Friday, November 19, 2010

Marriage, Religion and the State : A Mormon history (Part 3)

Period of Transitions (1850 - 1910)

At the beginning of this period, the LDS movement had clearly split into a number of factions led by various leaders with rivaling claims to authority. Perhaps the largest of these factions followed Brigham Young and migrated to Utah, which initially was outside of United States legal jurisdiction. However, a majority of the members followed other leaders such as Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight and others. Of particular note, the organization headed by James Strang attracted a significant following, including two apostles; Joseph’s brother William Smith and John E. Page between 1844 and 1856. Initially, Strang accused Brigham Young with polygamy and promoted a strong anti-polygamy stance1. In 1848 or 1849, Strang claimed a revelation permitting polygamy and changed his opinion2. Some, including Emma Smith and all of Joseph’s family, remained in the Nauvoo area. From this point onward, teachings and policies diverge dramatically between the various factions of the original church. This fact requires that we address each denomination separately.

The Utah LDS Church - From Multiple Marriage to the Manifesto

In August of 1852, Brigham Young initiated a series of public discourses that would end the long pattern of suspicion, accusation and denial of polygamy in the LDS church. Speaking in the Salt Lake tabernacle, Brigham began with “ I am at the defiance of the rulers of the greatest nation on the earth, with the United States all put together, to produce a more loyal people than the Latter-day Saints. Have they, as a people, broken any law? No, they have not3”. He continued with “ Admit, for argument's sake, that the "Mormon" Elders have more wives than one, yet our enemies never have proved it. If I had forty wives in the United States, they did not know it, and could not substantiate it, neither did I ask any lawyer, judge, or magistrate for them. I live above the law, and so do this people.” Then Brigham came to the crux of his argument “ The broad law of the whole earth is that every person has the right to enjoy every mortal blessing, so far as he does not infringe upon the rights and privileges of others. It is also according to the acts of every legislative body throughout the Union, to enjoy all that you are capable of enjoying; but you are forbidden to infringe upon the rights, property, wife, or anything in the possession of your neighbor 4”. He then went on to contrast the hypocrisy of a Gentile who takes a fresh woman every night being shocked if a Mormon were to have two wives. Brigham’s statements, while falling short of a confession, suggest that he was anticipating a conflict with US authorities over the practice of polygamy in the Utah Territory.

President Young continued to explore these issues in a two part “Great Gospel Sermon” given on Aug. 8 and 16. Addressing concepts of government and Law, he stated ‘“What are the civil laws and governments of the day? They are merely traditions, without a single exception. Do people realize this - that it is the force of their education that makes right and wrong with them?5” Brigham went on to define ““Conscience is nothing else but the result of the education and traditions of the inhabitants of the earth, these are interwoven with their feelings, and are like a cloak that perfectly envelopes them, in the capacity of societies, neighborhoods, people or individuals; they frame the kind of government and religion, and pursue the course collectively or individually that seemeth good to themselves.6” After establishing that divine teachings are often dismissed through prejudice if they conflict with tradition, Brigham continued to explain the doctrine of exaltation, stating that “We are created, we are born for the express purpose of growing up from the low estate of manhood, to become Gods like our Father in heaven.7”. The following week, Brigham reminded the faithful that “There is not a people more blessed that we are. We have the words of eternal life, the holy priesthood of the son of God, yea, more to become Gods in eternity, and to be crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and everlasting lives.8”

On Sunday, August 29, 1852, Apostle Orson Pratt was called upon to present the first public revelation of the doctrine of plural marriage, which he began with “It is quite unexpected to me brethren and sisters, to be called upon to address you this forenoon; ... on the principle which has been named,.. a plurality of wives.9”. Orson continued by explaining that this was new ground for him, because he was not in the habit of publicly speaking on the subject and he further acknowledged that the subject was also new ground to the inhabitants of the United States and a portion of Europe. He went on to state that “It is well known however, to the congregation before me, that the Latter Day Saints have embraced the doctrine of plurality of wives, as a part of their religious faith. It is not, as many have supposed, a doctrine embraced by them to gratify the carnal lusts and feelings of man; that is not the object of the doctrine10”. Orson then continued to explain “some of the causes why the Almighty has revealed such a doctrine, and why it is considered a part and portion of our religious faith.” but before he could begin he first stated his belief that “they will not, under our present form of government, (I mean the government of the United States) try us for treason for believing and practicing our religious notions and ideas. I think, if I am not mistaken, that the constitution gives the privilege to all inhabitants of this country of the free exercise of their religious notions and the freedom of their faith and the practice of it. Then, if it can be proven ... that the Latter Day Saints have actually embraced as part and portion of their religion, the doctrine of a plurality of wives, it is constitutional. And should there ever be laws enacted by this government to restrict them from the free exercise of this part of their religion, such laws must be unconstitutional.11”.

In outlining his reasons “why we consider it an essential doctrine to glory and exaltation, to our fullness of happiness in the world to come”, Orson highlighted three main areas. These included the doctrines of the spiritual pre-existence of mankind12, the plurality of Gods13, and eternal marriage through which men and women are “restored from the fall”14.

In contrast to the popular opinion of his day, Apostle Pratt stated that “I think there is only about one-fifth of the population of the globe that believe in the one-wife system, the other four-fifths believe in the doctrine of the plurality of wives. They ... are not half so narrow and contracted in their minds as some of the nations of Europe and America who have done away with the promises and deprived themselves of the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... because of the traditions of their fathers; they do not know that a man’s posterity, in the eternal worlds, are to constitute his glory, his kingdom, and dominion15”.

Finally, Orson addressed the source of the new Revelation, stating “It was given to the Prophet, Seer and Revelator, Joseph Smith on the 12th day of July, 1843, only about eleven months before he was martyred for the testimony of Jesus16”. This authority to enact plural marriage was equated with the “sealing keys of power” which were committed to Joseph Smith by “Elijah the prophet” in the Kirtland Temple “at the time of the endowments in that house”. He then proceeded to give a short summary of the contents of the revelation and stated that all those who have the law taught plainly to them and continue to reject it will be damned.

Orson Pratt’s address was followed by a discourse by President Brigham Young who began speaking about the career of their beloved prophet Joseph, who had been universally rejected by the sectarian world as an “impostor, money digger and fortune teller who deluded the people” After providing this context, Brigham continued on with the subject of plural marriage, stating “ a Revelation would be read this afternoon, which was given previous to Joseph’s death. It contains a doctrine, a small portion of the world is opposed to; but I can deliver a prophesy upon it. Though that doctrine has not been preached by the elders, this people have believed in it for many years.17” Assigning the revelation on plural marriage to Joseph Smith constituted an implied claim for the authority of Brigham Young and the Utah Church. He went further to assert that many people who had been aware of the revelation assumed that it no longer existed because “Sister Emma burnt the original”. Brigham then described how the original revelation had been copied, with Joseph’s permission, by Bishop Whitney and the copy had been kept in a locked drawer in his writing desk until the time was right to proclaim it. He assured his followers by saying “ I prophesy to you that the principle of polygamy will make its way, and will triumph over the prejudices and all the priestcraft of the day; it will be embraced by the most intelligent parts of the world as one of the best doctrines ever proclaimed to any people.” He also attempted to allay uneasiness by claiming that “ you need not think that a mob is coming here to tread upon the sacred liberty which the Constitution of our country guarantees unto us, for it will not be.18” From a doctrinal perspective, as prophet and president of the church, he declared ““Without the doctrine that this Revelation reveals, no man on earth ever could be exalted to be a God.19”, thereby making the doctrine of plural marriage an essential requirement for exaltation.

