Joseph Smith's habeas corpus hearings dramatized in Illinois
The case, heard in Springfield in early 1843, was argued before Judge Nathaniel Pope, who found that the only evidence, Boggs’ affidavit based on his own belief, did not establish fact.
The actors depicted a humorous bit of oratory by the Joseph Smith’s attorney, Justin Butterfield. The courtroom, on the second floor of the Tinsley Building, which still exists today, was packed because so many members of the public wanted to attend to get a glimpse of Joseph Smith.
Judge Pope allowed several young women to sit on either side of him on the bench, including his daughter, attorney Butterfield’s daughters and Mary Todd Lincoln, who had married Abraham Lincoln a few months earlier.
When he rose to speak, Butterfield reportedly said, “May it please the Court, I appear before you today under circumstances most novel and peculiar. I am to address the ‘Pope’ (bowing to the judge) surrounded by angels (bowing still lower to the ladies) in the presence of the holy Apostles in behalf of the Prophet of the Lord.”
The third extradition attempt was for alleged crimes including treason arising from the 1838 conflict with Missouri mobs.
In the hearing, held at Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Joseph was freed after witnesses testified of atrocities that had been committed against the Church members, culminating in their expulsion from Missouri.
Making introductory comments in addition to Justice Garman, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke said the Joseph Smith depiction is the third in a series of annual trial events put on by the sponsoring organizations.
“In 2011, there was a retrial of Mary Surrat, the first woman executed by the federal government for her role in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” she said. “In 2012, Mary Todd Lincoln was also retried for her 1875 insanity hearing.” In that case, her only living son, Robert petitioned the court to declare his mother insane, due to her erratic behavior. The re-enactment last year spotlighted mental health issues that have application today.
Justice Burke added, “One of the primary purposes of these trial presentations is to educate the public about historical issues which have application to our modern-day lives. By studying our past we learn about our present and gather the necessary information to make informed decisions for the future.”
Equally important, she said, is to educate the state’s school children about history and the law. “This year, we have developed and will develop continuing curriculum materials on habeas corpus based on the Joseph Smith presentations. And if you’re a lawyer or a teacher, this event is available for continuing education credit. The Illinois State Bar Association is providing two hours of continuing legal education and the Abraham Lincoln Library is providing two hours of teachers credit.”
She added, “Our effort here this evening joins history and jurisprudence in the hope we can provide the public with a fuller understanding of the court’s role in preserving our individual rights.
The re-enactment will be repeated in an encore presentation Oct. 14 at the University of Chicago, along with the panel discussion. In addition to Brother Walker, other panelists are Jeffrey D. Colman, a prominent civil rights attorney who has represented prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; Sue E. Myerscough, an Illinois appellate judge; and Michael A. Scodro, the Illinois solicitor general.
Illinois attorney and state Board of Education chairman Gery J. Chico moderated the panel in Springfield. The moderator in Chicago will be David A. Strauss, professor of law at the university.
Three related events preceded the dramatization and panel discussion. On April 4, a roundtable discussion on Joseph Smith, habeas corpus and the Guantanamo Bay cases was held in the Senate hearing room at the Illinois State Capitol. On Sept. 24, experts on Joseph Smith and Church history were stationed at historic sites in Nauvoo to give presentations, and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke to a capacity audience at the Nauvoo Visitor Center about Joseph Smith.
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