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

Author: William Alexander Linn

Chapter IV. The Nauvoo City Government—Temple and Other Buildings

A tide of immigration having been turned toward the new settlement, the next thing in order was to procure for the city a legal organization. Several circumstances combined to place in the hands of the Mormon leaders a scheme of municipal government, along with an extensive plan for buildings, which gave them vast power without incurring the kind of financial rocks on which they were wrecked in Ohio.

Dr. Galland* should probably be considered the inventor of the general scheme adopted at Nauvoo. He was at that time a resident of Cincinnati, but his intercourse with the Mormons had interested him in their beliefs, and some time in 1840 he addressed a letter to Elder R. B. Thompson, which gave the church leaders some important advice.** First warning them that to promulgate new doctrinal tenets will require not only tact and energy, but moral conduct and industry among their people, he confessed that he had not been able to discover why their religious views were not based on truth. "The project of establishing extraordinary religious doctrines being magnificent in its character," he went on to say, would require "preparations commensurate with the plan." Nauvoo being a suitable rallying-place, they would "want a temple that for size, proportions and style shall attract, surprise and dazzle all beholders"; something "unique externally, and in the interior peculiar, imposing and grand." The "clergymen" must be of the best as regards mental and vocal equipment, and there should be a choir such as "was never before organized." A college, too, would be of great value if funds for it could be collected.

* "In the year 1834 one Dr. Galland was a candidate for the legislature in a district composed of Hancock, Adams, and Pike Counties. He resided in the county of Hancock, and, as he had in the early part of his life been a notorious horse thief and counterfeiter, belonging to the Massac gang, and was then no pretender to integrity, it was useless to deny the charge. In all his speeches he freely admitted the fact."—FORD’s" "History of Illinois," p. 406.

** Times and Seasons, Vol. II, pp. 277-278. The letter is signed with eight asterisks Galland’s usual signature to such communications.

These suggestions were accepted by Smith, with some important additional details, and they found place in the longest of the "revelations" given out by him in Illinois (Sec. I 24), the one, previously quoted from, in which the Lord excused the failure to set up a Zion in Missouri. There seemed to be some hesitation about giving out this "revelation." It is dated after the meeting of the General Conference at Nauvoo which ordered the building of a church there, and it was not published in the Times and Seasons until the following June, and then not entire. The "revelation" shows how little effect adversity had had in modifying the prophet’s egotism, his arrogance, or his aggressiveness.

Starting out with, "Verily, thus with the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offerings and acknowledgments," it calls on him to make proclamation to the kings of the world, the President of the United States, and the governors of the states concerning the Lord’s will, "fearing them not, for they are as grass," and warning them of "a day of visitation if they reject my servants and my testimony." Various direct commands to leading members of the church follow. Galland here found himself in Smith’s clutches, being directed to "put stock" into the boardinghouse to be built.

The principal commands in this "revelation" directed the building of another "holy house," or Temple, and a boardinghouse. With regard to the Temple it was explained that the Lord would show Smith everything about it, including its site. All the Saints from afar were ordered to come to Nauvoo, "with all your gold, and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities, . . . and bring the box tree, and the fir tree, and the pine tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth, and with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your most precious things of the earth."

The boarding-house ordered built was to be called Nauvoo House, and was to be "a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein. . . a resting place for the weary traveler, that he may contemplate the glory of Zion." It was explained that a company must be formed, the members of which should pay not less than $50 a share for the stock, no subscriber to be allotted more than $1500 worth.

This "revelation" further announced once more that Joseph was to be "a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer and a prophet," with Sidney Rigdon and William Law his counsellors, to constitute with him the First Presidency, and Brigham Young to be president over the twelve travelling council.

