Mormon History

Repealing the Nauvoo Charters - 1844

Sangamo Journal December 26, 1844

MORMON CHARTERS. -- The bill to repeal the charter of the city of Nauvoo and of the Nauvoo Legion, passed the Senate on Thursday of last week. The debates on this subject, will be found extremely interesting. A large majority of the Senate were in favor of their repeal. It is supposed the bill will pass the House.


Repeal of the Mormon charters -- Mr. Dougherty, from the judiciary committee, reported back to the Senate the bill to repeal the charter of the city of Nauvoo, with amendments. (The Legion, and make provision for the appointment of a Receiver, to make the sale of the property of the city of Nauvoo, to pay city debts.) The amendments were agreed to.

Mr. Killpatrick moved an amendment, which would have the effect of modifying, and not repealing, the charter of the city of Nauvoo.

Mr. Doughtery was opposed to a modification of the charter. There was, he said, nothing in the charter of Nauvoo which would enable a law loving and a law abiding community to pass such ordinances as had been passed under it. So long as that people had the color of law to justify them, they would go on as they had done. To put a stop to the evils which the people of the State had all witnessed, it was necessary that the Nauvoo charter should be wholly repealed. Nothing less would satisfy the people; nothing less would effect the object desired. Mr. D. then read the report of the committee, which accompanied the bill. The report referred to several ordinances enacted under the charter, which outraged all law, and concluded with stating, that in the event of a repeal of the charter, the people of the city could organize a town government under the general incorporation which had been so grossly abused, taken from the people of Nauvoo.

Mr. Killpatrick stated, that at the last session of the Legislature, he introduced a bill containing similar provisions with those he had just offered as an amendment. He said that rights had accrued under the charter, which it would be unjust to interfere with. He had heard of no petition, for the repeal of this charter from any quarter; and we had the highest evidence that the citizens of Nauvoo were a quiet, peaceable and honest people. Indeed, we had seen a large body of the militia of the State, with the Governor at their head, take the field, to protect them in their rights and privileges. These facts had been stated in the Proclamation of the Governor of this State -- and more especially in his address, designed for the particular benefit of the people of Warsaw, -- who, he denounced for their unhallowed disposition towards the Mormons. Mr. K. then defended his amendment, which was designated to repeal the power to issue writs of habeas corpus, to disband the Nauvoo Legion, and prevent the passage of objectionable and illegal ordinances. His object was to give the same power only to Nauvoo that was possessed by the people of other cities. He had no respect for the high spiritual claims of the people of Nauvoo, -- he abhorred those pretensions -- but he deprecated the wanton disposition to repeal charters -- a doctrine and a practice which had greatly injured the character of the State. We had given the people of Nauvoo a city charter; it had existed for four years, and vested rights had accrued under it; and had we the right or the power to repeal it? Suppose that under the late Canal law, the bond holders had advanced the money called form and they had gone to work under the law, and from whim or caprice we should repeal the law? The people of Nauvoo have now vested rights under their charter -- just as much as the bond holders would have had under the state of things supposed. -- This practice of repealing charters is all wrong, and cannot add to the character of the State for honest and just legislation.

Mr. Davis at the last session was opposed to the repeal of the charter. He was now in favor of its repeal, on the ground that its provisions had been abused. All writers on the subject had agreed, the public corporations were those of boroughs, towns and cities, and that the power which originated their charters, had a right to repeal them. The gentleman from Scott had referred to the canal charter as a case parallel with that now under consideration. But there were no pledges made by the State to the people of Nauvoo; no contract made with them -- and there were no vested rights under the charter. The committee had recommended a repeal on the grounds that the powers conferred had been grossly abused.

