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    Extermination Order
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    “Extermination Order,” Church History Topics

    “Extermination Order”

    Extermination Order

    The extermination order is the name commonly used to refer to an executive order signed on October 27, 1838, by Lilburn W. Boggs, the governor of Missouri during the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838.1 The order sought to put a quick end to the conflict by calling for the Mormons to be “exterminated or driven from the State if necessary.”2

    Throughout 1838, anti-Mormon vigilantes had threatened and attacked Latter-day Saint settlers in Missouri. By October, civil authority in northwestern Missouri had broken down, and anti-Mormons expelled Church members from their homes. Appeals by the Saints for protection against mob attacks went largely unnoticed by local militias. Latter-day Saints took self-defense measures, and some struck back at suspected mob havens by burning dwellings and confiscating goods. When a state militia company collided with a Mormon rescue party at Crooked River, shots were fired and three Mormons and one non-Mormon were killed.3

    The skirmish stirred the already excited local press into exaggerating Mormon violence. Moreover, the conflicts took place more than 100 miles away from the state capital, which hindered effective communication. Across the state, many believed that the Mormons were waging an offensive war. Governor Boggs, who concluded the Mormons had made “open and avowed defiance of the laws” and had “made war upon the people of this State,” issued the executive order authorizing state forces to suppress the supposed uprising.4

    General Samuel D. Lucas, who was encamped with the state militia outside Church headquarters in Far West, received the order on October 30 and marched on the city. He demanded that all Latter-day Saints sign over their property as payment for non-Mormon losses and leave the state immediately. After arresting Joseph Smith, Lucas held a hasty court-martial and called for Joseph’s execution. Alexander Doniphan, the officer charged with carrying out the execution, believed the action was illegal and refused the order. For the most part, however, state militia members used the threat of force authorized by the order, resulting in the Saints migrating en masse to Illinois.5

    Boggs’s intentions in issuing the executive order remain uncertain. Many have assumed he authorized genocide and have associated the order with the massacre of 17 Latter-day Saints at Hawn’s Mill three days after it was issued. But anti-Mormon vigilantes, not the state militia, carried out the massacre, and no evidence suggests the vigilantes were aware of the governor’s order.

    At the time, the meaning of the term extermination included the possibility of forced evacuation. For example, in the case of the forcible removal of American Indians, United States officials used the phrase exterminating war to describe the use of force to achieve either the Indians’ “total expulsion” or “total extinction.”6 Military leaders expected expulsion orders to be met with hostile resistance, meaning “extinction” was a possibility, though evacuation was the more likely outcome.7

    Though public opinion remained divided, the expulsion order met with measurable criticism. A non-Mormon legislator wrote an editorial a month after the order was issued that condemned the use of the state militia against the Mormons as an infringement on religious and civil rights. Less than two months later, a member of the Missouri state legislature called the order unconstitutional and promised to challenge it “if he stood alone in the midst of ten thousand.”8 Communities in Illinois offered safe haven to refugee Latter-day Saints, expressing their objections to Missouri’s persecutions. The violence against the Saints gained national attention by late 1839, when Joseph Smith led a delegation to seek redress at the nation’s capital.9

    During the century following the expulsion of the main body of the Saints, small numbers of Mormons lived in Missouri, apparently without conflict. Over time, the Church established branches and stakes throughout the state. In the late 20th century, more people began to recognize the immorality of state violence against minority groups. In 1976, Missouri governor Christopher S. Bond officially rescinded Boggs’s order, arguing that it “clearly contravened the rights to life, liberty, property and religious freedom” guaranteed by both the constitutions of the United States and the state of Missouri. On behalf of the citizens of Missouri, Bond expressed “deep regret for the injustice and undue suffering” the order had caused the Latter-day Saints.10

    Related Topics: Mormon-Missouri War of 1838, Hawn’s Mill Massacre, Vigilantism, Liberty Jail, Jackson County Violence

    Notes

    1. See Topic: Mormon-Missouri War of 1838.

    2. Lilburn W. Boggs, Executive Order to John B. Clark, Oct. 27, 1838, Missouri State Archives, sos.mo.gov.

    3. Alexander L. Baugh, “The Mormons Must Be Treated as Enemies,” in Susan Easton Black and Andrew C. Skinner, eds., Joseph: Exploring the Life and Ministry of the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 291–92.

    4. Boggs, Executive Order, Oct. 27, 1838; Baugh, “The Mormons Must Be Treated as Enemies,” 292.

    5. History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri, Written and Compiled from the Most Authentic Official and Private Sources, Including a History of Their Townships, Towns and Villages, Together with a Condensed History of Missouri (St. Louis: National Historical Company, 1886), 132–37.

    6. Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 323, 328–29, 342–43.

    7. Baugh, “The Mormons Must Be Treated as Enemies,” 292–93. Before attacks against Mormons in Missouri had intensified, First Presidency counselor Sidney Rigdon had spoken of a potential “war of extermination,” announcing his intention that Latter-day Saints would stand their ground. Rather than calling for the genocide of Missourians, his words acknowledged the impasse between Mormons and other Missourians. He and other Saints hoped for peaceful coexistence with their neighbors but refused to surrender to their opponents’ demands. Sidney Rigdon, Oration Delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon: On the 4th of July, 1838 (Far West: Journal Office, 1838), 12.

    8. “Letter from the Editor,” Daily Missouri Republican, Jan. 10, 1839, 2; spelling standardized.

    9. Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History, vol. 85, no. 1 (Mar. 2016), 150–58.

    10. Christopher S. Bond, Executive Order, June 25, 1976, Missouri State Archives, sos.mo.gov.