Thomas Ford was the governor of Illinois at the time of Joseph and Hyrum Smiths’ martyrdoms in Carthage Jail in 1844. Before his tenure as governor, Ford’s professional life included service as an attorney and judge throughout Illinois. His background in the legal field gave him a unique perspective which may have influenced his career as governor of Illinois from 1842-1846. Although Governor Ford is relatively well-known for his association with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its history, his background and the bearing it had on the martyrdom of the Smiths has received relatively little attention from scholars. In this thesis I contend that Governor Ford’s choices in Carthage, Illinois can be traced in some ways to his legal background. I also examine his earliest interactions with Joseph Smith in 1842-1843, and how those interactions may have also been influenced by Ford’s legalistic viewpoints. I suggest it is possible Ford’s legal background more than his political experience may have had the most bearing on those interactions. Chapter one summarizes some of the financial, political, and mobocratic difficulties citizens in Illinois dealt with in the late 1830s and early 1840s. This context shows that even before Ford’s election in 1842, Illinois had severe challenges that affected the Saints and their neighbors. Chapter two explores some of the legal cases Ford heard while serving on the Illinois bench and bar. This chapter investigates the unique balance Ford attempted to maintain between law and justice, while also suggesting Ford may have occasionally strayed from consistently following the law. In chapter three, Ford’s transition into a political figure in Illinois history, as well as his extensive interactions with Smith are analyzed. Throughout these interactions, Ford seemed to frequently rely on his background in law to help him make decisions about Smith. This analysis is continued in chapter four when Ford chose to intervene in Hancock County after the Nauvoo Expositor printing press was destroyed. This chapter systematically relates Ford’s previous legal cases to the specific choices he made in Carthage. As a conclusion, chapter five serves to summarize these findings, and also opens further opportunities for research that demonstrate how Ford’s interactions with the Saints in Illinois may have continued to be affected by his past. This thesis provides research suggesting Ford’s choices surrounding the Smiths in Hancock County can be traced to his past and should not necessarily be considered isolated events in 1844. Furthermore, it adds to our understanding of church history by giving another paradigm in which to examine the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail.



College and Department

Religious Education; Church History and Doctrine



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Thomas Ford, Joseph Smith, Carthage Jail, Hancock County, Nauvoo, Illinois, martyrdom, extradition, lawyer, judge, governor