The Right of Habeas Corpus and the Power of the Nauvoo City Charter

Nauvoo City Charter - Habeas CorpusI discovered what the emotions of the people were on my arrival to this city, and I have come here to say, how do you do to all parties and I do now say How do you do at this time. I meet you with a heart full of gratitude to Almighty God and I presume you all feel the same. I hardly know how to express my feelings; I feel as strong as a giant. I pulled sticks with the men coming along and I pulled up the strongest man there was on the road with one hand and two could not pull me up; and I continued to pull until I pulled them to Nauvoo. I will pass from that subject then.

There has been great excitement in the country and since these men took me I have been cool and dispassionate through the whole. Thank God I am now in the hands of the Municipal Court of Nauvoo and not in the hands of Missourians. It has been discussed by the great and wise men, loyal lawyers, and co., your powers and legal tribunals are not to be sanctioned and here we will make it lawful to drag away innocent men from their families and friends and have them unlawfully put to death by ungodly men for their religion. Relative to our Charter, Courts right of Habeas Corpus and such, we have all power. And if any man from this time forth says anything contrary; cast it into his teeth. There is a secret in this; if there is not power in our Charters and Courts, then there is not power in the State of Illinois, nor in the Congress or Constitution of the United States, for the United States gave unto Illinois her constitution and Charter, and Illinois gave unto Nauvoo her Charters which have ceded unto unto us our vested rights; and has no right or power to take them from us. All the power there was in Illinois, she gave to Nauvoo, and any man that says to the contrary is a fool.

I want you to learn O Israel what is for the happiness and peace of this City and people. If our enemies are determined to oppress us and deprive us of our rights and privileges as they have done, and if the Authorities that be on the earth will not assist us in our rights; not give us that protection which the Laws and Constitution of the United States and of this State guarantees unto us: then we will claim them from higher power from heaven and from God Almighty and the Constitution. I swear I will not deal so mildly with them again for the time has come when forbearance is no longer a virtue, and if you are again taken unlawfully you are at liberty to give loose to Blood and Thunder, but act with Almighty Power. But good luck for me as it always has been in every time of trouble, friends though strangers were raised up unto me and assisted me.

The time has come when the veil is torn off from the State of Illinois and they have delivered me from the State of Missouri. Friends that were raised up unto me would have spilt their blood for me to have delivered me; then I told them not, I would be delivered by the power of God and generalship, and I have brought them to Nauvoo and treated them kindly. I have had the privilege of rewarding them good for evil. They took me unlawfully, treated me rigorously, strove to deprive me of my rights and would have run me to Missouri to have been murdered if Providence had not interposed. But now they are in my hands, I took them into my house, set them at the head of my table and set the best before them my house afforded and they were waited upon by my wife, whom they deprived of seeing me when I was taken. I shall be discharged by the Municipal Court of Nauvoo, were I before any good tribunal I should be discharged, but before I will bear this unhallowed persecution any longer I will spill my blood.

There’s a time when bearing it longer is a sin; I will not bear it longer; I will spill the last drop of blood I have. And all that will not bear it longer say AH (and the cry of AH rung throughout the congregation.) We must stop paying the lawyers money, for I have learned they don’t know anything, for I know more than they all.

Whosoever believeth that there is power in the Charters of Nauvoo shall be saved. He that believeth not shall not come here. If a lawyer shall say there is more power in other places and Charters than in Nauvoo, believe it not. I have converted this candidate for Congress, Mr Walker. I suppose when I see him converted I will vote for him and not before I have been with these lawyers and they have treated me well. But I am here in Nauvoo, and the Missourian too, and when they will get out I don’t know, perhaps when some others may. However you may feel about the high hand of oppression, I wish you to restrain your hand from violence against these men who are around me. My word is at stake; a hair of their heads shall not be harmed. My life is pledged to carry out this great work; I know how readily you are to do right; you have done great things and manifested your love in flying to my assistance on this occasion. I could not have done better myself, and I bless you in the name of the Lord with all blessings; may you not have to suffer as you have heretofore. I know the Almighty will bless all good men; he will bless you.

