Delegation to deliver state's 'official regret' to Mormon Church in Utah

Chicago Daily Herald/April 7, 2004
By Sara Burnett

It may not be a full-fledged apology, but at least we have the decency to deliver it in person.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is leading a delegation of Illinois officials in Salt Lake City today to offer "official regret" for the 1844 murder of Mormon leader Joseph Smith Jr. and the expulsion two years later of about 10,000 church members from downstate Nauvoo.

As he prepared to leave, Quinn called the gesture long overdue and said he hopes it will make Mormons - many of whose ancestors were forced to make the 1,300-mile mid-winter trek out of Illinois and eventually to Utah - feel welcome here.

About 350,000 make a pilgrimage each year to Nauvoo, and 51,000 Mormons live in Illinois today.

"The people of Illinois are tolerant. They believe in religious freedom, and they are people of many faiths," Quinn said during a press conference Tuesday. "If there have been wrongs, we should right them."

Mormons believe Smith was a prophet who founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after receiving visions from God.

After living in New York, Ohio and Missouri, the Latter-day Saints came to Illinois in the early 1800s. They set up camp along the Mississippi River, where they built a city they called Nauvoo, meaning "beautiful" in Hebrew.

At its peak, Nauvoo had about 20,000 residents, making it the 10th largest city in the United States at that time.

But tensions began to grow as non-Mormons as well as some of his own followers became wary of Smith's enormous political power. On the national scene, he was a declared candidate for president, and he ran Nauvoo's courts and headed up his own military force, known as the Nauvoo Legion. The introduction of polygamy - coupled with what historians have called "wild rumor" - added fuel to the fire.

Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford sent the military to keep order, and offered Smith and his brother, Hyrum, a safe haven in a jail in nearby Carthage, the county seat. But on June 27, 1844, mobs stormed the building and killed both men.

Two years later, Ford ordered Smith's followers, led by new church President Brigham Young, to leave the state. The Mormons headed west toward the Utah territory, and along the way, some 350 people died.

Much of that story is ignored in Illinois history books. Like many Illinoisans, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke and his wife, Appellate Court Justice Anne Burke, knew nothing of the events until they visited Utah a few years ago on a ski trip.

There, the husband of Utah Gov. Olene Walker told the Burkes during a dinner party that his great-grandfather was among the Mormons run out of Illinois. Almost everyone they met had a similar story, Anne Burke said.

"It was like yesterday it happened," she added. "It wasn't on (our) radar screen."

After doing some research, the Burkes asked Ed's brother, state Rep. Dan Burke, to sponsor a resolution in the General Assembly.

Burke, a Democrat from Chicago, and state Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, originally proposed a resolution that included an apology. Those words were watered down after attorneys expressed concern it would open the state to legal liability. Both Dan Burke and Franks also said they decided an apology wasn't appropriate.

"I for one could not offer an apology for something I did not participate in, and I couldn't ask my colleagues to, either," Dan Burke said.

The resolution passed unanimously last week.

Quinn said Tuesday he didn't know yet how much the trip - including air fare for himself and the three Burkes - would cost. And though he said he booked his flight with his own credit card, he also said he considered the trip "official state business" - meaning taxpayers will pick up the tab.

The offering of regrets was scheduled to be delivered personally this morning to Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the church, but his 92-year-old wife, Marjorie Pay, died in their home Tuesday evening.

Hinckley will not be on hand for the ceremony, said church spokesman Dale Bills. A replacement had not been selected Tuesday.

Quinn said the resolution already has been well-received by Mormons both in Utah and Illinois. Walker reportedly was moved to tears when she heard the news.

Anne Burke also said Hinckley has suggested the resolution may spark some kind of cultural and educational exchange between the states.

"We're saying we're sorry, but we're also looking to the future," she said.

Mormons: History books say little .

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