Thomas Ford (politician)

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Thomas Ford
Governor Thomas Ford.jpg
8th Governor of Illinois
In office
December 8, 1842 December 9, 1846

Among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Ford's tenure as governor is remembered for the "Illinois Mormon Expulsion," [21] particularly as Ford dealt with civic unrest over the Church's city of Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, and with the death of their leader, Joseph Smith in 1844. [22]

Ford wrote extensively of his dealings with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community, and was especially critical of their religion. He called Smith "the most successful impostor in modern times," and said he hoped that the increasingly popular Mormonism would not replace traditional Christianity.[ citation needed ] Ford took some steps to impede the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,[ citation needed ] but with little results. The conflict grew heated, with hundreds being driven from their homes, and mobs that eventually employed several thousands of people.

At one point, Ford encouraged Joseph and his brother, Hyrum Smith, to go to Carthage, the county seat, to face criminal charges in the destruction of the newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. Once there, the Smiths were charged with treason, and Ford allowed two militia units to go home, thus assigning the duty to guard the two brothers to the Carthage Greys, an anti-Church militia that helped murder them on June 27, 1844.

Ford denied responsibility for the mob murders. However, two men later gave affidavits suggesting Ford knew of the plot and could have approved of it. Dan Jones, a riverboat captain and one of the few eyewitnesses to both sides of the event, repeatedly warned Ford throughout the day of comments he heard from the guards and jailkeepers concerning their plot to assassinate the restored Church leaders. In response, Ford supposedly replied, "You are unnecessarily alarmed for your friends' safety, sir. The people are not that cruel."[ citation needed ] Irritated by the remark, Jones urged the necessity of placing better men than professed assassins to guard them. He stressed that they [the Smiths] were American citizens surrendered to his [Ford's] pledged honor. When Ford showed little interest in Jones' concerns, Jones commented, "[I] had then but one request to make; if you [Ford] left their lives in the hands of those men to be sacrificed, that the Almighty will preserve my life to a proper time and place to testify that you have been timely warned of their danger."[ citation needed ]] Later that day, returning to Nauvoo on horseback, Jones passed Ford's company while it passed by a painted mob ready to enter Carthage to kill the Church leaders. Jones records that while the assassination was taking place in Carthage, Ford addressed the citizens of Nauvoo saying that a, "severe atonement must be made, so prepare your minds for the emergency." The officials of the governor were heard urging him to hasten from there assuring him that the deed (that is the assassination), "was sure of having been accomplished by then." Both Ford's statement and the comments of his supporting officials provide strong evidence of Ford's involvement. He was later claimed to have said, "it's all nonsense; you will have to drive the Mormons out yet." This is exactly what happened. Several residents of Hancock County and many residents from several surrounding counties, met and decided on a plan of action that later forced the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to retreat into Utah, led by Brigham Young, by 1846.

While Ford opposed the Church, he also claimed to oppose the anti-Church faction that eventually drove them from the state.[ citation needed ] In the aftermath of the assassinations, Ford ordered the arrest and trial of Thomas C. Sharp, a newspaper editor in Warsaw, Illinois who had often printed disparaging and derogatory remarks against Smith and the Latter-day Saints. Sharp, who had printed calls for violence leading up to Smith's murder and celebratory remarks shortly after the killing, had briefly fled to Missouri to avoid trial. Upon his return to Illinois on Ford's orders, he was later acquitted of all charges.

In later correspondences, Governor Ford would defend his meek actions during the crisis, saying hated minorities are never safe from hostile majorities. He said, "Men engaged in unpopular projects expect more protection from the laws than the laws are able to furnish in the face of popular excitement." He believed that a politicized militia and court system, as well as weak powers granted him by state law, prevented him from doing more to stop the Illinois Mormon War. Writing in the third person, Ford declared "there was no way to punish {the guilty parties}, as former trials had shown, except by martial law; and this course was utterly illegal. The governor believed that he could not declare martial law for the punishment of citizens without admitting that free government had failed; and assuming despotism was necessary in its place." [23] [ citation needed ]

Death and legacy

Ford initially moved back to the Hambaugh farm after his gubernatorial term ended, but soon moved to Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois. There, he wrote his magnum opus of early Illinois history, as well as attempted to care for his wife (who died of stomach cancer on October 12, 1850; aged 38) and young children, as well as his own tuberculosis. He died on November 3, 1850, about six weeks after joining the local Methodist Church. Because the career civil servant was destitute because he did not take bribes nor tolerate corruption, the local citizenry raised money to pay for his interment at Springdale Cemetery, Peoria, [24] as well as fostered out his children among various neighbors.

Ford's A History of Illinois (Chicago, 1854), was published posthumously and relates the state history from its founding in 1818 until 1847.

Ford County, Illinois is named for him. [25]


  1. Appleton's Cyclopedia Vol. 3, p. 501
  2. Robert P. Howard, rev. by Peggy Boyer Long and Mike Lawrence, Mostly Good and Competent Men, 2nd Edition (University of Illinois Press and Illinois State historical Society 1988, ISBN   0938943154 at p. 59
  3. Howard p. 60
  4. Illinois Biographical Dictionary (Somerset Publishers Inc. New York 1993) p. 152
  5. J. F. Snyder, Governor Ford and His Family, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jul., 1910), pp. 45-51
  6. Howard pp. 60-61
  7. Snyder pp.50-51
  8. 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, family 622 gives the correct parents' and girls' names, and names young boys' names as "George" and "Thomas H.", although the Snyder article previously cited names the elder as Seuel (presumably pronounced Sewell)
  9. Snyder p. 49
  10. Snyder p. 46
  11. Snyder pp. 46-47
  12. Snyder p. 47
  13. Howard p. 61
  14. Snyder p. 47
  15. John Wentworth, "Fort Dearborn" an address delivered to the Chicago Historical Society on May 21, 1881 in Edward Gay Mason, Illinois in the Eighteenth Century: Kaskaskia and Its Parish ..., Volume 16 (Chicago:Fergus Printing 1881) p. 39 available at
  16. Snyder pp. 47-48
  17. Howard p. 61
  18. Howard p. 62
  19. Howard pp. 62-63
  20. "National History of the Road | National Road Association of Illinois".
  21. Roberts, Brigham H. (1900). The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo. Salt Lake City: The Deseret News. pp.  292–300.
  22. "Autobiography of William Adams (1822-1894)".
  23. Ford, Gov. Thomas (1946). A History of Illinois from its commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847, Vol. II. Chicago: The Lakeside Press/R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co. p. 340.
  24. "Thomas Ford (1800-1850) - Find a Grave Memorial".
  25. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp.  128.

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Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by