Boston’s “Mormon War”

September 28th, 2012, by Kent Larsen

[I’m sorry that I’ve been negligent in posting this past two months. Vacation and what I might call “recovery from vacation” have thrown me off my schedule. I hope to return to posting weekly or close to it.]

If you think of American political tactics before 1850, images of political machines like Tammany Hall and violent disagreement quickly come to mind. Given that, we might expect that the conventions held in support of Joseph Smith’s candidacy for President of the United States might have at least occasionally attracted opposition from local machines, even if the attempt didn’t have much chance of success.

So I wasn’t surprised to find that the “Jeffersonian” convention held in Boston on July 1st, 1844 (news of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom hadn’t yet reached Boston) was labeled a “Mormon War” by the time news of the convention was reprinted in the New York Herald on July 4th. That report came from the Boston Times of July 2nd. The following extract gives an account of what happened:

… Although we have no sympathy in the objects of the meeting—yet we acknowledge the right of all to assemble peaceably in our midst and to be secure against disturbance and violence, we are sorry to say, that was not the case yesterday, and that the Mormons were interrupted through the day, by various noises, and in the evening the Melodeon was blessed with the presence of several well-known rowdies, many of them whig young gentlemen—who always act a conspicuous part in endeavoring to break up every assembly, which does not happen to be of their own political family. Many of the proceedings and speeches were eccentric of course, and characterized by a vein of ridiculousness and broad farce in the estimation of those who dissent from the Mormons in opinion—but these things offered no justification to others to rush in and break up their meetings. if this is the spirit they meet with in Illinois, then are they more sinned against than sinning. Abby Folsom was there in the course of the evening, and tried to get a hearing, but the cat-calls and other cries abounded so much, that even she was ashamed of the disturbers and retired from the Hall in disgust. Gen. White of Nauvoo aptly declared in the course of the evening, that he had seen Eastern missionaries among the Indians of the West, trying to civilize them, but if the proceedings of the rowdies that evening were a sample of Boston civilization, he thought that for the future the missionaries had better stay and begin the work at home. Gen. White also said that he would send a mission of Sacs and Foxes to civilize Boston. In fact the Mormons last night appeared to great advantage by the side of the Boston elite. During the latter part of the evening, while one of the speakers was addressing the audience, a young man in the gallery rose and commenced a series of rowdy remarks, in the delivery of which he was encouraged by some companions. He kept on, and when the police came in to take him out, they were assaulted and beaten badly by a set of young desperadoes. After much hard fighting however, they succeeded in clearing the gallery. One of the assistants, Mr. Sheldon, a fine athletic fellow, was cut badly, but not dangerously in the face by a stick in the hands of one of the cut-throats. The meeting was soon after broken up. These things are a disgrace to Boston, and are owing to the culpable conduct of a portion of our “respectable six pennies,” who make fun out of, and encourage these violations of the rights of others, and also to the supineness of the Mayor and other officers. The influence of such papers as we have referred to, if it continues to be exerted, will make Boston a Pandemonium shortly, where human devils will reign triumphant. The Mormons adjourned their meeting to Bunker Hill this afternoon at 4 o’clock. …

Boston Times, 2 July 1844
as reprinted in New York Herald, 4 July 1844


This incident makes me wonder if there weren’t also other interruptions of these conventions, perhaps even in New York City. And if not, why not? Were these conventions judged as so insignificant and so unthreatening to the power of the machines that they took no action? Or did they simply not realize that the conventions were going on? Or, did they have interruptions that the Mormons simply ignored in their reports of these events? Or, did  the martyrdom occur before the machines thought it prudent to act?

Of course, I haven’t made an exhaustive study of these conventions, but I won’t be surprised to find out that others were also interrupted by local political opponents.


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