Legislation was, of course, necessary to carry out the large schemes that the Mormon leaders had in mind; but this was secured at the state capital with a liberality that now seems amazing. This was due to the desire of the politicians of all parties to conciliate the Mormon vote, and to the good fortune of the Mormons in finding at the capital a very practical lobbyist to engineer their cause. This was a Dr. John C. Bennett, a man who seems to have been without any moral character, but who had filled positions of importance. Born in Massachusetts in 1804, he practised as a physician in Ohio, and later in Illinois, holding a professorship in Willoughby University, Ohio, and taking with him to Illinois testimonials as to his professional skill. In the latter state he showed a taste for military affairs, and after being elected brigadier general of the Invincible Dragoons, he was appointed quartermaster general of the state in 1840, and held that position at the state capital when the Mormons applied to the legislature for a charter for Nauvoo.

With his assistance there was secured from the legislature an act incorporating the city of Nauvoo, the Nauvoo Legion, and the University of the City of Nauvoo. The powers granted to the city government thus established were extraordinary. A City Council was authorized, consisting of the mayor, four aldermen, and nine councillors, which was empowered to pass any ordinances, not in conflict with the federal and state constitutions, which it deemed necessary for the peace and order of the city. The mayor and aldermen were given all the power of justices of the peace, and they were to constitute the Municipal Court. The charter gave the mayor sole jurisdiction in all cases arising under the city ordinances, with a right of appeal to the Municipal Court. Further than this, the charter granted to the Municipal Court the right to issue writs of habeas corpus in all cases arising under the city ordinances. Thirty-six sections were required to define the legislative powers of the City Council.

A more remarkable scheme of independent local government could not have been devised even by the leaders of this Mormon church, and the shortsightedness of the law makers in consenting to it seems nothing short of marvellous. Under it the mayor, who helped to make the local laws (as a member of the City Council), was intrusted with their enforcement, and he could, as the head of the Municipal Court, give them legal interpretation. Governor Ford afterward defined the system as "a government within a government; a legislature to pass ordinances at war with the laws of the state; courts to execute them with but little dependence upon the constitutional judiciary, and a military force at their own command." *

* A bill repealing this charter was passed by the Illinois House on February 3, 1843, by a vote of fifty-eight to thirty-three, but failed in the Senate by a vote of sixteen ayes to seventeen nays.

This military force, called the Nauvoo Legion, the City Council was authorized to organize from the inhabitants of the city who were subject to military duty. It was to be at the disposal of the mayor in executing city laws and ordinances, and of the governor of the state for the public defence. When organized, it embraced three classes of troops—flying artillery, lancers, and riflemen. Its independence of state control was provided for by a provision of law which allowed it to be governed by a court martial of its own officers. The view of its independence taken by,the Mormons may be seen in the following general order signed by Smith and Bennett in May, 1841, founded on an opinion by judge Stephen A. Douglas:— "The officers and privates belonging to the Legion are exempt from all military duty not required by the legally constituted authorities thereof; they are therefore expressly inhibited from performing any military service not ordered by the general officers, or directed by the court martial."*

* Times and Seasons, Vol. II, p. 417. Governor Ford commissioned Brigham Young to succeed Smith as lieutenant general of the Legion from August 31, 1844. To show the Mormon idea of authority, the following is quoted from Tullidge’s "Life of Brigham Young," p. 30: "It is a singular fact that, after Washington, Joseph Smith was the first man in America who held the rank of lieutenant general, and that Brigham Young was the next. In reply to a comment by the author upon this fact Brigham Young said: ’I was never much of a military man. The commission has since been abrogated by the state of Illinois; but if Joseph had lived when the (Mexican] war broke out he would have become commander-in chief of the United States Armies.’"

In other words, this city military company was entirely independent of even the governor of the state. Little wonder that the Presidency, writing about the new law to the Saints abroad, said, "’Tis all we ever claimed." In view of the experience of the Missourians with the Mormons as directed by Smith and Rigdon, it would be rash to say that they would have been tolerated as neighbors in Illinois under any circumstances, after their actual acquaintance had been made; but if the state of Illinois had deliberately intended to incite the Mormons to a reckless assertion of independence, nothing could have been planned that would have accomplished this more effectively than the passage of the charter of Nauvoo.