It is important to note that these words, along with the revelation that would eventually become Section 132 in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, were not spoken openly to rank and file Latter-day Saints until nine years after Joseph allegedly received the revelation and five years after the Mormons arrived in Utah. This leaves the question of why the announcement was made at this time. One possible explanation is that U.S. territorial officers in Utah had discovered the Mormon’s polygamous practices by the Summer of 1852 and they were beginning to publish reports around the country. This forced the Mormon leadership to respond to the accusations20.

Whatever the reason, the open declaration of polygamy, together with the doctrinal justification opened a new chapter in the struggle to define the meaning and legacy of the Restoration movement. In October, 1851, Jason W. Briggs, who was an elder prior to the death of Joseph and a early follower of J. Strang, attended a conference of non-affiliated LDS church members at Palestine Illinois. After the conference, he claimed to receive a revelation commanding him to denounce polygamy and proclaim against it21. By 1853, other key leaders like Zenos Gurley, became convinced that they received profound spiritual confirmation that polygamy was not of God and it should be strongly opposed. A movement began to organize around this revelation and the adherents eventually became convinced that they were to create a new church organization22, which eventually became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS).

Meanwhile in Utah, regular discourses were given by Brigham Young and key Mormon leaders in defense of polygamy. During the 1850s, these sermons seemed to be concerned with the rational and doctrinal foundation of the principle. Speaking in February, 1854, Apostle Jedediah Grant stressed the importance of obeying the voice of the prophet as if it was God’s own voice23. He went on to assert that the priesthood was the government of God on the earth and if priesthood leaders had right to dictate in matters of spiritual salvation, then they had the right to dictate in “temporal matters, in farms, houses, merchandize, gold, silver, &c.24” The intention being to overcome jealousy and to put trust in God, rather than possessions. Apostle Grant continued that Joseph, after receiving the revelation on plural marriage, had come to many church leaders and asked them to give him their wives25. Pointing out that Joseph was the mouthpiece of God, he continued “ What would a man of God say, who felt aright, when Joseph asked him for his money? He would say, "Yes, and I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom of God." Or if he came and said, I want your wife?" "O yes," he would say, "here she is; there are plenty more.26"Through this line of logic, Grant declared that these sacrifices were a test of faith and they were necessary to prepare people for a place in the Celestial Kingdom.27 Calling for unity in the church Grant concluded with “ If Joseph Smith held the keys of the kingdom of God on earth, of the Apostleship, does not his successor possess the same? Does he not have a right to give laws, to instruct, to control and rule the people of God? My prayer is that the Saints may understand that they are safe as long as they listen to the Priesthood authorized of heaven, are united in one, and not divided into clans, but become one great clan, under one head.”

At the October, 1854 General Conference, Apostle Orson Hyde gave a discourse on “the Marriage Relations” in which he asserted that Jesus had been married to Mary, Martha and other wives28. President Hyde, who had served a mission in the Holy Land, continued to explain that while Christendom prohibited the practice of plural marriage, Muslims and majority of cultures in the world supported the practice. Arguing that the majority of the world already supported their rights, he turned to natural philosophy and the laws of nature to make their case even stronger. During his sermon, Hyde referred to the scriptural caution that a Bishop should have one wife. Immediately after his sermon, Brigham Young addressed this point offering that his personal understanding was that a bishop should have at least one wife.29 On July 14, 1855 Brigham Young addressed a Provo congregation with concern that the principle of plural marriage was not being taken seriously enough. Aware that some were opposed to the doctrine, Young stated the principle was not to please man in his carnal desires, or to punish women, rather it was necessary to raise up a royal priesthood from a righteous posterity30. He went on to argue that the principle was necessary for people to overcome “overcome all our lustful desires, also our pride, selfishness, and every evil propensity that pertains to the flesh, to keep the commandments of God, and all the commandments pertaining to the holy Priesthood.31” Stating that when he first heard about the doctrine from Joseph that he had desired the grave, he went on to admonish his audience to not let economic hardship or any other selfish reservation stop them from following the doctrine. Brigham also offered a word of warning; “if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned; and I will go still further and say, take this revelation, or any other revelation that the Lord has given, and deny it in your feelings, and I promise that you will be damned.32”Most of these sermons during the 1850s appear to have the objective of building support for the principle of plural marriage within the church and defending the principle of polygamy from outside religious objections.

Beyond a religious disagreement, polygamy in Utah would soon become a major political issue in the United States. In 1856, the newly formed Republican party held a convention in Cincinnati to develop their campaign platform which became "prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.33” The polygamy reference was aimed directly at the Mormon settlements in Utah. On July 8, 1862 President Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act “to punish and prevent the Practice of Polygamy in the Territories ... and annull certain acts of the legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah34” Beyond prohibiting any person to have more than one spouse, the act also repealed any laws of the provisional government of Deseret that “establish, maintain, protect or countenance the practice of polygamy” and prohibited the church from holding more than $50,000. in real estate.

Brigham Young appeared to respond to this new legislation in The Deseret News of Aug. 6, 1862, claiming “Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire.. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers” In contrast, Brigham went on to explain “ Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord's servants have always practiced it.”

Initially, the federal marshals in Utah were not encouraged to enforce the law in return for Utah staying out of the civil war. However, the New York Times reported on March 14, 1863 that Brigham Young personally appeared in court on a charge under the “Polygamy act of Congress” and the Judge held him to bail in the amount of $2000., which was promptly paid. Mentioning that the US marshal was able to serve the writ without the aid of a posse, the article concluded that “civil authority can be maintained in Utah without the aid of troops35”. In reality, there was no possibility of Brigham Young being convicted on the charges because Utah courts were dominated by the Mormon church and this minimized the power of any federal legislation.

Perhaps responding to the pressure of these outside forces, references to polygamy in Brigham’s public addresses became more focused on the religious and cultural precedents for marriage in general. Responding to the claim that “polygamy is not according to Christianity”, President Young proceeded to demonstrate that Martin Luther and other protestant reformers approved of the polygamous marriage, using “History of the variations of the Protestant churches” as a reference.36 He then repeated the claim that monogamous marriage was a product of the Roman empire, due to a shortage of women among them, and it was the cause of prostitution, rot and decay across “the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World.” Contrasting polygamy and monogamy, Brigham concluded with “here are the commandments of the Lord, and here are the wishes of wicked men, which shall we obey?”.

On August 12, 1866, Brigham addressed the subject of lawyers. Referring to the time of persecution in Nauvoo and the peace that came from being far removed from hostile mobs, he went on to say that their enemies had devised another means of attack’ “We have not been broken up, as has been anticipated, by military force, and now it is expected that a course of law suits will accomplish what the military failed to do.37” Recalling the days of Joseph Smith, Brigham recounted how lawyers would make thousands of dollars defending claims against him. So far, Brigham had avoided major legal costs but “Now, they suppose that they have got us safely on polygamy. What about that? I would say to Congress that if they will pass a law, making it death for any man to hold illicit intercourse with any woman but his lawful wife, we would meet them half way on that ground.38”. Noting that the European monarchs did not always live according to conventional marriage concepts, Brigham rejected the government’s right to dictate marriage regulations on the Latter Day Saints, saying “Why does not our government make a law to say how many children a man shall have? They might as well do so as to make a law to say how many wives a man shall have39”.

