Mormon Polygamy (Bigamy)
As 1899 closed, more than seven million Americans signed a petition asking the U.S. House of Representatives to exclude B. H. Roberts from his elected seat because he was a polygamist. There were proposals to pass a Constitutional amendment prohibiting polygamy and polygamous cohabitation, and even talk of efforts to disfranchise all Mormons.244 In separate interviews with newspaper correspondents, President Snow denied that polygamous marriages “had been performed by the Church, or with its sanction, since he became its President” and decided, as a further concession, that polygamists should promise to obey the laws against unlawful cohabitation when brought to trial.245 When this decision was challenged in a meeting of the First Presidency with the apostles, the Presiding Bishop, and the senior president of the First Council of Seventy, President Snow asked, “Which was worse: the abrogation of polygamy or the counsel to abstain from having children?” The meeting adjourned without formal vote.246 A week later on 8 January 1900, President Snow issued a formal statement written for him by non-Mormon Judge George W. Bartch, which stated:
. . . the Church has positively abandoned the practice of polygamy, or the solemnization of plural marriages, in this and every other State; and . . . no member or officer thereof has any authority whatever to perform such plural marriages or enter into such relations. Nor does the Church advise or encourage unlawful cohabitation on the part of any of its members.
If, therefore, any member disobeys the law, either as to polygamy or unlawful cohabitation, he must bear his own burden, or in other words be answerable to the tribunals of the land for his own action pertaining thereto.
In 1911, the First Presidency put this 1900 declaration on an equal footing with the two manifestoes sustained by general conferences in 1890 and 1904.247
At first glance, this statement by President Snow seems to echo his testimony and that of the First Presidency before the Master in Chancery in October 1891, but there is a crucial difference. His 1900 declaration omitted Church discipline as a possible punishment for infractions of this Church rule against new polygamy and cohabitation and specifically limited the consequences of such violations to civil jurisdiction. This omission may simply reflect Judge Bartch�s secular and legalistic perspective, but it seems unlikely that President Snow overlooked this amending of his 1891 testimony.
While President Snow was expressing public and private denials of new polygamy in 1900, he also seemed to be giving private, retroactive approval to new plural marriages already performed. At the temple meeting of the First Presidency and apostles on 29 December 1899, Apostle Owen Woodruff reported that at Colonia Oaxaca he had sealed some couples who could not afford to travel to the nearest temple and “now asked for authority to perform sealings in that country.” President Cannon and Apostle John Henry Smith recommended that President Snow reinstitute this authorization to perform sealings outside the temple, particularly in Mexico, and President Snow agreed. It is unclear whether he knew that the two sealings Woodruff had performed were plural marriages.248 Three days after his public declaration, President Snow told the apostles that “there were brethren who still seemed to have the idea that it was possible under his administration to obtain a plural wife and have her sealed to him…. He said emphatically that it could not be done.”249 The day after this meeting, Loren H. Harmer was released as bishop of a Springville (Utah) ward because he was sentenced to the Utah penitentiary for cohabitation with the plural wife he had married in Mexico in 1897; George Gibbs, the First Presidency secretary, later reported that President Snow “had said that he rather admired that bishop for taking his medicine.”250 In May 1900, David Eccles asked Gibbs to intercede on behalf of his post-Manifesto plural wife whose bishop threatened to excommunicate her for refusing to identify the father of her child.
