SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn led a delegation of Illinois public officials today to offer official regrets to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley and 12 million church members for the 1840’s persecution of Latter-day Saints in Illinois. The visit, hosted by Utah Governor Olene Walker, occurs one day after the 174th anniversary of the church’s founding.
The persecution in western Illinois culminated in the vigilante murders of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in their Carthage, Illinois jail cells, and the forced expulsion of thousands of Smith’s followers from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois.
“On behalf of the people of Illinois, I want to express our official regret for the events that occurred in the 1840’s. Religious hate crimes perpetrated in the 19th century were wrong, just as they are today in the 21st century,” Quinn said. “Religious persecution is against the principles upon which our country was founded.”
Quinn, Appellate Court Justice Anne Burke, Chicago Alderman Edward Burke, and Illinois State Representative Daniel Burke (D-Chicago) met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Gov. Walker.
After trekking from New York to Ohio to Missouri, Joseph Smith brought his followers to Nauvoo (a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful”). Overcoming malaria epidemics and religious persecution, Smith built Nauvoo into a thriving community. Tensions grew, however, leading to the Smith brothers’ incarceration on June 24, 1844, with personal assurances for their safety by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford. Three days later, a mob invaded the jail and murdered the two.
Two years later, Gov. Ford ordered Smith’s followers to leave Illinois. Brigham Young and thousands of followers left Nauvoo in the dead of winter, where inevitably, more than 350 men, women and children perished due to the harsh conditions. The journey ended 1,300 miles west, where the community of Latter-day Saints eventually found a home in what is now Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ald. Burke heard the story of the expulsion of Latter-day Saints of Nauvoo from Myron Walker, Gov. Walker’s husband who is a descendent of a Nauvoo survivor who made the journey to Utah.
“I am embarrassed to say that was the first time I learned about Nauvoo and the details of what happened.” Burke said. “I thought that, number one, the people of Illinois ought to know more about their own history; and number two, it’s a travesty that’s gone on for too many years.”
Burke shared the story with his brother Rep. Burke, and subsequently, a resolution sponsored by Rep. Burke and Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) detailing the plight of Latter-day Saints in the 1840’s and offering official regrets passed with strong bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly.
“We are pleased that on April 1st of this year, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution of regret for the forced expulsion of our people from Nauvoo in 1846,” said President Hinckley. Speaking to a worldwide audience of Latter-day Saints during the Church’s annual general conference this past weekend, President Hinckley referred to the resolution as a “magnanimous gesture.”
Rep. Burke says the resolution “has the possibility to heal some of the lingering hurt that I’m sure many descendants of the original settlers of Nauvoo feel about Illinois.”
Quinn first met then-Lieutenant Governor Olene Walker at a National Lieutenant Governor’s Association conference in late 2002. She was sworn in as Utah’s 15th and first woman governor in 2003 upon Utah Governor Michael Leavitt’s resignation to serve as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.
Nauvoo today has a population of approximately 1,000, but has become a pilgrimage destination for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is estimated that Nauvoo’s historical sites attract more than 350,000 members of the Latter-day Saints and other tourists each year. The town’s historical sites include the Joseph Smith gravesite and the Nauvoo Temple, one of 63 Latter-day Saints temples located throughout the United States.