In an address from August 19, 1866, Brigham again addresses the imminent political and legal struggles surrounding the church. Perhaps anticipating future events, he stated “ It is not polygamy that men fight against when they persecute this people; but, still, if we continue to be faithful to our God, he will defend us in doing what is right. If it is wrong for a man to have more than one wife at a time, the Lord will reveal it by and by, and he will put it away that it will not be known in the Church.40” Appealing to the loyalty of church members, Brigham conceded that many of them wished that the doctrine of polygamy did not exist in the church, however he warned them that if they wanted to be saved in the Kingdom of God, they would have to be polygamists, at least in their faith41. He further cautioned those who held back from polygamy, because of the possibility that the LDS community might be broken up and they would be excluded from some “earthly honor, character and office, etc” that if they persisted in their lack of commitment that they would fall short of celestial glory.

Addressing the political issues directly, Brigham referred to the recent Republican promise to abolish the twin relics of barbarism and the campaign for Utah’s statehood, framing the conflict as “The Lord gave a revelation through Joseph Smith, His servant; and we have believed and practiced it. Now, then, it is said that this must be done away before we are permitted to receive our place as a State in the Union.” Seeing this as question of whether to place greater loyalty to the United States or to God, Brigham remarked “"Do you think that we shall ever be admitted as a State into the Union without denying the principle of polygamy?" If we are not admitted until then, we shall never be admitted. These things will be just as the Lord will.” Questioning the apparent injustice of the situation, Brigham pointed out that the Utah Saints were only transgressing a law of the United States through obeying a revelation of God. He then remarked that the anti-polygamy law was not yet tested as to its’ constitutionality and he hoped that the validity of the law would be questioned. Stating that “Marriage is a civil contract. You might as well make a law to say how many children a man shall have, as to make a law to say how many wives he shall have. It would be as sensible to make a law to say how many horses or oxen he shall possess, or how many cows his wife shall milk.”, President Young proceeded to point out the paradox that there was no law against having a woman come home and live with him, as long as you do not “own her as your wife”42.

After the end of the civil war and the start of reconstruction efforts in the South, polygamy in Utah became a higher priority for the US government. The first phase of the federal government’s actions involved the appointment of new territorial officers. J.B. McKean, a methodist preacher, was assigned as Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme court. McKean came to Utah on a crusade against polygamy with the intention of “intimidating the Mormon Church or breaking it up43”. McKean was seen to be the leader of a group of judges and lawyers, labelled as the “Ring” who sided with Mormon dissenters “and the Gentiles in a “liberal” or anti-Brigham party” with the intention of plundering Mormon lands, resources and business interests. In response to the vocal Mormon reaction to this “Officeholders’ Ring” and the publication of newspaper articles in the Eastern States charging the Mormons with mutiny, the US government strengthened its Utah garrison with 1,200 additional federal troops.

Since the 1847 arrival of Brigham Young and his followers in the Salt Lake valley, the Utah Church had grown from about 2000 American pioneers44 to approximately 90,000 by 1870.45 During these years, the biggest source of population growth came through the immigration of tens of thousands of converts to the new faith that came primarily from Great Britain and Scandinavia46. The church’s reliance on immigration made this an obvious target for the federal officers. In 1871 it was reported that Judge McKean had refused American citizenship to two men because, when asked about their belief in plural marriage, the first stated a belief that it was “ in accordance with the laws of God for a man to have more than one wife at the same time; and that if the laws of the country forbade it, he regarded it as his duty to obey the laws of God rather than the laws of man” and the second refused to answer the question. 47 By refusing to state a belief that polygamy was wrong, Judge McKean determined that “ no man, or set of men. entertaining such views could honestly swear to support the Constitution and laws of the United States”. It was contended that before someone be granted the high privilege of US citizenship, that the court should “'be satisfied' whether they believe the supreme law of the land to be the Constitution, the laws of Congress and the treaties of the United States ; or whether they believe it to be the revelations of some polygamic prophet.”

Women’s suffrage became an issue in public debate concerning polygamy. A group of Mormon dissenters, known as the Godbeites, first suggested the idea that polygamy would be abolished if women were given the vote48. Anti-polygamy forces in the Eastern states picked up the idea and tried to bring a women’s suffrage bill for the Utah territory through Congress. However, Brigham Young and other LDS leaders determined that giving women the opportunity to vote could contradict the popular image that Mormon women were oppressed and downtrodden. Hoping to defuse the growing tide of anti-polygamy legislation that was making its’ way through congress, the Utah territorial government passed a law on 10 Feb 1869 granting women the right to vote. After the first election, it was obvious that women were voting the same tickets as the men and critics in the US argued that suffrage should be removed. The president of the womens suffrage movement in the US, Tracy Cutler, stood in defense of Utah’s women stating “they went to the polls and scratched their tickets to suit themselves. She had thought that this little seed of independent thought would ultimately result in the breaking up of systems which could not be otherwise reached. The women of Utah valued the right of suffrage, and the best men of the Territory conceded that it had worked splendid results.49"

On October 3rd, 1871 Brigham Young, the President of Deseret Bank, the Utah railroad, and the President and treasurer of the Mormon Church was arrested in his Salt Lake City home50. Surprizingly, he was not arrested under the Morrill anti-bigamy law, but instead he was accused of sixteen counts of adultery and lewd and lascivious behavior under a statute that he had created for the state of Deseret. Daniel H Wells, the mayor of Salt Lake and George Q Cannon, the Utah territorial representative were also arrested under similar charges. Newspapers around the country speculated that the Mormons would start an armed rebellion to rescue their leader from the courts or that the Mormons would abandon Salt Lake and retreat to an even more remote corner of the world. Brigham Young’s defense lawyers asked that the case be quashed, and in reply, Chief Justice McKean responded “the case at bar is called, ' The People versus Brigham Young,' its other and real title is, ' Federal Authority versus Polygamic Theocracy.' The Government of the United States, founded upon a written constitution, finds within its jurisdiction another government claiming to come from God—imperium in imperio—whose policy and practices are, in grave particulars, at variance with its own. The one government arrests the other, in the person of its chief, and arraigns it at this bar. A system is on trial in the person of Brigham Young. Let all concerned keep this fact steadily in view ; and let that government rule without a rival which shall prove to be in the right.51”. Shortly after this decision, Brigham Young breached his bail agreements by leaving Salt Lake and traveling to Southern Utah. After a vocal public outcry, he returned to Salt Lake and was arrested and imprisoned in late 1871.

During October, 1871, LDS apostle John Taylor presented an eloquent refutation of Judge McKeans statement. First he recounted how the Territory of Utah had been admitted into the United States as a Territory under an act of Congress in September of 1850. This act allowed for a territorial government to be organized with offices that were filled through elections by the people of the Territory. Pointing out that Utah’s government was like all other territorial and state governments, he further reasoned that “It is true, as he says, that it is a government within a government, an imperium in imperio; but it is such as the United States has made it, and certainly is not a theocracy. His honor cannot therefore mean that the United States is at war with our State or Territorial government, which is not a theocracy. I think from the above it is very plain that it is not the State or Territory that his honor refers to ; it must, therefore, be the Church, and stripped of all its tinsel and wrappings, it simply resolves itself into this—that the government of the United States is at war with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints52” Taylor then went on to point out that “a system is arraigned in the person of Brigham Young. Thus ostensibly Brigham Young is on trial for " lascivious cohabitation," and not for Polygamy or Treason, and contrary to this statement his honor gives us to understand that he has been accused of one thing and is being tried for another”.

