In 1820, Missouri and and Maine entered the Union under the auspices of the Missouri Compromise. Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri was admitted as a slave state. Through the compromise, the precarious balance of power between the North and South was maintained for a little longer.
Eleven years later, in the summer of 1831, Mormon settlers began to migrate from Ohio to Jackson County, Missouri to establish a new center of Mormon life. The territory was untamed and on the frontier. Life was hard. Nevertheless, the group worked diligently to improve their land and livelihoods.
Unfortunately, their presence was not appreciated by other locals who took a dim view on their new religious neighbors. With Missouri being a slave state, anti-slavery sentiments among the Mormons proved to be a potential threat to slaveholders. The large Mormon presence threatened to upset the political balance that supported Missouri as slave state.
Settler agitation against their Mormon neighbors began in earnest in 1833. A local paper in Independence, MO published a letter signed by community leaders. Here are their unbelievable words:
Clearly, the settlers of Jackson County had little tolerance for their religiously enthused neighbors.
After tensions mounted and the Mormons abandoned their settlements to relocate in Clay County, the Missouri Legislature created two new counties for the Mormons to reside. Caldwell and Daviess Counties were created as safe havens for Mormons to segregate themselves from the rest of the state. The settlements quickly filled to overflowing and Mormon settlers spilled into surrounding areas. Lands were purchased in surrounding counties and tension again began to rise. Tensions erupted into violence including Mormon youth and prisoners killed at the Haun's Mill Massacre.
In 1838 Governor Boggs issued Executive Order 44 "The Mormon Extermination Order":
The result of the extermination order was swift. General Clark surrounded the largest Mormon settlement of Far West and laid it under siege. Mormon settlers capitulated. Terms were issued giving the Mormons until Spring to leave the state or face a slaughter. Rather than waiting, the Mormons abandoned their settlements that winter and left for Illinois.
The material losses were enormous. The 12,000 Mormons left behind their land, their homes, and their possessions. Estimates of financial losses in today's money is around $25 million.
After the exodus, Joseph Smith, the president of the church, traveled to Washington D.C. to seek redress for the abuses the Mormons had experienced. Considering their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to have been trodden down, he took the grievances of the Mormon people to the highest level. Joseph met with President Van Buren to plead for justice. After hearing the issue Van Buren's response was stunning. There are two quotes attributed to his retort upon hearing of the Mormon's deprivations in Missouri:
"What can I do? I can do nothing for you, -if I do anything, I shall come in contact with the whole State of Missouri."
"Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you; if I take up for you, I shall lose the vote of Missouri."
His words (whichever quote you chose) is stunning. We read the words of a calculating politician who is weighing his electoral chances in the run up to an election year. In 1839, Missouri held four electoral votes in the Electoral College. The state also awarded those votes based on a winner-take-all system that Utah and 48 other states still employ today. President Van Buren figured that he would lose all of Missouri's electoral college votes if he helped the Mormons. That was simply too much to ask.
In the end, the result was truly winner-take-all: The mobs took all of the Mormon's wealth and Van Buren took all of Missouri's electoral votes in the 1840 election.
Thus, we see yet another example of how our current winner-take-all electoral college system produces distorted (and in this case grossly unjust) outcomes based on the rules for electing our President. You can learn more about my proposed solution to this problem.