What next followed remains an unexplained incident in Joseph Smith’s career. Instead of taking the mayoralty himself, he allowed that office to be bestowed upon Bennett, Smith and Rigdon accepting places among the councillors, Bennett having taken up his residence in Nauvoo in September, 1840. His election as mayor took place in February, 1841. Bennet was also chosen major general of the Legion when that force was organized, was selected as the first chancellor of the new university, and was elected to the First Presidency of the church in the following April, to take the place of Sidney Rigdon during the incapacity of the latter from illness. Judge Stephen A. Douglas also appointed him a master in chancery.

Bennett was introduced to the Mormon church at large in a letter signed by Smith, Rigdon, and brother Hyrum, dated January 15, 1841, as the first of the new acquisitions of influence. They stated that his sympathies with the Saints were aroused while they were still in Missouri, and that he then addressed them a letter offering them his assistance, and the church was assured that "he is a man of enterprise, extensive acquirements, and of independent mind, and is calculated to be a great blessing to our community." When his appointment as a master in chancery was criticised by some Illinois newspapers, the Mormons defended him earnestly, Sidney Rigdon (then attorney-at-law and postmaster at Nauvoo), in a letter dated April 23, 1842, said, "He is a physician of great celebrity, of great versatility of talent, of refined education and accomplished manners; discharges the duties of his respective offices with honor to himself and credit to the people." All this becomes of interest in the light of the abuse which the Mormons soon after poured out upon this man when he "betrayed" them.

Bennett’s inaugural address as mayor was radical in tone. He advised the Council to prohibit all dram shops, allowing no liquor to be sold in a quantity less than a quart. This suggestion was carried out in a city ordinance. He condemned the existing system of education, which gave children merely a smattering of everything, and made "every boarding school miss a Plato in petticoats, without an ounce of genuine knowledge," pleading for education "of a purely practical character." The Legion he considered a matter of immediate necessity, and he added, "The winged warrior of the air perches upon the pole of American liberty, and the beast that has the temerity to ruffle her feathers should be made to feel the power of her talons."

Smith was commissioned lieutenant general of this Legion by Governor Carlin on February 3, 1841, and he and Bennett blossomed out at once as gorgeous commanders. An order was issued requiring all persons in the city, of military obligation, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, to join the Legion, and on the occasion of the laying of the corner-stone of the Temple, on April 6, 1841, it comprised fourteen companies. An army officer passing through Nauvoo in September, 1842, expressed the opinion that the evolutions of the Legion would do honor to any militia in the United States, but he queried: "Why this exact discipline of the Mormon corps? Do they intend to conquer Missouri, Illinois, Mexico? Before many years this Legion will be twenty, perhaps fifty, thousand strong and still augmenting. A fearful host, filled with religious enthusiasm, and led on by ambitious and talented officers, what may not be effected by them? Perhaps the subversion of the constitution of the United States." *

* Mackay’s "The Mormons," p. 121.

Contemporary accounts of the appearance of the Legion on the occasion of the laying of the Temple corner-stone indicate that the display was a big one for a frontier settlement. Smith says in his autobiography, "The appearance, order, and movements of the Legion were chaste, grand, imposing." The Times and Seasons, in its report of the day’s doings, says that General Smith had a staff of four aides-de-camp and twelve guards, "nearly all in splendid uniforms. The several companies presented a beautiful and interesting spectacle, several of them being uniformed and equipped, while the rich and costly dresses of the officers would have become a Bonaparte or a Washington." Ladies on horseback were an added feature of the procession. The ceremonies attending the cornerstone laying attracted the people from all the outlying districts, and marked an epoch in the church’s history in Illinois.

The Temple at Nauvoo measured 83 by 128 feet on the ground, and was nearly 60 feet high, surmounted by a steeple which was planned to be more than 100 feet in height. The material was white limestone, which was found underlying the site of the city. The work of construction continued throughout the occupation of Nauvoo by the Mormons, the laying of the capstone not being accomplished until May 24, 1845, and the dedication taking place on May 1, 1846. The cost of the completed structure was estimated by the Mormons at $1,000,000.* Among the costly features were thirty stone pilasters, which cost $3000 each.