Brigham Young’s case, and his imprisonment was soon overshadowed as the 1872 movement toward Utah’s statehood took center stage53. During February, 1872, a convention was convened in Salt Lake to create a Constitution for the State of Deseret for the purpose of furthering an application for statehood. Recognizing the high probability that the Federal government would not admit Utah as a state if polygamy continued, the argument came down to whether the Mormons could compromise on the polygamy issues. One side, represented by a non-Mormon Mr. Thomas Fitch argued that “ "The question of State government or no State government for the people of Utah, is simply a question of concession on the part of the people of Utah. I say a question of concession. I doubt indeed if it be longer than that. The universal voice of a democratic-republican nation of forty millions of people seems to be consolidated into a demand with respect to Utah, a demand which may perhaps be the offspring of prejudiced opinion, but if so, it is an opinion which will not be enlightened and which cannot be disregarded or overruled. The demand is that the future marriage laws, and marriage relations of Utah be placed in consonance with the rest of the Republic. The demand is that polygamous or plural marriages shall cease. Accede to this demand and you may have a State government, with condonation of the past, and secure exemption from persecution for the future. Deny it and you will have neither a State government nor cessation of persecutions. The war is over, secession is dead, slavery is dead, and in the absence of subjects of greater importance, Utah and her institutions will be the shuttlecock of Amercan politics to be bruised and beaten by the battledoors of party for the next decade, unless she now grasp her opportunity and gain peace by gaining power.54” Placing the problem in constitutional terms, Fitch continued, “ " Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." A belief in polygamy is a matter between the citizen and his God; the practice of polygamy is a matter between the citizen and his country. If you think the laws of God call upon you to believe in it—then obey them unmolested—but the laws of your country call upon you not to practice it, so obey them—and be unmolested.” Turning to doctrinal issues, Fitch ventured “I do not claim to know, I do not know what the Mormon doctrine may be with respect to the practice of polygamy. I observe, however, that not one-tenth of your adult males actually practice it, and I naturally conclude that you do not consider its practice essential to salvation ; that it is something to be practiced or omitted as opportunity or ability may warrant. If this be so, then may not that lack of ability or opportunity arise from the antagonism of others, from the circumstances of the country, from overpowering laws, as well as from the circumstances of the individual? If one Mormon is permitted by his creed to say, I believe in polygamy as a doctrine, but I do not practice it because my condition makes it inconvenient or impossible, why may not another say—why may not all say—we believe in it as a doctrine, but we agree not to practice it because the general conditions make it inconvenient or impossible? Why may not the earnest, conscientious Mormon say, I believe in polygamy as a doctrine, but in order to relieve my friends and associates from persecution, in order to prevent the establishment of intolerable oppression; in order to preserve the thrift, the industry, the wealth, the progress, the temperate life, the virtues of Utah from spoliation and devastation and ruin ; in order to save a hundred noble pioneer citizens from outlawry or the gibbet or incarceration ; in order to achieve self government, and peace, and liberty, I consent to surrender its practice for the future55”

Fitch concluded his address with a warning about the Republican party “ The triumphant career of a great political party demonstrates to you that there is no government so strong as a government of opinion, that there is no law so powerful as the will of a people. It is a turbulent and resistless torrent; constitutional barriers are swept down before it, laws are changed to accommodate it; courts are overwhelmed or carried away upon its crest, and institutions that lift up their voices against it are hushed by its mighty thunders.”

The other side, argued by non-Mormon Judge Haydon stated “he did not believe that the Mormons present would be willing to trade off what they believe a divine ordinance for the bauble of State sovereignty. If they were once to lose the respect of the world for their honesty in their faith they would go down like Lucifer—never to rise. What would history write—what would the world say, if a convention composed mainly of Latter-day Saints, among whom were six apostles and twenty bishops, should be found ready and willing to sacrifice one of their divine ordinances for a State government ? As a Gentile who was no enemy but who had many reasons to be their friend, he in conclusion said, "Stay where you are, and bide your time.56”.

During this pivotal period it was decided that constitutionality of the polygamy law should be properly tested through a test case provided to the courts and Brigham Young was released on the decision the US Supreme court57. This decision provoked outrage from critics of the church who claimed his release marked the end of an important judicial effort to bring Utah under federal control, “the Mormon problem is one of those rare social and religious phenomena demanding for its solution more real statesmanship than any problem of the decade. Loyal citizens of the Territory are looking with anxious eyes toward Congress for such legislation as shall restore the supremacy of law in the Territory and afford some earnest protection of life and property. Prominent leaders of the Mormon Church, charged upon the gravest crimes, are today turned free upon our streets, and the Mormon Attorney General, now the prosecuting officer of the Territory in these cases, refuses to arrest or prosecute them”58.

Prior to testing the constitutionality of the anti-polygamy law, Congress first strengthened the Morrill Act by passing the Poland Act in 1874 which placed the Utah courts firmly under federal control59. The law also provided for divorce rights for women involved in plural marriages which included allowance for alimony and child support. More importantly for the federal prosecutions, the act also declared that it was not necessary to prove that a men and woman were actually married before the polygamy law could be enforced, making it the same offense if they merely “cohabitated”.60 A Juror could be excluded from any trial case relating to adultery, bigamy or polygamy if he “practices polygamy, or that he believes in the rightfulness of the same61”. This regulation against an individuals belief in polygamy - independent of their actions - effectively excluded the entire LDS community. If they denied a belief in polygamy, they were not loyal to the Prophet and the Church, and therefore were no longer a Mormon. If they stated a belief in polygamy, they forfeited the rights of being a citizen of the United States. While the bill passed congress, it was not without controversy. Several congressmen pointed out that a bill of this nature had no precedent in US law and since the majority of the people of Utah were Mormon and they would be disenfranchised from their legal rights. Federal judges, who came from outside the territory, would be able to pack juries against Mormons until every Mormon was locked up, leaving a non-Mormon minority to take possession of everything the Mormons had built up. According to Congressman Crounse “you are striking down the very first principles of American liberty. You are taxing men without representation, you are demanding obedience to laws which they have no voice in making, and you foist upon them officers to execute the laws under no responsibility to the people governed. It is a proposition unheard of-in the history of American law-making of jurisprudence62” Several congressmen voiced the opinion that the system of polygamy could only thrive in Utah as a result of its earlier isolation. The railway, telegraph and other modern influences would weaken the patriarchal system and it would eventually disappear.

Representative Potter asserted “if a whole community cannot be punished for violating a law, then the answer indicates the needlessness of passing laws which cannot be enforced. Many years ago we passed a law against polygamy which we never have enforced. Here now is another law which, if it can be enforced, will have the effect of driving these people out of the Territory, leaving the lands to those there who are non-Mormons, and which we propose to enforce by giving to the non-Mormons the control of the juries that may sit upon that question. If polygamy could be broken up by mere law it would have been done before this.” In opposition to this line of thought, Mr. Ward of Illinois contended that “The population in that Territory is to-day mixed. About ninety thousand of the one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and twenty thousand people of that Territory are followers of the "prophet" and this new religion, worshipers of this to me "unknown god;" for the god that sacrifices women to the lusts of men under the form of a plurality of wives is a god that I do not worship.” He went on to claim that refusing to pass the law because it was unfair to Mormons actually maintained a system in Utah that was unfair to all non-Mormons. Arguing against the rights for religions protection, Congressman Ward contended that “I fully accord freedom to worship God and freedom of religious belief; but I remember in history the enormous crimes which have been perpetrated in the name of religion. It was in the name of religion and it is in the name of religion that the widow mounts the funeral pyre in India. It is in the name of religion that helpless infants are sacrificed in the waters of the Ganges. It was in the name of religion that thousands of human beings were sacrificed to the Aztec gods upon the bloody altars of Mexico. It is in the name of religion to-day, all over the world that bloody, miserable, wicked things are being done.63”