“President Snow said he admired the grit of the girl,” said that he did not want to know the identity of the child�s father, and told Gibbs to advise the man to move to Mexico with his plural wife. Presidents Snow and Cannon wrote a letter to the polygamous wife�s bishop instructing him to accept the woman�s admission that she had given birth to a child and to make no further requirement of her or take action against her.251
Nevertheless, in private instructions until well into 1901, the last year of his life, Lorenzo Snow seemed resolute in his refusal to authorize the performance of new polygamous marriages. When Alexander F. Macdonald asked permission in August 1900 to perform a plural marriage for a bishop in the Mexican colonies, “President Snow then declared that no such sealings could be performed in Mexico any quicker than in the United States, with his consent, for such marriages had been forbidden.”252 Apostle Brigham Young, Jr., who wanted to marry a new plural wife, recorded their conversation on 13 March 1901:
He said there cannot be a plural marriage solemnized in this Church without my consent and I have never given consent for this to be done since president of the Church. God has removed this privilege from the people and until He restores it I shall not consent to any man taking a plural wife; it is just as fair for one as it is for all to go without . . . Has any one of the apostles a right to seal plural wives to men by reason of former concessions made to them by presidency? No sir, such right must come from me and no man shall be authorized by me to break the law of the land.253
It would be difficult to compose a more explicit, comprehensive denial of sanctioned polygamy; but the fact remains that during the presidency of Lorenzo Snow in 1901, four apostles (including Brigham Young, Jr.) married plural wives, and at least one other apostle attempted to do so. Abraham Owen Woodruff had been courting his prospective plural wife for months and, after several private meetings with Lorenzo Snow in January 1901, he married her.254 Apostle Matthias F. Cowley performed the plural marriage an 7 April 1901 for Apostle Marriner W. Merrill.255 Despite President Snow�s firm refusal when Brigham Young, Jr., spoke with him about new polygamy in March, Young married a plural wife the following August. In view of Young�s lifelong compliance even with Church presidents with whom he ardently disagreed, it is virtually impossible to see this marriage as an act of deliberate insubordination.256 John W. Taylor claimed that he married two plural wives in August 1901 with the permission of the Church president;257 but the clearest evidence that Lorenzo Snow gave permission individually to the apostles to marry plural wives in 1901 comes from Heber J. Grant, who later wrote: “Before I went to Japan [in July 1901] my President intimated that I had better take the action needed to increase my family,” and Grant�s notebook indicates that President Snow gave this permission on 26 May 1901: “Temple Fast mtg–17 years since Gusta and I married–She willing to have me do my duty. & Pt Snow.”258 But to make the ambiguity complete, despite what Lorenzo Snow may have told these five apostles privately, he told the Quorum of the Twelve as a body at the temple meeting of 11 July 1901: “Some of the brethren are worrying about the matter, and feel that they ought to have other wives. Brethren do not worry; you will lose nothing…. Brethren, don�t worry about these things, and if you don�t happen to secure the means you would like, don�t feel disappointed.” In these remarks, President Snow referred specifically to Heber J. Grant who concluded that these instructions to the entire Quorum repealed the private authorization the Church president had given him in May; he “dropped the matter” and left within a few days for Japan.259 When Lorenzo Snow died in October 1901, he had been preceded six months earlier by his first counselor, George Q. Cannon, who had the widespread title of “the Mormon Premier” and the reputation of being “the power behind the throne.”260
George Q. Cannon (Apostle, 1860-1901, Counselor, 1873-77, 1880-87, 1889-98, 1898-1901)
Before young George Q. Cannon ever learned of the 1843 revelation on plural marriage, God “manifested to me that that principle would be revealed to this Church and practiced by the Church.”261 Nevertheless, following ordination as an elder and seventy at Nauvoo, he remained a bachelor until age twenty-seven and married his first plural wife when he was thirty-one and she was eighteen.262 Eight years before he became a counselor to Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon was the one in the First Presidency�s office who gave “a certificate to the effect that I [John T. Gerber] had permission of Pres. B. Young to take a second wife.”263 In 1874, when his three plural wives had already borne him eight children, one plural wife was pregnant, and his legal wife was still living, George Q. Cannon sought to maintain his position as Utah�s delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives by testifying that he was not living or cohabiting with four wives or any wives in violation of the 1862 Morrill Act; and when again challenged in 1882 he reaffirmed that testimony: “I denied it then and I can deny it now. I never defiantly or willfully violated any law.” By 1882, his legal wife had died, but his three plural wives were still living by whom he had now fathered a total of fifteen polygamous children. He had also married two lesser-known wives, Sophia Ramsell and Emily Hoagland (Little).