* "The Temple is said to have cost, in labor and money, a million dollars. It may be possible, and it is very probable, that contributions to that amount were made to it, but that it cost that much to build it few will believe. Half that sum would be ample to build a much more costly edifice to-day, and in the three or four years in which it was being erected, labor was cheap and all the necessaries of life remarkably low."—GREGG’S "History of Hancock County," p. 367.

The portico of the Temple was surrounded by these pilasters of polished stone, on the base of which was carved a new moon, the capital of each being a representation of the rising sun coming from under a cloud, supported by two hands holding a trumpet. Under the tower were the words, in golden letters: "The House of the Lord, built by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Commenced April 6, 1841. Holiness to the Lord." The baptismal font measured twelve by sixteen feet, with a basin four feet deep. It was supported by twelve oxen "carved out of fine plank glued together," says Smith, "and copied after the most beautiful five-year-old steer that could be found." From the basement two stairways led to the main floor, around the sides of which were small rooms designed for various uses. In the large room on this floor were three pulpits and a place for the choir. The upper floor contained a large hall, and around this were twelve smaller rooms.

The erection of this Temple was carried on without incurring such debts or entering upon such money-making schemes as caused disaster at Kirtland. Labor and material were secured by successful appeals to the Saints on the ground and throughout the world. Here the tithing system inaugurated in Missouri played an efficient part. A man from the neighboring country who took produce to Nauvoo for sale or barter said, "In the committee rooms they had almost every conceivable thing, from all kinds of implements and men and women’s clothing, down to baby clothes and trinkets, which had been deposited by the owners as tithing or for the benefit of the Temple." *

* Gregg’s "History of Hancock County," p. 374

Nauvoo House, as planned, was to have a frontage of two hundred feet and a depth of forty feet, and to be three stories in height, with a basement. Its estimated cost was $100,000.* A detailed explanation of the uses of this house was thus given in a letter from the Twelve to the Saints abroad, dated November 15, 1841:—

* Times and Seasons, Vol. II, p. 369.

"The time set to favor the Stakes of Zion is at hand, and soon the kings and the queens, the princes and the nobles, the rich and the honorable of the earth, will come up hither to visit the Temple of our God, and to inquire concerning this strange work; and as kings are to become nursing fathers, and queens nursing mothers in the habitation of the righteous, it is right to render honor to whom honor is due; and therefore expedient that such, as well as the Saints, should have a comfortable house for boarding and lodging when they come hither, and it is according to the revelations that such a house should be built. . . All are under equal obligations to do all in their power to complete the buildings by their faith and their prayers; with their thousands and their mites, their gold and their silver, their copper and their zinc, their goods and their labors."

Nauvoo House was not finished during the Prophet’s life, the appeals in its behalf failing to secure liberal contributions. It was completed in later years, and used as a hotel.

Smith’s residence in Nauvoo was a frame building called the Mansion House, not far from the river side. It was opened as a hotel on October 3, 1843, with considerable ceremony, one of the toasts responded to being as follows, "Resolved, that General Joseph Smith, whether we view him as a prophet at the head of the church, a general at the head of the Legion, a mayor at the head of the City Council, or a landlord at the head of the table, has few equals and no superiors."

Another church building was the Hall of the Seventies, the upper story of which was used for the priesthood and the Council of Fifty. Galland’s suggestion about a college received practical shape in the incorporation of a university, in whose board of regents the leading men of the church, including Galland himself, found places. The faculty consisted of James Keeley, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, as president; Orson Pratt as professor of mathematics and English literature; Orson Spencer, a graduate of Union College and the Baptist Theological Seminary in New York, as professor of languages; and Sidney Rigdon as professor of church history. The tuition fee was $5 per quarter.


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Chicago: William Alexander Linn, "Chapter IV. The Nauvoo City Government— Temple and Other Buildings," 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 February 9, 2023,

MLA: Linn, William Alexander. "Chapter IV. The Nauvoo City Government— Temple and Other Buildings." 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. 9 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Linn, WA, 'Chapter IV. The Nauvoo City Government— Temple and Other Buildings' 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 9 February 2023, from