Brigham Young and George Q. Cannon proceeded to challenge the constitutionality of the law by arranging a test case for the court. Young’s personal secretary, George Reynolds volunteered to stand trail and he was arrested for bigamy in 1874. After some initial judicial difficulties, the trial finally began in October of 1875. The jury found Reynolds guilty on Dec. 1875 and the conviction was upheld by the Territorial Supreme Court on July 6, 1876. The only remaining hopes were with an appeal to the US Supreme court.64

During this period, LDS church leaders did not moderate in their declarations that polygamy was a necessary requirement for exaltation. On July 21, 1874, Brigham Young addressed a large congregation in Salt Lake stating that he had personally received a divine revelation on the doctrine polygamy while he was in England in 1841, prior to Joseph’s revelation of 1843. He did not mention anything concerning these revelations until after returning to Nauvoo - “Joseph had not mentioned this, there had not been a thought of it in the church that I knew anything about at that time65”. After confirming his belief in the doctrine of plural marriage, President Young again asked for loyalty from the membership “ How many are there in this church who are now wavering and shaking because they have spoken against the ordinances of heaven, and especially against that ordinance which God has revealed for the exaltation of the children of men in celestial marriage? Hold that as sacred as your own soul; if you cannot see the beauty and glory of it, and feel it in your own hearts, say nothing against it” .

The federal courts, under Chief Justice McKean, had clearly and admittedly chosen polygamous marriage to attack the institution of the Mormon church. Ironically, divorce turned out to be the source of Justice McKean’s downfall. This occurred during March of 1875 in the divorce case between Brigham Young and his nineteenth wife, Ann Eliza Young. During February, Justice McKean had ordered Brigham to pay alimony and sustenance to Eliza and Brigham had refused, claiming the right to appeal the case to a higher court. On March 11, McKean declared that Brigham was in contempt of court and ordered that he be incarcerated in the local penitentiary . Public sympathy was aroused by the act of sending the 74 year old Young to prison for 24 hours on a minor charge. Newspapers around the country responded to the contradiction of Judge McKean claiming on one hand the Mormon polygamous marriages were not legally valid and on the other hand ordering Brigham Young to pay significant alimony to his 19th wife. The New York Post summarized the difficulties with “Married according to the rules of that church, she knew what they were. They expressly permit a woman to claim divorce at any time, without alimony. Connecting herself with Brigham in what Judge McKean has always rightly declared to be an illicit way, she renders herself, as well as Brigham, liable to criminal prosecution. By his decision the judge recedes from his own principles, and may fairly be hailed by the Mormon Church as a convert to the doctrine of polygamy.66" US President Grant reacted by removing Judge McKean from the bench. Stating that this did not indicate a change in the administration’s stance against polygamy, the removal was due to “several acts of McKean which are considered ill-advised, tyrannical and in excess of his powers as judge.”.

Following the death of Brigham Young in August, 1877, the LDS leadership did not waiver in their support of polygamy. Apostle Joseph F. Smith, speaking in July 1878, confidently declared that plural marriage was necessary for exaltation and warned that “Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was... non-essential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. ... I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false.”67 In the same discourse, Joseph F Smith, the nephew of Joseph Smith Jr. and cousin of Joseph Smith III, strongly asserted that the prophet Joseph shrank from the weight of his responsibility in “establishing this new innovation upon the established customs of the world” and it was not until an “angel of God, with a drawn sword, stood before him and commanded that he should enter into the practice of that principle, or he should be utterly destroyed” that he moved ahead to establish the doctrine. In addition to this, Joseph F. Smith contended that the principle had been revealed as early as 1832 and it was known to Oliver Cowdery, who abused Joseph’s confidence by “taking liberties without license” and “ hence the publication, by O. Cowdery, about this time, of an article on marriage, which was carefully worded, and afterwards found its way into the Doctrine and Covenants without authority.68” Somehow, Joseph F. argued that this section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which had been approved by the unanimous consent of the 1835 conference and affirmed the church’s belief that monogamy is the only form of approved marriage “ is an indisputable evidence of the early existence of the knowledge of the principle of patriarchal marriage by the Prophet Joseph, and also by Oliver Cowdery”.

The United States government proved to be as inflexible in their stance on polygamy as the LDS leadership. On January 6, 1879, the US Supreme Court upheld the earlier court decisions. Responding to the question whether Reynold’s rights to be married to more than one wife were protected by his religious duty, Chief Justice Waite responded that it came down to the “ the guilt of one who knowingly violates a law which has been properly enacted, if he entertains a religious belief that the law is wrong69” Allowing that Congress could not pass a law which would prohibit the free exercise of religion because the first amendment to the Constitution would prohibit such a law, the question became whether the anti-polygamy law fell under that category. Relying on Thomas Jefferson’s perspective, that “ Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions”. Through this action, “Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order”.

Arguing that “ Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people. .. and from the earliest history of England polygamy has been treated as an offense against society” the Justices went on to state that “ In the face of all this evidence, it is impossible to believe that the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom was intended to prohibit legislation in respect to this most important feature of social life. Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law.”. In the end, the decision was framed as the right of US Congress to protect the institution of marriage “ as a law of the organization of society under the exclusive dominion of the United States, it is provided that plural marriages shall not be allowed”. In a more general sense, the Justices further concluded that a more open interpretation of religious freedom would lead to anarchy; “ Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances70”

Once the Morrill act was declared Constitutional, Congress began to strengthen the law through amendments. The 1882 Edmunds act, the first of these amendments, explicitly stated that it was a crime to “cohabit” with more than one woman and this freed the prosecution from proving that a marriage had actually taken place. It declared that not only could a person be excluded from jury duty for believing in plural marriage, but also for not answering the question. The act went further to disqualify anyone who practiced bigamy, polygamy or cohabitation, from voting or holding public office71. This passage of this law opened a time where more than 1300 LDS men were imprisoned under these terms72. In addition, some women were imprisoned for refusal to testify against their husbands.

In the face of this accelerated prosecution by the US government, LDS president John Taylor did not waiver in his support of the plural marriage doctrine. He claimed to receive a revelation in 1882 which stated “ You may appoint Seymour B. Young to fill up the vacancy in the presiding quorum of the Seventies, if he will conform to my law: for it is not meet that men who will not abide my law shall preside over my Priesthood73” Seymour was a monogamist at the time of this revelation and he could not be appointed until he conformed to the law of plural marriage. This revelation went further to state “ And let the Presidents of Stakes also purify themselves, and the priesthood and people of the Stakes over which they preside, and organize the Priesthood in their various Stakes according to my law, in all the various departments thereof, in the High Councils, in the Elders' Quorums, and in the Bishops' and their Councils;... for my Priesthood whom I have called and whom I have Sustained and honored, shall honor me and obey my laws, and the laws of my holy Priesthood, or they shall not be considered worthy to hold my Priesthood, saith the Lord”. From this point onward, Taylor began to pressure leading priesthood members to accept plural marriage.74

The unrelenting pressure built up in this fierce opposition between church and state can be clearly seen in the case of Bishop John Sharp, who was arrested for cohabitation under the Edmond’s law. Initially, Sharp pled not guilty because he had entered into his marriages prior to the Morril Anti-bigamy law. Surprizingly, on Sept. 19, 1885, Sharp reversed his plea to guilty and he made a formal apology to the court. In his statement, Sharp contended that he understood that the law did not require him to abandon his wives and children, but his family had agreed to arrange their living arrangements to conform with the new law until “an overruling Providence shall decree greater religious tolerance in the land75”. The court viewed Sharp’s apology as favourable and chose to impose a fine of $300 and forgo imprisonment, hoping that his example would encourage others to submit to the law. Other prominent church leaders before and after Sharp had refused to acknowledge or obey the law and were imprisoned. Sharp’s compromise was not viewed favorably by many in the LDS community, stating that he had erred by “placing the law of man above the law of God”76. Sharp was subsequently asked by church leaders to resign as Bishop, leaving the NY Times to conclude “the experience of Bishop Sharp reveals again the stubborn character of the Mormon’s opposition to the law which the Government is trying to enforce ... when he submitted to the law he fell under the ban. The church condemned him and he lost the respect and confidence of those whom he had associated”.

