On October 27, 1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs signed the Extermination Order, saying that Mormons were to be driven from the state. Did that mean it was legal to kill Mormons? BYU Church history professor, Dr. Alex Baugh will tackle that question, and clear up some myths surrounding the Extermination Order.
Alex: October 27, 1838–we call it the Extermination Order. But Boggs is not saying go out and kill every Mormon. That’s not legal. These are American citizens. These are Missouri citizens. What he’s saying is, “The Mormons must be exterminated.” And then he says, “Or in other words, driven from the state.” I think it’s very clear that he’s basically saying, “Let’s tell them, they’ve got to get out.” Now that order was unclear to some people, I’ll be honest with you. I think that we can safely say, that.
GT: Do you think that some Missourians took that as license to kill?
Alex: No, not really. I think it confused them. And Doniphan and others who, when they read the order, kind of wonder what’s he doing, but I think they realized he’s not saying go kill all the Mormons. He’s just saying, get them out of the state. Now, if they don’t go, then we have will take more decisive action. But Boggs is not a killer. Mormons might hate that statement. He’s a Christian man. He has 10 children. But he’s a politician for crying out loud and he’s going to appease his own Missourians, not the Mormons. He’s had it with them. He’s been dealing with us since Jackson County, because he lived in Jackson County. He didn’t like us there as much as anybody. We just seem to keep having problems with us. So he’s saying it’s time, states rights. He can do what he wants, get them out of here, let somebody else deal with them. Rick, if you read an 1828 dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary, the first dictionary in the United States, the first definition of exterminate is to remove from within one’s borders. So clearly, riddance was exterminate that we would kind of associate with today. But Boggs, I think if you read carefully his [order,] he’s saying they must be driven from the state. Now, if they don’t go, then we can have forceful action against them. I mean, we may have to take stricter measures. But he’s not saying go kill a Mormon.
Alex: Or go kill all the Mormons. I think Doniphan and others realize that that’s what the order stood for. So let’s get them to surrender, get them to leave. In fact, later when he talks to the Missouri legislature, when was it 1840, 39-40? Anyway, he says, “I issued the extermination order to prevent the effusion of blood. I don’t want people killed. I want them removed. So we don’t have to do more extreme measures.” So I’m just absolutely convinced that and yet so many Latter-day Saints think that the Extermination Order was a legal order to kill.
GT: Well, let me tell you something, that because I was in Kansas City in June grading AP Statistics exams. I had a roommate, and he actually grew up in Missouri and he mentioned something about Liberty, Missouri. I’m like, “Oh, I want to go to Liberty.” And he’s like, “What do you want to know about Liberty?” And I’m like, “Oh, well, Liberty Jail and Joseph Smith,” and then he said to me, “You know, it was once legal to kill a Mormon in Missouri.”
Alex: I’ve heard that for so many years, it just I just makes me ill.
GT: There are non-Mormons that believe this, too.
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