President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking Jan. 10 at a 16-stake fireside at BYU, looked back on events more than 140 years ago that affected two contemporaries whose beliefs at the time contrasted as much as their legacies do now.
President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, was referring to Joseph Smith and Thomas Ford, governor of Illinois from 1842 to 1846 and a participant in the events surrounding the martyrdom of the Prophet in 1844.As he traveled to a regional conference assignment in Peoria, Ill., President Hinckley said he visited the Liberty Jail, Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri and Quincy, Carthage and Nauvoo in Illinois.
He also went to a cemetery in Peoria to visit the grave of Gov. Ford. Like other critics of the Prophet Joseph, Gov. Ford fell into obscurity soon after his "brief day of glory," while Joseph Smith's fame has grown and spread throughout the world, President Hinckley emphasized,
"It was Gov. Ford who on June 27, 1844, left Joseph and Hyrum to the mercy of the merciless Carthage mob," President Hinckley explained.
He said six weeks before Joseph Smith's death, the Prophet declared, "Woe, woe be to that man or set of men who lift up their hands against God and His witness in these last days. . . ." (History of the Church, Vol. 6, page 364.)
"I think those words may have foretold the future of Thomas Ford," President Hinckley told the students.
President Hinckley said before Ford's death, the governor wrote the History of Illinois, which included an account of the death of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum. Ford stated that Joseph Smith was "the most successful imposter in modern times; a man who, though ignorant and coarse, . . . was fitted for temporary success, but . . . could never succeed in establishing a system of policy which looked to permanent success in the future."
"I have compared that appraisal," President Hinckley continued, "with the prophetic words of Moroni spoken earlier to the boy Joseph: `Your name shall be known among the nations, for the work which the Lord will perform by your hand shall cause the righteous to rejoice and the wicked to rage; with one it shall be had in honor, with another under reproach; yet with these it shall be a terror, because of the great and marvelous work which shall follow the coming forth of this fulness of my gospel." (Times and Seasons, II:13.)
President Hinckley also quoted from another contemporary of the Prophet, Parley P. Pratt, who said Joseph's work would live to endless ages and that he had laid the foundation of a kingdom that would break into pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever.
During his trip to Illinois, President Hinckley learned more about Gov. Ford's life. The governor, he said, was born five years before the Prophet and was reared in Illinois, where he studied law. He became the state's attorney in Galena and Quincy and later a circuit judge and state Supreme Court justice. He resigned from the state's high court in 1842 to run a successful campaign for governor. After his four-year term, he spent most of a year writing his History of Illinois and moved to Peoria to practice law in 1847. Three years later he and his wife died in poverty, leaving their five orphan children destitute. The children were taken in by people in the city, but most of their lives ended tragically.
"It is a thing of interest to me that except for his connection with the death of the Prophet Joseph, Gov. Ford is almost entirely forgotten today," President Hinckley declared. "The decline of his fortune and the sad end of his life, and that of his wife, together with the tragic experiences of their five orphan children, become a tale of defeat, bitterness and misery."
However, the love and respect for the Prophet have grown across the world, President Hinckley continued.
He said Gov. Ford wasn't the only one of "the unmerciful at Carthage to fade into tragedy and ignominy." Joseph's prophetic warning against those who lifted their hands against his witness in the last days also has proven true in the sad fates of those involved in the murder of the prophet and the burning of the Nauvoo Temple, said President Hinckley.
"As it was then, so it has been since," President Hinckley said. "Thsoe who have fought this work, opposed it, and demeaned and abused its leaders and people, have had their brief day of glory, but then have been forsaken and forgotten while the work, begun by Joseph as an instrument in the hands of God, has grown and strengthened and become evermore powerful across the world."
Anciently, he said, when Peter was condemned by the council of Pharisees for testifying of Christ, Gamaliel warned that they should let Peter and his brethren alone. Gamaliel said that if Peter's work was of man, it would come to nought, "But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God." (Acts 5:34-39.)
"Whether it be words spoken in derogation of the Prophet Joseph, of the Book of Mormon which came through his instrumentality, of the priesthood which was restored upon his head, of the great and sacred temple work with all of its eternal ramifications; or whether these critics speak in derogation of more recent men and events, it is the same," he declared. "All of these aspects of the restoration of the gospel are the work of God, and those who fight against them will be found even to fight against God."
President Hinckley concluded by admonishing the students to walk in faith. "As certainly as there is dismay for those who tear down and seek to destroy this work," he counseled, "even so there is joy and a harvest of peace for those who walk in obedience to its precepts."