In his last public address, given February, 1885, President Taylor recounted the history of persecution that the Mormons had endured, saying “Before you came here you were banished from the State of Missouri into the State of Illinois. What for? Because you had the audacity to worship God according to the dictates of your own consciences. ... What for? Because of polygamy? No, there was no such thing then alleged. What for? Because you had the hardihood, in this land of freedom, to worship God according to the dictates of your own consciences. For this crime you had to leave your homes, and you were despoiled and robbed and plundered, and had to flee as exiles into another land” 77. Referring to the persecutions that the Mormons were experiencing under the polygamy prosecutions, Taylor stated that God had revealed principles to the Saints and told them to obey while the “The nation tells us, "If you do we will persecute you and proscribe you.” He then asked the question “Which shall we obey? I would like to obey and place myself in subjection to every law of man. What then? Am I to disobey the law of God? Has any man a right to control my conscience, or your conscience, or to tell me I shall believe this or believe the other, or reject this or reject the other? No man has a right to do it.78”

Referring to the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, Taylor asserted his belief that the courts and congress had overstepped these boundaries and in so doing “by their action they are interfering with my rights, my liberty and my religion, and with those sacred principles that bind me to my God, to my family, to my wives and my children ... I can die for the truth; but I cannot as an honorable man disobey my God at their behest, forsake my wives and my children, and trample these holy and eternal obligations under foot, that God has given me to keep, and which reach into the eternities that are to come. I won't do it, so help me, God.“ Reminding the audience that the Constitution expressly states that no law shall be passed that impairs the obligation of contracts, President Taylor pointed out how the Edmunds Law was being given ex post facto powers so people could be punished for marriages which were not prohibited when they were entered into, stating “ I myself married my wives long before there was any law upon the subject, and many of you did the same, yet by an ex post facto application of laws since enacted the attempt is now made to punish us as criminals. I have never broken any law of these United States, and I presume that some of you, whom our enemies now seek to criminate and drag into court as violators of law, can say the same”.

Taylor went on to claim that he and his wives moved into separate homes in order to comply with the Edmunds law, even though he did not agree with it. Further legal outrages were being exerted through the use of test oaths, which were “ another violation of the Constitution and by which an attempt is being made to hold all men guilty until they prove themselves innocent.” Taylor also pointed out the irony that some members of the church “ were actually trying to seek an asylum in another land away from the persecutions of free, America, and I do not know but that we shall have a lot of pilgrim Fathers again here in this country, fleeing, not from England by way of Holland, nor from France, nor from any of those countries where they used to persecute people and proscribe them for their religion, but from America, "The land of the free, the home of the brave, and the asylum for the oppressed"—fleeing from there because of their religious sentiments”. Counseling the church members on what they should do, Taylor stated “wait a little longer. And after you have borne with a good deal, then endure "as seeing Him that is invisible," ... and feel, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you." Predicting that the constitutional violations would ultimately cause serious problems to the United States, Taylor concluded with “ as I have said before I say to-day, I tell you in the name of God, Woe! to them that fight against Zion, for God will fight against them. But let us be on the side of human liberty and human rights, and the protection of all correct principles and laws and government, and maintain every principle that is upright and virtuous and honorable, and let the world take the balance if they want, we don't want it.”79. At the end of this address, John Taylor went into hiding to escape US authorities where he remained until his death in July, 1887.

During March of 1885, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Edmund’s act was constitutional in its use of a test oath on polygamy to deny voting rights from Mormon polygamists. The March 24, 1885 New York Times, Justice Matthews delivered the opinion of the court as “The people of the United States, as sovereign owners of the national Territories, have supreme power over them and their inhabitants” and “certainly no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in forming of a free governing commonwealth, to take rank as one of the co-ordinate States of the Union, than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family as consisting and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony, the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization.” This noble purpose justified the removal of voting rights from those who were “practically hostile” to these purposes.80

John Taylor, while serving the final years as President of the Church in hiding, received a more significant - and hotly disputed - revelation received on Sept. 27, 1886. Asking how long the saints would have to endure the doctrine of plural marriage, Taylor received the following “My son John. You have asked me concerning the new & everlasting covenant & how far it is binding upon my people. Thus saith the Lord all commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by my [me] or by my authority and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant for I the Lord am everlasting & my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with; but they stand for ever.81” Ending with “ as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph [Smith] all those who would enter into my glory must & shall obey my law & have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham[']s seed & would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting & those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so amen”, this revelation forms the foundation of Mormon Fundamentalist beliefs82.

The Federal government continued to strengthen legislation to end the practice of polygamy. The most powerful bill, known as the Edmunds-Tucker act, was passed into law during March of 188783. Most significantly, this law dissolved the corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, provided provisions to “wind up the affairs of said corporation” and take possession of the church property. Allowances were provided to sell the church assets and provide the proceeds for the benefit of common schools in the Territory. The law also dissolved the Perpetual Emigrating Fund which provided financial assistance to converts immigrating to Utah. Women’s voting rights were revoked and the legislation removed confidential privileges which excepted women from testifying against their husbands. The new law added additional restrictions on adultery making it an offense punishable by up to three years in prison and removed the restriction that adultery complaints could only be made by either the husband or the wife, meaning that any third party could lodge an adultery complaint. A new incest law, with minimum prison terms of three years, was implemented for relationships up to the fourth degree and marriage certificates were required for all legal marriages to facilitate polygamy prosecutions. The official oath, which prohibited polygamists and bigamists from voting or holding office was amended to include “ he will not, directly or indirectly, aid or abet, counsel or advise any other person to commit any of said crimes.84”
In fulfillment of some of Taylor’s predictions, colonies were established in Canada and Northern Mexico with the purpose of continuing polygamy outside of US territorial lands.85 86 These colonies, for continuing the principle of plural marriage were being settled in parallel with the efforts of the July 1887 constitutional convention which convened in an attempt to achieve Utah’s statehood. This convention produced a proposed state constitution with section 12 stating “Bigamy and polygamy being considered incompatible with “a republican form of government”, each of them is hereby forbidden and declared a misdemeanor87” Congress rejected this bid for statehood, not considering it to be a sincere move to suppress polygamy.