The time has come when there shall be such a flocking to the Standard of Liberty as never has been, nor never shall be hereafter. What era of things has commenced, shall the prophecies be established by the swords? Shall we always bear, No. Will not the State of Missouri stay her hand in her unhallowed persecutions against the Saints; if not, I restrain you not any longer. I say in the name of Jesus Christ, I this day turn the key that opens the heavens to restrain you no longer from this time forth. I will lead you to battle and if you are not afraid to die and feel disposed to spill your blood in your own defense you will not offend me. Be not the aggressor, bear until they strike on the one cheek, offer the other and they will be sure to strike that; then defend yourselves and God shall bear you off.

Will any part of Illinois say we shall not have our rights, treat them as strangers and not friends, and let them go to Hell. Say some we will mob you, mob and be damned. If I am under the necessity of giving up our chartered rights, privileges and freedom which our fathers fought and bled and died for and which the Constitution of the United States and this State guarantee unto us; I will do it at the point of the Bayonet and Sword.

Many Lawyers contend for those things which are against the rights of men and I can only excuse them because of their ignorance. Go forth and advocate the laws and rights of the people, ye lawyers; if not don’t get into my hands or under the lash of my tongue. Lawyers say the powers of the Nauvoo Charters are dangerous, but I ask, is the Constitution of the United States or of this State dangerous. No, neither are the Charters granted unto Nauvoo by the legislator of Illinois dangerous, and those that say they are are fools. We have not our rights, those which the Constitution of the U.S.A. grant, and which our Charters grant; we have not enjoyed unmolested. Missouri and all wicked men will raise the hue and cry against us and are not satisfied, but how are you going to help yourselves; what will mobocrats do in the midst of this people. If mobs come upon you any more here, dung your gardens with them. But says one, “you will get up excitement,” we will get up no excitement except what we can find an escape from. We will rise up Washington-like and break off the wait that bears us down and we will not be moved.

To give you an account of my journey, I will give you an anecdote that may be pleasing. A few days before I was taken I rode with my wife through a neighborhood to visit some friends, and I said to Mrs Smith, here is a good people. I felt this by the spirit of God. The next day I was in their hands a prisoner with Wilson who said as he drove up, “ha ha ha, by God we have got the prophet.” He gloried much in it, but he is now our prisoner. When Reynolds of Missouri and Wilson of Carthage came to take me, the first salutation was (instead of tapping me on the shoulder and saying you are my prisoner), with two cocked pistols to my head, “God damn you I will shoot you, I will shoot you God damn you, I will shoot you nearly 50 times first and last.” I asked them what they wanted to shoot me for, “if you make any resistance.” O very well says I, I have no resistance to make. They then dragged me away and while on the road I asked them by what authority they did these things; they said by a writ from the Governors of Missouri and Illinois. I then told them I wanted a writ of Habeas Corpus, the reply was, “God damn you, you shan’t have it.” I told a man to go to Dixon and get me a writ of Habeas Corpus, the reply was by Willson, “God damn you, you shan’t have it. I will shoot you.” I sent for a lawyer to come. One came and Reynolds shut the door in his face and would not let me speak to him, and said again, “God damn you I will shoot you.” I turned to him, opened my bosom, and told him to shoot away and I did it frequently.

I told Mr Reynolds that I would have counsel to speak to and the lawyers came to me and I got a writ of Habeas Corpus for myself, and got a writ for Reynolds and Wilson for unlawful proceedings towards me and cruel treatment. They could not get out of town that night. I pledged my honor to my counsel that the Nauvoo Charter had power to investigate the subject and we came to Nauvoo by common consent and I am now a prisoner of higher authority, yes higher authority before yourselves. The Charter expressly says that the City counsel shall have power to enact all laws for the benefit and convenience of said City, not contrary to the Constitution of the United States, or of this State, and the City ordinances says the Municipal Court shall have power to give writs of Habeas Corpus. Arising under the ordinances of the City, there is nothing but what we have power over, except restricted by the Constitution of the United States or of this State; it is in accordance with the Constitution of the U.S.A. But says the mob “what dangerous powers,” but the Constitution of the United, nor of this State, is not dangerous against good men but bad men, the breakers of the law. So with the laws of the Country and so with the laws of Nauvoo, they are dangerous to mobs but not good men that wish to keep the law.

