University of Illinois Press; Mormon History Association
Prior to Joseph Smith's death in June 1844, the Mormons had lived under the administration of two governors in Illinois: Thomas Carlin, who served from 1838 to 1842, and Carlin's successor Thomas Ford, who served from 1842 to 1846. While both played important roles in Smith's life, Ford is perhaps the best known to students of Mormon history, as it was Ford who had promised, and failed, to protect Smith from harm if he surrendered himself to authorities in Carthage.
Ford's prominent role in this watershed event largely defined him for early historians of Mormonism and colored their portrayal of the governor's personality and abilities during the two years Ford was involved with Smith and the Mormons prior to the tragedy at Carthage. In documenting that two years, for example, compilers of Joseph Smith's document-based History of the Church, written in the 1850s, spared no pains in pointing out examples of Ford's long-standing perfidy. They also portrayed Smith as being critical of Ford's policies and methods in the months and days prior to his death. More recent historians have treated Ford more evenhandedly, although their focus on larger issues in Nauvoo and Smith's life has prevented them from offering a close analysis of Ford's several interactions with Smith during this two-year period.
This article is an effort to better understand the nature of the relationship between Ford and Smith, as well as to provide some insight into the decisions both men made that led to Smith's death in June 1844. Tracing their history from the summer of 1842 to the summer of 1844, I argue that by early August 1843 Ford had convinced Smith that he would protect the Mormons from unlawful persecution even if it placed him in an unfavorable light with other residents of Illinois. Believing in Ford's commitment to the spirit and letter of the law, Smith then turned to the governor for help and advice on a variety of issues involving Mormons and non-Mormons in western Illinois. Smith's confidence in the governor grew, I argue, over several months of continued correspondence between the two men and was the basis for his trusting himself to Ford's care at Carthage in June 1844. [From the article]