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The Mormon War in Missouri

Nick Thompson
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (MDN) – A 182 year history in Missouri has not always been kind to Mormons, but the Show-Me State elected a Ladder Day Saint to lead the free world this year.

For 137 years, it was technically legal to kill a Mormon in Missouri. The law was on the books until 1975, when Governor Bond rescinded what was known as the extermination order.

The order was issued in 1838, driving many Mormons out of the state. Mormons once held a stronghold in the state when the prophet Joseph Smith pronounced Independence as the location of Zion in 1831. In the religion, Independence is the New Jerusalem where followers will gather for the second coming of Christ. But Patrick Mason, author of “The Mormon Menace” says conflict broke out on the frontier. Missourians didn’t like the abolitionist views and polygamy practices of the settlers.

“It continues to ramp up. Of course when Mormons are driven from their homes in Jackson County in 1833, they harbor those resentments. And that carries forward into 1838, when it breaks out into open hostilities, even open warfare between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri,” said Mason.

Clay County lawmaker Alexander Doniphans’ led the charge to create Caldwell county in 1836 – a reservation for the Mormons. But the Mormons quickly spilled in to other counties.

An election riot at Gallatin in Daviess County in 1838, began the Mormon War. Mason says Missourian’s tolerance faded after the riot. “What are the limits of the religious tolerance in America. In a religiously diverse and plural country, how far is too far and what can the country accept an tolerate and what can it not tolerate, and of course those acts of violence reveal what people on the grassroots level feel was intolerable.”

The Morman War raged on and the first Missouri Militia member was killed at a battle in Ray County. Governor Lilburn Boggs said that was the last straw. He issued Executive Order 44, or The Extermination Order, following the battle.

It declared the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State. Many Mormons left Missouri for Illinois after the order.

Brigham Young University Professor Spencer Fluhman, author of “A Peculiar People” says nineteenth century Mormons learned to embrace their struggles. “Mormons kinda viewed that history of persecution as giving them kind of a communal identity. This is who we are — it was kinda the bible story writ large right. We were forced out and went into exile it was kinda that Exodus story in a way.”

Mason says to gain greater acceptance, the church gave up polygamy and its political party in the 1890s.

© Copyright 2012 The Missouri Digital News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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