While he and President John Taylor told monogamist Church leaders to marry plural wives or resign their positions, Counselor Cannon violated the Edmunds Act by marrying his last plural wife in 1884, for which he served five months in the Utah penitentiary.264
In view of how consistently he resisted concessions by Presidents Taylor and Woodruff concerning the practice of plural marriage, it is not surprising that George Q. Cannon “was the first to conceive the idea that the Church could consistently countenance polygamy beyond the confines of the [United States] republic.”265 In the first weeks after the Manifesto, however, the men who successfully obtained permission to marry plural wives were the ones who contacted Wilford Woodruff rather than Cannon. Timothy Jones asked Cannon for a recommend during October 1890 conference, and “Brother C. thought it best to wait a while until things are quiet.” By the time Jones renewed his request for “the guide” at the end of October, President Woodruff had stopped signing recommends due to the prominent return of one of the post�Manifesto polygamists, and Cannon wrote the following note on an endorsement for Jones�s request: “No guides being sent.” When Joseph C. Bentley asked George Q. Cannon for permission in December 1890, the First Counselor recommended that Bentley release the woman from the polygamous engagement.266
By 1891, George Q. Cannon seemed to take the position publicly and privately that the Manifesto had a comprehensive application that must be strictly observed by all Latter-day Saints. In June, he and President Woodruff told the Salt Lake Times in an interview that post-Manifesto polygamists would be “wrong-doers” and that the Latter-day Saints were complying with the law regarding unlawful cohabitation. At a meeting in the Presidency�s office on 20 August, Counselor Cannon told President Woodruff that to obtain the return of the Church�s escheated properties and to progress toward statehood, the Church�s polygamists must not “attempt to hold to the right of living with our plural wives.” On the witness stand in October, George Q. Cannon testified that it would be displeasing to God and a violation of Church rules for anyone to enter into a polygamous marriage after the Manifesto, that he had no knowledge of and had never heard since the Manifesto that “any members of the Church have entered into or contracted any polygamous. or plural marriage,” and denied that he had in any way approved of unlawful cohabitation since the Manifesto was published. On 21 October 1891, the day after the court testimony, Counselor Cannon told Wilford Woodruff that to convince the nation�s leaders of the good faith of the Church and end government harassment, “the people . . . should be given to understand that there was no other attitude for us to take than to conform to the law in all respects.” His signing the amnesty appeal to the U.S. President in December of that year seemed completely consistent with these public and private expressions.267
Nevertheless, during the same year George Q. Cannon seemed so consistently in favor of rigidly applying the Manifesto to both polygamy and unlawful cohabitation, he was promoting a contrary application. At the time he joined with the Church president in the Times interview, his youngest plural wife, age forty-one, had just conceived his last child. She was four months pregnant when he testified in court that he had not assented to unlawful cohabitation by anyone. A week after that testimony, he approved his son Abraham�s plan to build adjoining houses for all his plural wives, advising him “to exercise great care so as to avoid having the appearance at least of breaking the law.” Despite the testimony of all members of the First Presidency in October that the Manifesto prohibited plural marriages everywhere in the world, Counselor Cannon wrote an editorial on “Our Ideas of Marriage” in the Juvenile Instructor for November 1891 in which he stated, “Now that plural marriages have ceased in Utah….”268 Plural marriages had ceased in Mexico as well, but Counselor Cannon was apparently keeping the option open.
In July 1892, George Q. Cannon established the system of written recommends which enabled United States residents to go to Mexico for post-Manifesto plural marriage ceremonies. Without access to Cannon�s diaries, it is unclear to what extent discussions with President Woodruff preceded this action, but the official record verifies that he did not act on his own authority. In Wilford Woodruff�s Presidency letterbook for 1892–not his own correspondence–George Q. Cannon copied the following three letters to Apostle George Teasdale, President of the Mexican colonies.
The bearer intends to take up his abode in Mexico, and will probably need the services of a guide. It will be quite satisfactory to all of us for you to render him the services which he needs.
* * *
The bearer, Bro. Rasmus Larsen, is the person referred to in my letter of the 18th of July, which I forwarded to you by mail.
* * *
Since writing the enclosed letter I have given a letter of introduction to the party which he will deliver to you. I thought this better than to give him this letter himself to carry.269
It is not currently known to what extent this recommend system for post Manifesto plural marriages in Mexico differed from or was the same as that for pre-Manifesto polygamous ceremonies performed there for U.S. residents. We know that prior to the Manifesto, some couples traveled to Mexico for this purpose in company with an apostle, which might have eliminated the necessity for the cryptic set of letters.270 As we have seen, in the days immediately after the publication of the Manifesto, it was President Woodruff, rather than George Q. Cannon, who signed the recommend and “letter of recognition” U.S. residents took with them to Mexico.
