that it would be more consistent with the delicacy of the female character to be silent but on occasions like the present that our desires for the peace of society the happiness of our freinds, The desire to save the lives of our husbands our our fathers our brothers our children & our own lives will be a sufficient palliation in the estimation of your excellency for the step we have taken in presenting this petition in support of the one already sent your [p. 2] Excellency by the male inhabitants of this city.—19
We would respectfully represent to your Excellency that we have not yet forgot the scenes of grief misery & woe that we had to experience from the hands of ruthles & bloodthirsty mob<s>20 in the state of Mo.
◊◊en tyranny & oppression ruled21— the cup of misery was prepared by the Lying slander & misrepresentation it was <wrung out &> filled by tyranny & oppression, & by a ruthless in human mob. We had to drink it to the dregs. Your ecellency will bear with us if we remind you of the cold blooded atrocities that we w◊◊◊ witnessed in that state our heart thrills <bosoms heave> with horror [p. 3] <our eyes are dim;> our knees tremble; our hearts are faint when we think of their horrid deeds of & if the petitions of our husbands brothers fathers & sons will not avail with your Excellency we beseech you to remember <that of> their wives mothers <sisters> & daughters.— let the voice of injured innocence in Mo speak; let the blood of our fathers our Brothers our sons & daughters speak let the tears of the widows the orphans the maimed the impoverished speak & let the injuries sustained by fifteen thousand innocent robbed <spoiled> persecuted & injured people speak let the tale of our woe be told <let it be told without varnish or prejudice or colour> & we are perswaided that there is no heart but will be softened no feelings but will be affected [p. 4] & no person but what will flee to our side.22
Far be it from us to accuse your excellency of obduracy or injustice we believe you to be a human feeling benevolent & patriotic man & therefore we appeal to you.—
Concerning John C Bennet who is trying <with other political Demagogues>23 to disturb our peace we believe him to be <an unvirtuous man &> a most consummate scoundrel a stirrer up of sedition & a vile wretch unworthy the attention or notice of any virtuous man & his published statements concerning Joseph Smith are barefaced unblushing [p. 5] falsehoods.24
We would farther represent to your excellency concerning Joseph Smith that we have the utmost confidence in him <as being a man of> virtue integrity honesty truth & patriotism, we have never either in public or private heard him teach any principles but the principles of virtue & righteousness & so we have knowledge we know him to be a pure chaste virtuous & godly man.—
Under these circumstances we would petition your excellency to excert your priviledges in an official capacity & not to suffer him should he be demanded to go into the state of Mo. for we know that if he
is <should> it would be the delivering up the innocent to be murdered he would reprent [represent?] to your excellencey [p. 6] that we are a law abiding people a virtuous people & we would respectfully refer your Excelleny to the official document<s>25 of this state during our three years residen[c]e <in> it<,> in proof of this. if we transgress laws we are willing to be tried by those laws but we dread mobs we dread illegal process we dread fermentation calumny & lies knowing that our difficulties in Mo first commenced with these thing <x>26 & we therefore appeal to the honor philanthrophy justice benevolence justice & patriotism of your excellency to afford us all legal protection & to grant us our request & we as are duty bound will ever pray [p. 7]
<x see foregoing Page where this Comes in.>27
We pray that we may not be delivered into the hands of mob or illegal proceedings of the malitia but that we may have the priviledg of self defence in case of attack without having to contend with legalized mobs as in Mo
<have a knowledge of the political>28 [p. ]