Missouri Honors Man Who Refused Order to Kill the Prophet Joseph Smith

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    Soon after Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued his Mormon Extermination Order of 27 October 1838, which declared that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state” (History of the Church, 3:175), Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan received the following order from his superior officer:

    “You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West, and shoot them at 9 o’clock to-morrow morning.”

    To this command, General Doniphan replied: “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God” (ibid., 190–91).

    To posthumously honor General Doniphan for his refusal to obey an illegal direct order, Missouri governor Mel Carnahan issued a proclamation declaring 27 October 1994—the 156th anniversary of the Extermination Order—as Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan Day.

    Citing General Doniphan’s “personal convictions, strength of character, courage, and respect for the rule of law,” Governor Carnahan stated that “a constitutional refusal by a soldier to obey an illegal direct order is a matter for highest military commendation and serves as an inspiration to us all.”

    Major General Raymond Pendergrast, the Adjutant General of the Missouri Army National Guard, also joined in honoring General Doniphan by posthumously issuing him a certificate of appreciation for refusing, at the risk of his own life, to obey the order to execute the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saint civilians.

    General Pendergrast said, “Missouri governor L. W. Boggs issued an unconstitutional order on October 27, 1838, stating, ‘The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state.’ Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan, at the risk of his own life, refused to obey an illegal direct order from Major General Lucas to shoot Joseph Smith Jr.”

    As trustee of the General Alexander W. Doniphan Memorial Trust, Church member Reed A. Chambers II received the governor’s proclamation and the general’s certificate of appreciation. The trust arranged to give color prints of the documents to the Church’s Liberty Jail Museum.

    On the designated day, members of the Doniphan trust visited General Doniphan’s grave site and monument to salute him for his outstanding contributions. Not only did he perform “heroic deeds” during the Mormon conflict, said Governor Carnahan, but others praised him for his service in the Mexican War in which he led what still stands as the longest wartime overland march by U.S. troops, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Monterey, Mexico. At the outbreak of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him commander of the Missouri forces that were in federal service.

    The complete text of the proclamation by Governor Carnahan reads:

    “Whereas, the United States of America subscribes to the International Law and Rules of War which state that: soldiers may not claim that they were ‘only following orders’ in order to secure immunity or defend themselves against criminal prosecution under martial law; and

    “Whereas, a constitutional refusal by a soldier to obey an illegal direct order is a matter for highest military commendation and serves as an inspiration to us all; and

    “Whereas, before the Civil War, many citizens in Missouri were slave owners while members of the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormons were abolitionists, and this fact often resulted in friction between these two groups; and

    “Whereas, on October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor L. W. Boggs, ordered that ‘… the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State …’ ; and

    “Whereas, as a result of this unconstitutional Executive Order of Governor Boggs, Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan was ordered by his superior officer to shoot Joseph Smith and his fellow Mormons; and

    “Whereas, Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan refused this order stating, ‘It is cold-blooded murder …’; and

    “Whereas, the personal convictions, strength of character, courage, and respect for the rule of law displayed by Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan, saved the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and

    “Whereas, because of this demonstrated character integrity, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Alexander W. Doniphan Commander-in-Chief of the Missouri Forces in federal service; and

    “Whereas, the Office of the Governor believes it to be appropriate to recognize individuals who bring honor to the State of Missouri:

    “Now, therefore, I, Mel Carnahan, Governor of the State of Missouri, do hereby proclaim October 27, 1994, as

    “Brigadier General Alexander W. Doniphan Day

    “in recognition of his heroic deeds. …

    “In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the Great Seal of the State of Missouri, in the City of Jefferson, this 21st day of October, 1994.”