When the Latter-day Saints settled in Commerce they were seeking personal safety and protection of their rights. In the autumn of 1840, Joseph Smith, John C. Bennett, and others saw the protections afforded in the civil charters of other Illinois cities, and began working on one for Nauvoo.
The proposed Nauvoo Charter was submitted to the Illinois General Assembly for their twelfth session, and was passed on December 16, 1840, with both Whigs and Democrats voting nearly unanimously in its favor in both chambers. Following its passage in the House, Abraham Lincoln, as one who voted in favor, “cordially congratulated [Bennett] on its passage.”
The charter was broad in scope. It included many clauses from other Illinois city charters, but also maximized protection for the Saints. One such protection was the ability of the municipal court to issue writs of habeas corpus. The Saints used habeas writs to seek legal action in sympathetic courts, and the very legality of arrest charges could be challenged.
Latter-day Saints used habeas writs to such an extent that many non-Mormons in and around Nauvoo felt that they were abusing the American legal system. The perceived abuse of the Nauvoo Charter contributed to the growing animosity against the Church, and became a contributing factor to the mob violence.
After its original passage, each session of the legislature faced growing movements to repeal or amend the charter. After the tragic events of 1844, the charter was repealed in January 1845.