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Symposium Honors Alexander Doniphan, hero in early Church History

Written by Cindy McDavittCreated: 29 December 2016

L-R: Alexander Baugh (professor & chair of Dept. Church History at BYU; Susan E. Black (professor of Church History at BYU; Jeremiah Morgan (general counsel to the Missouri Supreme Court ); Darcy and Michael Kennedy (Pres. Joseph Smith Jr & Emma Hale Smith Historical Society)

“An orator, jurist, statesman, soldier and a Christian … a lawyer for over fifty years and a life without reproach,” reads in part the inscription on a grave site monument dedicated to revered Missourian, Alexander W. Doniphan. On Oct. 22, members of the community in Liberty, Missouri, gathered at a symposium and award banquet to remember and honor the life of Doniphan.

Symposium attendees assembled beneath the stained glass windows in the John Gano Memorial Chapel on the campus of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Honored speakers included Alexander L. Baugh, BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, who delivered a life sketch of both Alexander Doniphan and Lilburn W. Boggs, the Governor infamously remembered for his issuance of the “extermination order” which sought to rid Missouri of its Mormon residents by force.

Though Doniphan has been gone for more than 100 years, his name is often on the lips of the communities in which he served, as both a local school and highway bear his name.

Gen. Doniphan is remembered as a war hero and a leader in statesmanship, business and education. However, it was his refusal to carry out a direct order by Gen. Samuel Lucas to execute Joseph Smith and other prisoners that has endeared him to members of the Church. Doniphan, a bold defense lawyer only 30 years old at the time, replied, “It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order…; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.”

Guests of the symposium sat merely a half mile away from the Historic Liberty Jail as Dr. Black presented on the incarceration of Joseph Smith at that prison. Her remarks focused on the five-day period between March 20th and March 25th, 1839. It was during this time that Joseph dictated an epistle, portions of which were later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants.

The final presenter, Jeremiah J. Morgan, general counsel to the Missouri Supreme Court and president of the Liberty Missouri Stake, spoke to symposium attendants about religious freedom in the current age. He said Alexander Doniphan was “an example for today.” Doniphan, ever a supporter of religious freedom, used the legal and legislative system and his personal influence to stand up for the rights of persons of other faiths.

At a banquet after the symposium the Alexander W. Doniphan Community Service and Leadership Foundation, bestowed its namesake award to Sister Black for her achievements in education.

The foundation recognizes the honoree as one who exemplifies Gen. Doniphan’s outstanding characteristics. The award has been presented 10 times since its inception in 2002.

Sister Black has been the recipient of numerous academic awards for her research and writing. She has authored, edited and compiled over 120 books and almost 400 articles.

For nearly 40 years, Sister Black taught hundreds of students about the influence of Missouri on Joseph Smith and early Latter-day Saints.