A couple of years ago, while travelling through Salt Lake City, my parents and I took a brief tour of the Church History Museum. One thing that struck me as odd was the exhibit “Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration“1, specifically the details about Joseph Smith’s death and the lack of information regarding the circumstances which put him in jail.
It has always been my understanding that when Joseph Smith was murdered, he was in Carthage Jail waiting trial for his order to destroy the printing presses of the Nauvoo Expositor (wikipedia, original text), but according to one of the couple missionaries at the museum, he was there under the charge of treason.
It turns out, both charges are related. Smith had originally been charged and exonerated of “inciting a riot” with regard to the printing press situation but due to public outcry the Illinois governor, Thomas Ford, ordered that he be arrested and tried again—violating the United States constitution by putting Smith in double jeopardy.
Several days before his death, the charges were changed from “inciting a riot” to “treason” for his declaration of martial law in Nauvoo. Was this change of charges legal? Whether legal or not was Joseph Smith posthumously exonerated for the charge of treason?
In my mind, if he has been exonerated of all wrongdoing, the church should put up a statement saying so in the Church History Museum and on their website. If he hasn’t, is there some reason?
1 The exhibit details can be found at josephsmith.net.