As the powerful Edmunds-Tucker legislation made its’ way through the courts, and with over a thousand Mormon polygamists held in prison, the Mormon leadership looked for ways to cope with the new political landscape. During November of 1889, in the midst of this pressure, LDS President Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal “ I attended a meeting with the [Lawyers] at the Gardo [House] in the Evening. They wanted me to make some Concessi[o]n to [the] Court upon Poligamy 88”. In response to this his prayers and meditation, President Woodruff believed he received a revelation which stated, in part “ Let not my servants who are called to the Presidency of my church, deny my word or my law, which concerns the salvation of the children of men. Let them pray for the Holy Spirit, which shall be given them to guide them in their acts. Place not yourselves in jeopardy to your enemies by promise. Your enemies seek your destruction and the destruction of my people. If the Saints will hearken unto my voice, and the counsel of my Servants, the wicked shall not prevail. Let my servants, who officiate as your counselors before the courts, make their pleadings as they are moved upon by the Holy spirit, without any further pledges from the Priesthood. I the Lord will hold the courts, with the officers of government, and the nation responsible for their acts towards the inhabitants of Zion”

Contrary to President Woodruff’s predictions, on May 19, 1890, the US Supreme Court determined that the Edmunds-Tucker act was constitutional and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as incorporated according to the ordinance of the state of Deseret “ are hereby disapproved and annulled, and the said corporation, in so far as it may now have, or pretend to have, any legal existence, is hereby dissolved89” The supreme court decision stated that the church and its’ property were devoted to the spread of the fundamental and essential LDS doctrine of polygamy, which was opposed and contrary to good morals, public policy and the laws of the United States. Rejecting the church’s claim that the property of the corporation was held for religious and charitable uses, the court found that these uses were intended to be subservient to the practice of polygamy, which was characterized as a “blot on our civilization”, “a return to barbarism” and “contrary to the spirit of Christianity, and of the civilization which Christianity has produced in the Western world”. The church was also condemned for their “defiance of government authorities”, their attempt to “establish an independent community” and for their “efforts to drive from the territory all who were not connected with them in communion or sympathy”. Acknowledging the history of Mormon persecution in Missouri and Illinois, the court argued that this did not provide an “excuse for their persistent defiance of law under the government of the United States”.

Addressing religious freedom, the court decision referred to a claimed right of assassination among the “Thugs of India”, suttee or the Hindu practice of burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre and the practice of human sacrifice among the ancient Britons as being examples of things that people have done under the name of religious belief. Based on these examples, the court argued that “the state has a perfect right to prohibit polygamy and and all other open offenses against the enlightened sentiment of mankind, notwithstanding the pretense of religious conviction by which they may be advocated and practiced”. Summing up the facts of the case, the court stated that the LDS church was a “ contumacious [stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority] organization, wielding by its resources an immense power in the territory of Utah, and employing those resources and that power in constantly attempting to oppose, thwart, and subvert the legislation of congress, and the will of the government of the United States”. The church’s property was declared to be in custody of the law, waiting for the courts’ final judgement on its’ disposition and “in view of the illegal uses to which it is subject in the hands of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, whether incorporated or unincorporated. The conditions for claiming possession of it by the members of the sect or community under the act do not at present exist”. With that statement, the U.S. government began seizing the property of the LDS church.90.

In response to the supreme court decision, LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued a document on the 24th of September 1890 with the stated intention of prohibiting plural marriage. On October 6 ,1890 Counselor Lorenzo Snow brought this document, now known as the Manifesto, before the General Conference in Salt Lake City for a vote of approval to accept Woodruff’s “declaration concerning plural marriages as authoritative and binding”. The Manifesto, now published as Official Declaration in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, explicitly responded to the recent Supreme Court decision with “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.91” The document further stated that the church leadership were no longer teaching polygamy or plural marriages nor permitting people from entering into the practice, concluding with “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” Perhaps responding to fears that the manifesto was placing the laws of man above the laws of God, Woodruff added “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty92”. This document formally ended the period of openly sanctioned polygamy in the LDS church.

Woodruff’s manifesto quickly normalized relations with the Federal government and paved the way for Utah’s statehood. In 1892, President Harrison declared amnesty to all polygamy convicts.93 President Grover Cleveland further soothed relations by pardoning and enfranchising Utah’s Mormons who had been excluded for polygamy in September 1894.94 An enabling act was created in 1894 to provide a constitution for the new state. This act contained a section stating “ That perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and that no inhabitant of said State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship: Provided, That polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.95” President Cleveland signed the bill for Utah’s statehood on July 16, 1894, ending nearly 40 years of bitter struggle between Utah’s Mormons and the US Federal Government over the definition of marriage.96

