Missourian Efforts to Extradite Joseph Smith and the Ethics of Governor Thomas Reynolds of Missouri

Image result for Joseph SMith Missouri

Above:  Liberty Jail in 1888.

Joseph and the Latter-day Saints suffered much in Missouri.  I grew up there, and take a great interest in what occurred in the Show-Me State in the 1830s and 1840s.

Here is a link to FAIR Mormon about the broader topic of Joseph Smith’s legal history:  Legal Trials of the Prophet.

Abstract of this podcast specifically about Joseph’s dealings with Missouri’s efforts to extradite:

This is the second of two articles discussing Missouri’s requisitions to extradite Joseph Smith to face criminal charges and the Prophet’s recourse to English habeas corpus practice to defend himself. In the first article, the author discussed the English nature of pre-Civil War habeas corpus practice in America and the anachronistic modern idea that the Nauvoo Municipal Court did not have jurisdiction to consider interstate habeas corpus matters. In this article, he analyzes the conduct of Governor Thomas Reynolds in the matter of Missouri’s requisitions for the extradition of Joseph Smith in light of 1840s legal ethics in America. That analysis follows the discovery that Governor Reynolds had dismissed the underlying 1838 charges against Joseph Smith when he was a Missouri Supreme Court judge. It also responds to the revelation that Missouri reissued indictments based on the same underlying facts in June 1843 despite the existence of a double-jeopardy provision in the Missouri Constitution of 1820.


In my earlier article, I explained that Joseph Smith’s use of habeas corpus practice was legally and morally unobjectionable, despite the contrary claims of his detractors. In this article, I have shown that Governor Reynolds of Missouri knew that all the Mormon War charges against Joseph Smith had been dismissed, yet he not only allowed his State’s unfounded 1840 requisition for Joseph Smith’s extradition to remain in place, but he issued a new requisition for Joseph Smith’s extradition on the strength of contrived new indictments. That is abuse of process which amounts to official state persecution of an innocent man who had been released because the prosecutor had abandoned a case he could not prove.

Governor Reynolds’ involvement in the requisition for Joseph Smith’s arrest on suspicion of complicity in the murder of former Governor Boggs is less objectionable on legal and ethical grounds, as there is no suggestion from available records that Governor Reynolds knew those allegations were contrived. But as a former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, [Page 324]it is likely he recognized how thin the underlying case was. In the context of Missouri’s obsession with the persecution of Joseph Smith and his followers, he should have paused before adding his personal imprimatur to the interstate pursuit of Joseph Smith on those charges.

While legal ethics on the frontier were still developing, Governor Thomas Reynolds’ involvement in requisitions for the arrest and extradition of Joseph Smith to face contrived charges was dishonorable from start to finish.


From Wikipedia:  Assassination Attempt of Lilburn Boggs (image above).