From 1892 until President Snow stopped sending U.S. residents to Mexico for polygamous ceremonies in 1898, George Q. Cannon signed most of these letters to George Teasdale, president of the Mormon colonies in Mexico from 1890 to 1895, and to his successor Anthony W. Ivins, president of the Juarez Stake, organized in 1895. The letters for Rasmus Larsen in 1892 are the first and last set of authorization documents for Mexican polygamy that Counselor Cannon copied into the regular letterbooks of the Church president, but he may have copied the instructions for subsequent plural marriages in a separate record. Although this 1892 authorization was for a man planning to remain in the Mexican colonies after the polygamous ceremony, in May 1893 John A. Bagley traveled to the Mexican colonies for such a ceremony, after which both he and his bride returned to the United States. The authorizing document was probably similar to a subsequent letter Cannon wrote that did not bind the couple to remain in Mexico: “He expects to visit your country to attend to some business there, and I think, stranger as he is, you can be of service to him. Whatever aid you can render will be appreciated.” The biggest change that President Cannon made in his authorization letters to Mexico after 1892 was in omitting the obvious polygamous reference of providing a “guide.”271 Despite these elaborate arrangements, the First Presidency sent only Larsen and Bagley to Mexico and David W. Rainey to Canada for polygamous ceremonies during 1892-93, while eight other couples entered polygamy during the same period as residents of Mexico, by civil marriages in the United States, or by solemn covenant.
George Q. Cannon was responsible for increasing the number in 1894. At a meeting of the presidency and apostles in the Salt Lake Temple in April, he “spoke of the unfortunate condition of the people at present in regard to marriage,” including the situation where men had childless wives, and young Latter-day Saint women were faced with the necessity of marrying non-Mormons or remaining unmarried because of the Manifesto. Cannon also expressed his personal grief that “my son David died without seed, and his brothers cannot do a work for him, in rearing children to bear his name because of the Manifesto.” When President Woodruff concluded the meeting by affirming that the way for polygamy would soon open up, George Q. Cannon became more directly an advocate of new polygamous marriages.272
Sometime between this meeting and July 1894, he signed a temple recommend, “W.W. per G.Q.C.” for Hattie Merrill, daughter of Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, president of the Logan Temple. The stake presidency was the highest recommending authority necessary for temple ordinances; Cannon�s signature indicates clearly his knowledge that the marriage would be polygamous. Apostle Merrill performed the ceremony for his daughter and John W. Barnett on 16 July 1894 in the Logan Temple.
Cannon�s act on behalf of President Woodruff would date the signing of the recommend on or after 25 May 1894, when Marriner W. Merrill recorded that he “found Prest. Woodruff alone and had some talk with Him on Temple & Other Matters.” This was the first of several unambiguously polygamous marriages Merrill performed after the Manifesto in the Logan Temple, and Counselor Cannon�s initialed endorsement was what he kept as evidence of First Presidency authorization.273
By the fall of 1894, George Q. Cannon was taking steps to procure children for his deceased son David. The only son who volunteered for this polygamous duty as proxy husband was the worldly Frank J., whom his father could entrust with diplomatic missions on behalf of the Church but not with “the Principle.” George Q. asked twenty-four-year-old Hugh J. to undertake the responsibility; but his mother, Sarah Jenne Cannon, told her husband that the proxy husband should be David�s full brother, a son of Elizabeth Hoagland Cannon.274 On 19 October 1894, Abraham H. Cannon records that his father “spoke to me about taking some good girl and raising up seed by her for my brother David.” Within days, he had the hearty approval of the two other members of the First Presidency. This polygamous marriage did not occur for nearly two years because of his prolonged courtship of more than one woman for the proxy marriage.275
According to Apostle Brigham Young, Jr., by 1895 President Woodruff had delegated all authorizations for plural marriages to George Q. Cannon. After a private conversation with Cannon in April 1895, Apostle Young wrote: “Bro. George & I had a pleasant chat on doctrine of marriage etc. His views are peculiar, but I know the responsibility of this whole question rests upon him and how can he meet the demands in this nation? Rulers will have a heavy bill to settle when they reach the spirit world.” Two months after this talk, Apostle Young traveled down to the Mexican border with two prospective polygamists, and “I furnished a guide to both men, they had their wives with them.”276
George Q. Cannon next commissioned Anthony W. Ivins to perform plural marriages in the Juarez Stake. His sons Stanley and Grant Ivins mistakenly dated this event in October 1895 and more seriously misstated the facts by claiming that the First Presidency sent Anthony W. Ivins to preside over the Mexican colonies for the express purpose of performing polygamous marriages there.277 In fact, unlike George Teasdale, his predecessor, Ivins refused the requests of Mexican colonists to perform plural marriages. When Ivins was sustained as president of the new Juarez Stake in December 1895 he did not have the authority to perform a marriage of any kind there. On 21 February 1896, Ivins reported to the high council that “while in Utah he asked the Presidency of the Church in regard to the solemnization of plural marriages in Mexico and was told emphatically that it could not be done,” but they did give him authority to perform monogamous marriages (but not sealings); he officiated in the first on 21 February. Not until 7 April 1896 did President Woodruff authorize Ivins to seal monogamous marriages in Mexico for time and eternity outside the temple.278 But the pressures upon the First Presidency and apostles continued in March 1897 to consider “some urgent reasons for special cases of marriage.”279 When Anthony Ivins visited Salt Lake City 10-19 June 1897, he met with the First Presidency:
After some other matters had been discussed Pres. Cannon took Father into another room where they were alone, to explain to him the status of polygamy in the Church. He said that while plural marriages in general had been stopped, there were some cases in which it might be desirable to make exception to the rule�cases in which promises of marriage had been made prior to the Manifesto. If permission should be granted for any such marriages it would be preferable to have them performed outside the boundaries of the U.S. and Father might be called upon. Anyone going to Mexico to have such a marriage performed would have with him a letter the contents of which Father would understand.
