Should We Honor Lawbreakers?

by Rocky Hulse

October 30, 2006 -- edited January 23, 2010

Should We Honor Lawbreakers?I had the chance to view the new monument to Israel Barlow that is on display at the new bookstore being built on Mulholland Street across from the Bank of Nauvoo, Nauvoo, Illinois. I first noted that the statue part of the monument has a man and a woman of yester year prominently displayed that one would immediately presume is Israel Barlow and his wife; however, when one reads the granite base of the monument on the southwest side it is plainly engraved that Israel had four wives.

Since only one wife is promoted in the statue, one would assume that as one of the early Mormon founders, and being honored as such, he must have only had one wife while living in Nauvoo and didn’t begin practicing polygamy until he reached Utah. A little homework however, shows he had two wives: Elizabeth Haven and Elizabeth (Betsy) Barton. Having two wives named Elizabeth it’s easy to see why the second was called Betsy. Both wives are listed in the Nauvoo Temple Endowment Name Index, which clearly shows that he was married to both of them while he resided in Nauvoo. So, why doesn’t the statue have Israel Barlow standing with both of his Nauvoo wives?

This also begs the question: Why are the citizens of Nauvoo not speaking out about the honoring of a lawbreaker? Polygamy was against the laws of the State of Illinois. “An 1833 Illinois state law provided two years’ imprisonment and a $1000 fine for the married man who married another woman and one year’s imprisonment and a $500 fine for the unmarried woman who knowingly entered into a marriage ceremony with an already married man.” (LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages 1890-1904 by D. Michael Quinn).

Maybe the portrayal each summer in the Nauvoo Mormon Pageant (Joseph Smith is always shown with just his first wife Emma when he had over 30 wives), has numbed the viewers to the fact that polygamy was against the laws of this state when Joseph Smith promulgated and practiced this Mormon Church doctrine in Nauvoo.

Obeying the laws of the state was also Mormon Church doctrine at that time. The Mormon Church first printed its “Articles of Faith” in the Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842. Article number 12 reads as follows: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” How is practicing polygamy, which was against the laws of the state of Illinois, “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law?” Is it just me, or are there others who think that honoring those who have shown they placed themselves above the law tarnishes the town of Nauvoo where this statue is displayed in honor and sets a bad precedent for our society?