The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901

Author: William Alexander Linn

Chapter I. The Reception of the Mormons

The state of Illinois, when the Mormons crossed the Missouri River to settle in it, might still be considered a pioneer country. Iowa, to the west of it, was a territory, and only recently organized as such. The population of the whole state was only 467,183 in 1840, as compared with 4,821,550 in 1900. Young as it was, however, the state had had some severe financial experiences, which might have served as warnings to the new-comers. A debt of more than $14,000,000 had been contracted for state improvements, and not a railroad or a canal had been completed. "The people," says Ford, "looked one way and another with surprise, and were astonished at their own folly." The payment of interest on the state debt ceased after July, 1841, and "in a short time Illinois became a stench in the nostrils of the civilized world . . . . The impossibility of selling kept us from losing population; the fear of disgrace or high taxes prevented us from gaining materially."* The State Bank and the Shawneetown Bank failed in 1842, and when Ford became governor in that year he estimated that the good money in the state in the hands of the people did not exceed one year’s interest on the public debt.

* Ford’s "History of Illinois," Chap. VII.

The lawless conditions in many parts of the state in those days can scarcely be realized now. It was in 1847 that the Rev. Owen Lovejoy {handwritten comment in the book says "Elijah P. Lovejoy." PG Editor} was killed at Alton in maintaining his right to print there an abolition newspaper. All over the state, settlers who had occupied lands as "squatters" defended their claims by force, and serious mobs often resulted. Large areas of military lands were owned by non-residents, who were in very bad favor with the actual settlers. These settlers made free use of the timber on such lands, and the non-residents, failing to secure justice at law, finally hired preachers, who were paid by the sermon to preach against the sin of "hooking" timber.*

* Ford’s "History of Illinois," Chap. VI.

Bands of desperadoes in the northern counties openly defied the officers of the law, and, in one instance, burned down the courthouse (in Ogle County in 1841) in order to release some of their fellows who were awaiting trial. One of these gangs ten years earlier had actually built, in Pope County, a fort in which they defied the authorities, and against which a piece of artillery had to be brought before it could be taken. Even while the conflict between the Mormons was going on, in 1846, there was vitality enough in this old organization, in Pope and Massac counties, to call for the interposition of a band of "regulators," who made many arrests, not hesitating to employ torture to secure from one prisoner information about his associates. Governor Ford sent General J. T. Davies there, to try to effect a peaceable arrangement of the difficulties, but he failed to do so, and the "regulators," who found the county officers opposed to them, drove out of the county the sheriff, the county clerk, and the representative elect to the legislature. When the judge of the Massac Circuit Court charged the grand jury strongly against the "regulators," they, with sympathizers from Kentucky, threatened to lynch him, and actually marched in such force to the county seat that the sheriff’s posse surrendered, and the mob let their friends out of jail, and drowned some members of the posse in the Ohio River.

The reception and treatment of the Mormons in Illinois, and the success of the new-comers in carrying out their business and political schemes, must be viewed in connection with these incidents in the early history of the state.

The greeting of the Mormons in Illinois, in its practical shape, had both a political and a business reason.* Party feeling ran very high throughout the country in those days. The House of Representatives at Washington, after very great excitement, organized early in December, 1839, by choosing a Whig Speaker, and at the same time the Whig National Convention, at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, nominated General W. H. Harrison for President. Thus the expulsion from Missouri occurred on the eve of one of our most exciting presidential campaigns, and the Illinois politicians were quick to appraise the value of the voting strength of the immigrants. As a residence of six months in the state gave a man the right to vote, the Mormon vote would count in the presidential election.

* "The first great error committed by the people of Hancock County was in accepting too readily the Mormon story of persecution. It was continually rung in their ears, and believed as often as asserted."—Gregg, "History of Hancock County," p. 270.

Accordingly, we find that in February, 1839, the Democratic Association of Quincy, at a public meeting in the court-house, received a report from a committee previously appointed, strongly in favor of the refugees, and adopted resolutions condemning the treatment of the Mormons by the people and officers of Missouri. The Quincy Argus declared that, because of this treatment, Missouri was "now so fallen that we could wish her star stricken out from the bright constellation of the Union." In April, 1839, Rigdon wrote to the "Saints in prison" that Governor Carlin of Illinois and his wife "enter with all the enthusiasm of their nature" into his plan to have the governor of each state present to Congress the unconstitutional course of Missouri toward the Mormons, with a view to federal relief. Governor Lucas of Iowa Territory, in the same year (Iowa had only been organized as a territory the year before, and was not admitted as a state until 1845), replying to a query about the reception the Mormons would receive in his domain, said: "Their religious opinions I consider have nothing to do with our political transactions. They are citizens of the United States, and are entitled to the same political rights and legal protection that other citizens are entitled to." He gave Rigdon at the same time cordial letters of introduction to President Van Buren and Governor Shannon of Ohio, and Rigdon received a similar letter to the President, recommending him "as a man of piety and a valuable citizen," signed by Governor Carlin, United States Senator Young, County Clerk Wren, and leading business men of Quincy. Thus began that recognition of the Mormons as a political power in Illinois which led to concessions to them that had so much to do with finally driving them into the wilderness.

The business reason for the welcome of the Mormons in Illinois and Iowa was the natural ambition to secure an increase of population. In all of Hancock County there were in 1830 only 483 inhabitants as compared with 32,215 in 1900. Along with this public view of the matter was a private one. A Dr. Isaac Galland owned (or claimed title to) a large tract of land on both sides of the border line between Illinois and Iowa, that in Iowa being included in what was known as "the half-breed tract," an area of some 119,000 acres which, by a treaty between the United States government and the Sacs and Foxes, was reserved to descendants of Indian women of those tribes by white fathers, and the title to much of which was in dispute. As soon as the Mormons began to cross into Illinois, Galland approached them with an offer of about 20,000 acres between the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers at $2 per acre, to be paid in twenty annual instalments, without interest. A meeting of the refugees was held in Quincy in February, 1839, to consider this offer, but the vote was against it. The failure of the efforts in Ohio and Missouri to establish the Mormons as a distinct community had made many of Smith’s followers sceptical about the success of any new scheme with this end in view, and at this conference several members, including so influential a man as Bishop Partridge, openly expressed their doubt about the wisdom of another gathering of the Saints. Galland, however, pursued the subject in a letter to D. W. Rodgers, inviting Rigdon and others to inspect the tract with him, and assuring the Mormons of his sympathy in their sufferings, and "deep solicitude for your future triumphant conquest over every enemy." Rigdon, Partridge, and others accepted Galland’s invitation, but reported against purchasing his land, and the refugees began scattering over the country around Quincy.


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Chicago: William Alexander Linn, "Chapter I. The Reception of the Mormons," The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 in The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024,

MLA: Linn, William Alexander. "Chapter I. The Reception of the Mormons." The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901, in The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901, Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Linn, WA, 'Chapter I. The Reception of the Mormons' in The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901. cited in , The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from