The charter itself, if given to any other people, could not be objected to. A modification would not remedy the evil. Give the Mormons power to pass any ordinance, and they will have all the power they want. They would under this power set up, as they had done, an independent government in this State, in defiance, not only of our laws, but those of the United States. We had been told that no petition had been presented for this repeal from Hancock county. The gentleman does not say that the public sentiment of the State is not in favor of the measure. But the reason that petitions [had been] presented for this repeal from Hancock county, was the known fact that the Mormons could out-petition the old settlers of that county. Why were the militia called out -- why in time of profound peace were the citizens of this State called from their occupations, to march in war-array into Hancock county. Just because their charter had enabled the people of Nauvoo to violate all law, all good government, all those principles which had been held sacred in free governments. Here Mr. D. read an address by the Governor, in which he denounced sundry acts under this charter, referring to the act declaring the public press a nuisance -- calling out the Nauvoo Legion to destroy the press, &c. -- as conduct not to be tolerated. This outrage was done under the ordinary power given to cities to remove nuisances. He also referred to the fact, that Joe Smith had been arrested under the laws of the State, and had discharged himself by a decision of a court made up of his creatures, and of which he was the head. There was an ordinance enacted under this charter, which forbade the execution of a writ in Nauvoo unless it was endorsed and permission given to serve it by Joe Smith, with the penalty to the officer of some hundred dollars fine and six months imprisonment. There was another ordinance, which forbade an arrest of Joe Smith, under the penalty of imprisonment of life of the officer, and no pardon to be granted by the Governor except with the permission of Joe Smith. Mr. D. referred to several other ordinances passed by the mormons under this charter equally in contempt and defiance of the laws and constitution of the State; and declared there was no other remedy for the evil than a total repeal. He said the old citizens of Hancock were longer unwilling to have their property stolen -- carried to Nauvoo -- and for having the hardihood to claim their own property, be whipped, and abused, and fined. The outrages of the people to commit excesses. These outrages, too, have led to the military farces in Hancock county -- to an expense to be paid by the people of this State of some 20,000 dollars -- to a great expenditure of corn and oats -- and some fast running, for which no adequate compensation could be made. These farces may amuse the people of other portions of the State, but the people of Hancock wished them ended. He repeated, that the main cause of all their difficulties was the charter. Let that be done away, and peace and quiet will be likely to be restored.

Mr. Killpatrick then offered an amendment to his amendment, the object of which, was to prevent the city authorities from passing laws in violation of the laws of this State, and of the United States.

Mr. Cavarly said this debate had suddenly sprung up, unexpectedly to him. He had not intended, a question of greater magnitude than would again come before the Senate the present session. It was calculated greatly to effect the excited state. It is alleged that in one portion of the country, enormous outrages had been committed under the color of chartered rights. If this be so, this body is the proper and grand arbiter to examine into those abuses, and apply the remedy. -- What are these alleged abuses? We have heard from one Senator, that the peaceable, law-loving character of the people of Nauvoo, had been endorsed by the Governor; while the Senator from Hancock has stated on the same high authority, that acts had been perpetrated in Nauvoo, under the authority of their city charter, the like of which, had hurled even a King from his throne, in a despotic government. He held that every citizen who came to this State, was entitled to the protection of its laws. These were his natural rights. But to personify Nauvoo -- she had no natural rights; but she had artificial rights given her by law, for the security of the rights of her people. Can a man forfeit his natural rights? Who denies it? For crime he can be incarcerated in prison, forfeit his rights to liberty. And cannot an artificial person so abuse his artificial rights as to forfeit them? You cannot punish an artificial person by imprisonment. How then can it be done? and how is it to be done? The Hon. member from Union, has properly answered these questions and proposed the proper remedy -- by doing away with the power to commit evil. The time has arrived when power abused by chartered companies should be arrested. Two years ago when he was on this [floor], he declared himself willing to prune away the objectionable features of the Nauvoo charter, and put a period to the abuses which had sprung up under it. He did not wish by his present action to affect the rights of individuals. To every man he would accord the privilege claimed by himself, to worship God in a way most congenial to his sense of duty. The question was, had the people of Nauvoo abused the powers given them by the Legislature? If so, how could we arrest the evil? In no other way than to repeal the Nauvoo charter, and other charters which have brought evil upon us. Let the members of the Nauvoo Legion mix and unite with other portions of our militia. Let them discipline themselves as do other brigades.