We do not go out of Nauvoo to disturb anybody or any city, town, or place. Why need they be troubled about us, let them not meddle with our affairs but let us alone. After we have been deprived of our rights and privileges as citizens, driven from town to town, place to place, State to State, with the sacrifice of our homes and lands and our blood been shed and many murdered; and all this because of our religion, because we worship Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Shall we longer bear these cruelties which have been heaped upon us for the last ten years in the face of heaven and in open violation of the Constitution and laws of these United States and of this State. May God forbid I will not bear it if they take away any rights. I will fight for my rights manfully and righteously until I am laid up with blood and thunder, sword and pistol. We have done nothing against law or right. As touching our City Charter and laws there is a secret in it – what is it – our laws go behind the writ and investigate the subject of Habeas Corpus, while other laws do not go behind the writ.

You speak of Lawyers, I am a Lawyer too, but the Almighty God has taught me the principle of law and the true meaning of the writ of Habeas Corpus is to defend the innocent and investigate the subject. Go behind the writ and if the former writ is right, that is issued against an innocent man, he should not be dragged to another State and there put to death or in jeopardy, life or limbs, because of prejudice, when he is innocent. The benefits of the Constitution and law is for all alike and the great Elohim God has given me the privilege of having the benefits of the Constitution and the writ of Habeas Corpus, and I am bold to ask for this privilege this day and to ask you to carry out this privilege and principle. And all who are in favor of carrying out this great principle, making manifest by raising the right hand (and there was a sea of hands), a universal vote here is truly a Committee of the whole.

In speaking of my journey to Nauvoo, I will relate a circumstance when Mr. Cyrus Walker first came to me. They said I should not speak to any man and they would shoot any man that should speak to me. An old man came up and said I should have counsel and said he was not afraid of their pistols and they took me from him, and I had an opportunity to have killed him but I had no temptation to do it to him nor any other man, my worst enemy not even Boggs – in fact he would have more hell to live in the reflection of his past life than to die. My freedom commenced from that time the old man came to me and would talk to me. We came direct from Papa Grove to Nauvoo; we got our writ directed to the nearest court having authority to try the case, and we came to Nauvoo. It did my soul good to see your feelings and love manifest towards me. I thank God that I have the honor to lead so virtuous and honest people, to be your leader and lawyer as Moses to the Children of Israel. Hosannah Hosannah Hosannah Hosannah to the name of the Most High God, I commend you to his grace and may the blessings of heaven rest upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Furthermore, if Missouri continues her warfare and continues to issue her writs against me and this people unlawfully and unjustly, as they have done, and our rights are trampled upon and they undertake to take away my rights, I swear with uplifted hands to Heaven I will spill my blood in its defense. They shall not take away our rights, and if they don’t stop leading me by the nose I will lead them by the nose, and if they don’t let me alone I will turn up the world; I will make war.

When we shake our own bushes we want to catch our own fruit. The Lawyers themselves acknowledge that we have all power granted us in our Charters that we could ask for, that we had more power than any other Court in the State, for all other Courts were restricted while ours was not. And I thank God Almighty for it and will not be rode down to Hell by the Missourians any longer, and it is my privilege to speak in my own defense and appeal to your honors.


After this interesting and decisive address was delivered in the presence of about seven or eight thousand the multitude dispersed and went to their homes.

(Joseph Smith Diary, by Willard Richards. 30 June 1843 (Friday Afternoon). Temple Stand.)

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