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The Saints and the State: The Mormon Troubles in Illinois

The Museum is pleased to host Dr. James Simeone, professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University, for an illustrated presentation exploring the 1846 expulsion of Mormons from the State of Illinois. The program will be held on Saturday, September 10 at 1:30 p.m. in the Museum’s second floor courtroom. This program is free, hybrid program will be open to the public.

When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known as Mormons) settled in Illinois in 1839, they had been persecuted for their beliefs from Ohio to Missouri. Illinoisans viewed themselves as religiously tolerant egalitarians and initially welcomed the Mormons to their state. However, the old settlers of Hancock County who valued competitive individualism perceived the saints‘ western Illinois settlement, Nauvoo, as a theocracy with too much political power. Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, had used the writ of habeas corpus multiple times to evade arrest; it was said he could never be taken by the law. Amid escalating tensions in 1844, anti-Mormon vigilantes assassinated Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Two years later, the state expelled the saints. Illinois rejected the Mormons not for their religion, but rather for their effort to create a self-governing state in Nauvoo.

Mormons put the essential aspirations of American liberal democracy to the test in Illinois. The saints’ inward group focus and their decision to live together in Nauvoo highlight the challenges strong group consciousness and attachment pose to democratic governance. The Saints and the State narrates this tragic story as an epic failure of governance and shows how the conflicting demands of fairness to the Mormons and accountability to Illinois’s majority became incompatible.

James Simeone received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. In 2022 he was named the Ben and Susan Rhodes Professor of Peace and Social Justice in political science at IWU. He is the faculty adviser to the campus Peace Garden. He has been with the university since 1992. Simeone is the recipient of several awards, including most recently the Gardner Faculty Scholar from IWU in 2021. He has authored several articles that have appeared in academic publications such as Journal of Political Science Education, American Political Thought, and Journal of Illinois History. Simeone is also the author of Democracy and Slavery in Frontier Illinois: The Bottomland Republic (2000).

PLEASE NOTE: Capacity for this event is limited to 80 people in person. Face masks are recommended but not required to attend this program. This program will also be live streamed via the Museum's YouTube channel. Click here to access this program line.

Questions? Or for more information, please contact the Education Department at education@mchistory.org or (309) 827-0428.

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When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known as Mormons)

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