We are called to protect vested rights, and the canal law is referred to for the purpose of showing the importance of this principle. But there is no similitude between the canal law and the charter of Nauvoo. There were no vested rights granted under that charter; and no vested rights or privileges would be taken from the people of Nauvoo by a repeal. Have such abuses taken place as to justify and require the adoption of the measure? Let them be made manifest and he would go as far as any one for repeal. There was no similitude, he repeated, between the cases of the canal charter and the city charter of Nauvoo. If bond holders to whom we had given every thing we possess, refuse to accede to our affairs, we will seek another mode to finish our canal. Abuses had been practiced under this Nauvoo charter. Something should be promptly done; and he desired to do what was right and just under the circumstances. -- Shall we so curtail the charter so as to leave the people of Nauvoo power merely to repair roads, dig wells, and build markets? It was well said that the general incorporation law would enable them to perfect such an organization as would accomplish these and other similar objects. Two years ago the Senator from Washington, not now in his seat, proposed a repeal of the Nauvoo charter. He called for the reasons -- for proof of the abuses complained of -- but they were not furnished him then -- now it had been presented in a manner not to be mistaken, that abuses exist, which have led to the calling out of the militia of the State, to suppress the excitement growing out of them. Why all this? Was it for abuses practiced, or prejudices of the people invading the rights of the people of Nauvoo? If he believed the latter to be the case -- that the old citizens of Hancock had caused all this excitement, -- he would not interfere. But he must believe that there have been great abuses under this charter. And the question recurred, what shall we do? Under an excited state of feeling we might go far out of our proper course. But believing that abuses had and do exist, he felt that there was no security but in repeal. There were rights existing under this charter. The city was largely in debt. The Receiver would convert the city property into money, and pay these debts to the extent of the property of the city. If there was a deficit, the question would arise how it should be paid? The laborer -- who had borne the heat of the summer's sun and the winter's cold, in the employ of the city, should not be permitted to meet the case -- but at the present time there should be no delay in repealing the charter of Nauvoo.

Mr. Davis moved to lay the amendments offered by Mr. Killpatrick on the table.

Mr. Edwards said that there were rights under this charter which ought not to be disturbed. The Receiver would dispose of the city property, and when that was expended, how were the remaining debts to be paid? There would be no power to tax the people to raise money for this purpose. These were serious questions to be considered in connection with the proposed repeal. He was opposed to laying Mr. Killpatrick's on the table.

Mr. Constable defended the position taken by Mr. Killpatrick on this subject. If any part of the charter was permitted to exist, we should have a recurrence of the outrages we had witnesses. No evils which would follow the repeal would compare with those which had existed under the charter. He referred to the remarks of the Senator from Scott in relation to vested rights: and said that no vested rights were involved in the present case. The charter was granted mainly for police purposes -- and yet, under this charter, ordinances were enacted and carried into effect, which produced outrage and excitement, that required an army to suppress, and an expenditure of some 20,000 dollars. -- Would it not be better for the State to assume the debts of Nauvoo, than to permit the recurrence of the scenes lately exhibited in Hancock county? Senators would do well in endeavoring to avoid Syclla, not to fall into Charybdis. He had made up his mind that no evils would result from a repeal equal to those which would follow the continuance of the charter.

Mr. Killpatrick further defended his amendments. He had seen no evidence to justify the proposed repeal. From the publications of the Governor, he had been led to suppose that the Mormons had been greatly injured -- and he instanced the death of Joe and Hyrum Smith as evidence of the disposition of the people towards the Mormons.

Mr. Davis replied -- [referred] to the ordinances he had read -- to the publications of the Governor -- to known and acknowledged facts -- as reasons why the charter of Nauvoo should be repealed.

Mr. Dougherty replied to Mr. [Killpatrick] in relation to vested rights, assumed to have accrued under the Nauvoo charter. When he closed, the Senate adjourned.


The Governor communicated to the Senate on Monday a lengthy history of the Mormon disturbances, which was read and 2500 copies ordered to be printed for the use of the two Houses.

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