On 22 June 1897, Ivins met three U.S. residents in Ciudad Juarez and performed the first of dozens of plural marriages authorized by Cannon�s letters.He later told the Quorum of the Twelve that he found this commission distasteful: “He was instructed to tell the Mex. Government he was not there to perform plural marriages and at the same time he was instructed to perform plural marriages.”280
Aside from the 1892 letter to Teasdale, there are three presently available copies of George Q. Cannon�s polygamy authorization letters to Anthony W. Ivins. Two of them, dated 27 December 1897 and 1 February 1898, do not identify the bearer and are as seemingly innocuous as the 1892 letter. The First Presidency letterbooks contain copies of similar letters asking Ivins to provide services to specific visitors (some of whom were non-Mormons). But the diary of Joseph H. Dean, former president of the Samoan Mission, recorded how George Q. Cannon authorized and assisted him to marry his plural wife after the Manifesto. Dean began courting his prospective plural wife in October 1897, explored the possibility with Cannon a few days later, and obtained Cannon�s specific approval on 3 December. After a brief consultation with Joseph F. Smith, the second counselor in the First Presidency, Dean met again with Counselor Cannon on 23 April: “He approves of my going to Mexico, and thinks it would be a good thing for me to do. Consents to my taking Sister A. ma faaipoipo [Samoan translation: for a bride]. Says that when ever we are ready to call upon him and he will give us the necessary documents.” On 3 May 1898, Dean obtained the following letter addressed to Anthony W. Ivins: “This will introduce you to Elder Jos. H. Dean and Sister Amanda W. Anderson who wish to look your country over with a view to settlement. Any favor you can show them will be appreciated by Your Brother Geo. Q. Cannon.” The next day, Dean got an additional note from Cannon and bought round-trip tickets to Mexico. On 10 May 1898, Dean and his intended wife arrived in Colonia Juarez and showed their letter to Ivins who immediately performed the marriage and sealing for them.281
George Q. Cannon, when he set apart Guy C. Wilson to be the principal of the Juarez Stake Academy in August 1897, blessed him that he would marry polygamously in Mexico and have the children his legal wife had never borne him.282 This is an example of his actively encouraging someone to enter plural marriage after the Manifesto who had not initiated the request.
We do not need access to George Q. Cannon�s diary to verify his role in the plural marriages performed by George Teasdale and Anthony W. Ivins in Mexico, but his diary would provide crucial understanding of the circumstances under which he commissioned Apostle Mathias F. Cowley to perform plural marriages in the United States for the upper echelons of Church leadership without special recommends. Elder Cowley later told the other apostles: “President Cannon told me personally to attend to these matters. There was no laying on of hands, but he gave the authority personally. The commission at this time was to marry Brother Rich, but later I was told by him that I could attend to suitable cases.” Cowley performed the first of these marriages on 13 April 1898 in Salt Lake City for Ben E. Rich, president of the Southern States Mission, and later explained: “I was never instructed to go to a foreign land to perform these marriages, altho� in some cases I did so…. President Cannon told me to do these things or I would never have done it. . . The most of them went to Brother Cannon and then came to me.”283