With Memorial Day upon us, I wanted to highlight a person that people know a little about, Alexander Doniphan, who was known as one of the first “Jack Mormons.” Michael Quinn’s book The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power talks about many incidents which led to the “extermination order” by Missouri Governor Boggs. Doniphan served in the 1838 Mormon War of Missouri, as well as the Mexican-American War in 1846-7.
The term “Jack Mormon” is familiar to most of us. Generally, it means a Mormon in name only. In modern usage, a Jack Mormon is probably inactive, doesn’t really go to church, doesn’t follow the Word of Wisdom or other orthodox Mormon habits, and may or may not be proud of his Mormon heritage. However, in the days of Joseph Smith, Quinn says on page 101, “non-mormon allies were known as ‘Jack-Mormons’, originally an LDS term of endearment.”
Alexander Doniphan is even mentioned in LDS manuals, such as this primary manual. Quinn talks about these events, and talks about a few of the Missourians who did try to help the saints. From page 100 of his book,
Despite the hatred of some Missourians toward Mormons, other non-Mormons protected LDS friends in the state. William Thompson endured several lashes “with a cowhide,” rather than tell a mob where the Mormons were. Better known among Mormons was Missourian Alexander W. Doniphan, who had risked his standing in his own community by defending the Mormons against expulsion from Jackson County in 1833. In 1834, he startled fellow Missourians by praising the effort of Zion’s Camp to reclaim Mormon lands in Jackson County. As state representative from Clay County, Doniphan regretted that his fellow residents had asked the Mormons to leave the county, and he successfully persuaded the Missouri legislature to create Caldwell County [in an 1836 compromise.] When anti-Mormon troops surrounded Far West and forced its surrender, General Samuel D. Lucas ordered Doniphan to summarily execute Joseph Smith, and six other Mormon leaders who were in custody in November 1838. Doniphan refused to obey the order, thus risking a similar summary execution himself. By putting his own safety and career at risk, Alexander Doniphan saved Smith’s life and earned a permanent place as one of Mormon history’s non-Mormon heroes.
I want to quote from a website regarding Doniphan’s actual reply–I think it is impressive. The website is http://www.historicliberty.org/tours/Alexander%20Doniphan%20-%20Juarenne.htm, and states,
When the Mormons surrendered to the militia, Doniphan’s commanding officer gave the order for Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, and six others to be shot. Doniphan’s reply was “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade will march for Liberty at 8:00 tomorrow morning, and if you execute these men I will hold you personally responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.” Doniphan chose to subject himself to the threat of possible court-martial rather then to carry out an order which meant the execution of men not found guilty by civil or military tribunal.
Continuing on from Quinn page 101,
Without the drama of Doniphan’s military insubordination, militia general David R. Atchison restrained his own troops and used his political clout to benefit the besieged Mormons. Another young Missourian wrote his father in December 1838 that the governor’s “extermination” order was a “foul disgrace to our State,” and the the Mormons had every right “to defend [themselves] with force and arms…” The Jews call such benefactors and rescuers, “righteous Gentiles,” but during Smith’s life these non-Mormon allies were known as “Jack-Mormons,” originally an LDS term of endearment.”
So, I wanted to learn a little more about Alexander Doniphan.
- Alexander Doniphan Elementary School is found on 1900 Clay Drive, in Liberty, Missouri
- Doniphan served 3 terms as a state representative, and worked as a lawyer, who represented Joseph Smith. Quoting from the website above, “During his career as a trial lawyer Doniphan defended more than 188 men, none of whom suffered the extreme penalty for the crime with which he was charged. This was true in Joseph Smith’s case. Doniphan tendered his services as a civil defender of the Mormons who were never convicted in court. Thus was spared the life of one who led the beginning of one of the great religious movements of our day. This building stands as a monument to Doniphan’s compassion and respect for the law. “
- There was a presentation on Doniphan at the Truman Presidential Library in 2007. ‘He once met Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln is reported to have said: “Alexander Doniphan is the only man I have ever met who lived up to my previous expectations.” Today there many items which bear his name including several towns, a school, a battleship, a county, a highway and numerous local awards.’
- He went on to lead a very successful campaign in the Mexican-American War in 1846-7.
- He was a slaveholder, who favored keeping the union in tact.
I am grateful for non-Mormon allies such as Doniphan, and hope we will always appreciate men like this. I posted a few more details about Doniphan which can be found here. Comments?
Is there a significant memorial, marker or statue to Doniphan at any Church site? If not, there darn well ought to be. We should be very grateful for “Righteous Gentiles” of his caliber.
I’m not aware of any church markers. Perhaps someone who has been to Missouri might be aware of something.
Any others who meet the original “Jack-Mormon” definition? Here are a few: Form early Mormon history: Col. Thomas Kane and Philip St. George Cooke. From modern Mormon history, Jan Shipps and Larry King. Agree? Disagree? Any others?
I’d say Jan Shipps is more of a Jack Mormon than Larry King, though the title does fit for both.
Doniphan has a pretty good monument in Richmond, Missouri. There’s a larger than live statue of him in front of the courthouse. It isn’t particularly about his Mormon connections; he was an important figure quite outside of Mormon history for his part in Missouri politics and also the Mexican American War. Doniphan County, Kansas, is named in his honor.
Roger Launius, author of Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet, has written a good biography of Doniphan published by the University of Missouri Press.
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