  1. History of the Reorganized church p. 39
  3. Journal of discourses vol 1 p361
  4. Journal of discourses vol 1 p361
  5. Deseret News Extra Sept. 14, 1852 p. 32
  6. Deseret News Extra Sept. 14, 1852 p. 34
  7. Deseret News Extra Sept. 14, 1852 p. 37
  8. ibid p. 47
  9. ibid p. 14
  10. ibid p. 14
  11. ibid p. 14
  12. ibid p. 15
  13. ibid p. 16
  14. ibid p. 17
  15. ibid p. 19
  16. idid p.21
  17. ibid p. 25
  18. ibid p. 25
  19. ibid p.26
  20. Excerpted and edited from Peter Crawley and Chad J. Flake, A Mormon Fifty: an exhibition in
    the Harold B. Lee Library in conjunction with the annual conference of the Mormon History
    Association (Provo, Utah, Friends of the Brigham Young University Library, 1984) Item 39, p.
  21. RLDS History v3 p200 Lamoni Iowa herald house 1902
  22. RLDS Hist. v3 p. 215
  23. The Power of God and the Power of Satan: Apostle Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor to
    Brigham Young and father of President Heber J. Grant, sermon delivered on 19 February 1854
    (JD 2: 13-14)
  24. ibid p. 13
    When the family organization was revealed from heaven—the patriarchal order of God, and
    Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in
    Israel. Says one brother to another, "Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are
    binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife,
    what would you say to that?" "I would tell him to go to hell." This was the spirit of many in the
    early days of this Church (JD 2:13)
  25. JD vol 2 p.14
  26. “ I would ask you if Jehovah has not in all ages tried His people by the power of Lucifer and his associates; and
    on the other hand, has He not tried them and proved them by His Prophets? Did the Lord actually want Abraham to
    kill Isaac? Did the Prophet Joseph want every man's wife he asked for? He did not, but in that thing was the grand
    thread of the Priesthood developed. The grand object in view was to try the people of God, to see what was in them.
    If such a man of God should come to me and say, "I want your gold and silver, or your wives," I should say, "Here
    they are, I wish I had more to give you, take all I have got." A man who has got the Spirit of God, and the light of
    eternity in him, has no trouble about such matters.I am talking now of the present day. There was a time when we
    could be tried pretty severely upon these points, but I now could pick you out hundreds of men that cannot be tried
    in this way, but they will hand over every thing they possess.” (JD 2:14)
  27. “Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion,
    please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world,
    then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought
    into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified. ... I do not despise to be
    called a son of Abraham, if he had a dozen wives; or to be called a brother, a son, a child of the
    Savior, if he had Mary, and Martha, and several others, as wives; and though he did cast seven
    devils out of one of them, it is all the same to me (JD v 2 p 82)
  28. “ my believing for a moment that Paul wished to signify to Timothy that he must select a man
    to fill the office of a Bishop that would have but one wife, I believe directly the reverse; but his
    advice to Timothy amounts simply to this—It would not be wise for you to ordain a man to the
    office of a Bishop unless he has a wife; you must not ordain a single or unmarried man to that
    calling. If you will read this chapter carefully, you will learn the qualifications necessary for
    Deacons and Bishops, and also for their wives.... I have no testimony from the Bible, neither
    have I from any history that I have any knowledge of, that a man was ever prohibited in the
    Church in the days of Paul from taking more than one wife “ MARRIAGE RELATIONS OF BISHOPS
    AND DEACONS An Address by President Brigham Young Delivered at the General Conference, in the Tabernacle,
    Great Salt Lake City, October 6, 1854.JD v2 p.88
    Remarks made by President Brigham Young, in the Bowery, Provo, July 14, 1855.
  30. ibid p 265
  31. ibid p. 266
  33. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875
    Statutes at Large, 37th Congress, 2nd Session Ch. 126
  34. NY Times IMPORTANT FROM UTAH.; A Writ Under the Polygamy Act Issued Against Brigham
    Young--He Responds promptly to the Summons. Published: March 14, 1863
  35. JD V11: p127 Remarks by President BRIGHAM YOUNG, delivered in the Bowery, Great Salt
    Lake City, June 18, 1865.
  36. JD V11 p 260
  37. JD V11 p261
  38. ibid p 262
  39. JD 11:268 Remarks by President BRIGHAM YOUNG, in the Bowery, in G.S.L. City, August
    19th, 1866.
  40. JD 11 p 269 “I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it
  41. is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us. It may be
    hard for many, and especially for the ladies, yet it is no harder for them than it is for the gentlemen. It is the word of
    the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings
    which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the
    salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were
    no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: "We will pass along in the Church without obeying or
    submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken
    up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in
    obtaining some earthly honor, character and office, etc,"—the man that has that in his heart, and will continue to
    persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial
    glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain
    unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as
    kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.”
  42. JD 11 p 270
  43. The Deseret News Nov 7. 1871 “The Great Crusade”
  45. “The population in that
    Territory is to-day mixed. About ninety thousand of the one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and twenty thousand
    people of that Territory are followers of the "prophet" and this new religion, worshipers of this to me "unknown
    god;" for the god that sacrifices women to the lusts of men under the form of a plurality of wives is a god that I do
    not worship. I belong to no particular faith; I espouse no particular form of religion; I would not in any way-impose
    unnecessary or improper burdens on that people or any other; but when they stand up in the light of this age and tell
    me that their religion is better than mine, that their faith is better than mine, that their civilization is better than mine,
    that their institutions are entitled to protection beyond what our institutions are entitled to, I say "Hands off; I will
    not oppress you, but there must be fair play."
  46. History of Salt Lake page
  47. The Nation Number 334 page 336 (New York Nov 23, 1871)
  49. The Latter Day Saints Millennial star Vol 33 p 726
  50. History of Salt Lake City p. 528
  51. History of Salt Lake City p. 535
  52. Millennial Star Volume 33 p 722
  53. History of Salt Lake City p. 558
  54. History of Salt Lake City p. 575
  55. History of Salt Lake City p. 578
  56. History of Salt Lake City p. 580
  57. History of Salt Lake City p. 598
  58. “No demonstration of applause were made, though the court room was filled with Mormons, and a
    stranger ignorant of the personelle of the parties present would have supposed that the greatest criminal
    of the age - if reports be true- had just been released from incarceration and restored to his liberty ... As to
    the future of Utah, I venture no predictions. NY Times May 11, 1872
  60. Poland Act - Section 3 “When a bill is filed by a woman to declare marriage or pretended
    marriage void, on account of a previous subsisting marriage of the defendant to another woman,
    the court, or judge thereof may grant such reasonable sum for alimony and counsel fees as the
    circumstances of the case will justify; and may likewise, by final decree, make such allowance
    for the maintenance of the complainant and her children by the defendant as may be just and
    reasonable. .And whenever, in any proceeding for divorce, or in any civil cause, or in any
    criminal prosecution, it is necessary to prove the existence of the marriage relation between two
    persons, it shall not be necessary to prove the same by the production of any record or certificate
    of the marriage, but evidence of cohabitation between the parties as husband and wife, and the
    acts, conduct, declarations, and admissions of the parties shall be admissible, and the marriage
    may be established like any question of fact.”
  61. Poland Act - Section 4
  62. Poland Act - Legislative debate,
  63. “So far from there being any packing of juries against Mormons, it is a fact—and I should object to it myself for
    that reason if I objected to it at all—it is the fact that it is almost a packing of juries against ourselves. When I say
    "ourselves," I mean those who do not believe in blood atonement; I mean those who do not believe in the order of
    Enoch; I mean those who do not believe in this Latter-Day nonsense, as I see fit to call it; I mean those who do not
    believe in the sacrifice of one-half of creation to the lusts and enormities of the other half. I do not believe in these
    things myself, Mr. Speaker.” Poland Act - legislative debate
  65. Deseret News No. 22 v 23 (1874-07-01) p.4 Discourse by Brigham Young delivered in the Third Ward meeting
    house, Salt Lake City, Sunday evening June 21st 1874.
  66. History of Salt Lake p. 617
  67. JD V20 P28 DISCOURSE BY ELDER JOSEPH F. SMITH, Delivered in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday
    Morning, July 7, 1878 “Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of
    superfluity, or non-essential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. In other words, some of
    the Saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the
    Priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful,
    as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea,
    for I know it is false. There is no blessing promised except upon conditions, and no blessing can
    be obtained by mankind except by faithful compliance with the conditions, or law, upon which
    the same is promised.”.
  68. JD volume 20 p 29
    OCTOBER, 1878, Term
  71. Edmunds Act Forty Seventh Congress Session I Ch. 47, 48 p 31-33 March 22, 1882
  72. and Anti-polygamy legislation by Ray Jay Davis at http://
  73. Revelation to John Taylor at Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, on 13 October 1882
    Revelation given throught [through] President John Taylor, at Salt Lake City, Utah Territory,
    October 13, 1882. (Printed in Swedish and German D&C)
  74. Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy, Extensions of Power 1997, p. 181.
  75. NY Times September 25, 1885
  76. NY Times Sept 5, 1886
  78. JD 26 p 152
  79. JD 26 p 156
  80. NY Times March 24, 1885
  81. Revelation to John Taylor at Centerville, Utah Territory, on 27 September 1886
    (Manuscript in possession of LDS church, text from photograph of original)
  84. Edmunds-Tucker act - Sess II Ch 397 p 640
  85. from Perry L. Porter
  86. Chief Mountain country : a history of Cardston and district volume II, p. 9
  87. Constitution of the State of Utah, 1887 p 40 accessed at
  88. Revelation to Wilford Woodruff at Salt Lake City, Utah
    Territory, on 24 November 1889 : (Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 9:67-69, entry of 24 Nov.
  89. Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States, 136 U.S.1 (1890)
  90. The dissenting view argued that absolute power should never be conceded to belong
    to the system of government or any department. However, it conceded that Congress
    had legitimate power to suppress crime, regardless of claims to religious freedom.
    Under this power, Congress had the right to “ extirpate polygamy in any of the territories, by
    the enactment of a criminal code directed to that end”. The only disagreement was on
    whether Congress had the right to seize the property of persons or corporations
    because they have been found guilty of criminal practices.
  91. LDS Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration 1
  92. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt
    Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.) included in Official
    Declaration 1 in 1981 edition D&C
  93. NY Times July 18, 1894
    theconstitutionalconventioniscalled.html History Blazer August 1995, Stanford Layton
    theconstitutionalconventioniscalled.html Utah Enabling Act, 1894 Section 3
  96. NYTimes July 18, 1845 Utah to become a State

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