Post-manifesto Mormon Polygamy

Post-manifesto Mormon Polygamy

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While the First Presidency was in San Francisco, two developments provided the final catalysts for President Woodruff�s action. First, they met on 12 September with Morris M. Estee, a California judge who had been chairman of the Republican National Committee during the successful candidacy of the current U.S. president. Estee said he and the Church�s other influential Republican friends would do everything they could to help the cause of the Church and Utah statehood, which were intertwined, but he affirmed that it would be absolutely necessary “sooner or later” for the Church to make an announcement “concerning polygamy and the laying of it aside.” Cannon commented about the “difficulty there was in writing such a document�the danger there would be that we would either say too much or too little.”146 He could also have stated the other problems: When would they issue such a document? What reason would they give for issuing the statement then and not at some other time? Two days later, the Salt Lake Tribune printed the most recent report of the federal Utah Commission, which supervised elections, to the Secretary of the Interior, including the following:


The Commission is in receipt of reports from its registration officers [in Utah] which enumerate forty-one male persons, who, it is believed, have entered into the polygamic relation, in their several precincts, since the June revision of 1889.147

As the 1890 Manifesto itself later declared, this report by the Utah Commission impelled President Woodruff�s formal reply.

After returning to Salt Lake City on Sunday 21 September, the First Presidency met the following morning with Church Attorney Franklin S. Richards and Deseret News editor Charles W. Penrose, who stressed the likelihood that the Utah Commission�s report would assist in the passage of the disfranchisement bills before Congress. George Q. Cannon�s diary reveals the genesis of what became the Manifesto:

They have accused us of teaching polygamy and encouraging people in its practice, and since June 1889, there have been at least 45 plural marriages contracted in this Territory. I felt considerably stirred up over this, and thought that there should be a square denial, and I remarked that perhaps no better chance had been offered us to officially, as leaders of the Church, make public our views concerning the doctrine and the law that had been enacted.148

Cannon saw a denial as necessary to forestall hostile legislation but also wished to reaffirm the doctrine of plural marriage without specifically promising to obey anti-polygamy laws. He apparently felt that such an official statement would not be a concession of polygamy, would not violate the 1889 revelation�s injunction against making “any further pledges from the Priesthood,” but would answer the crisis of 1890 by simply denying the accuracy of the Utah Commission�s report. Significantly, however, Cannon misread the report made by the Utah Commission as a charge of forty-one new polygamous marriages performed in Utah, whereas the report�s heading and context claimed that forty-one male residents of Utah had married polygamous wives in ceremonies performed at unspecified places. The crucial substitution of new plural marriages in Utah for the actual charge of new polygamists in Utah was also repeated in the Deseret Evening News editorial of 23 September 1890.149 That same day President Woodruff decided to respond to the situation and told Apostle Moses Thatcher whom he met in Salt Lake City to stay for a meeting the next day. He also telegraphed Marriner W. Merrill at Logan, Franklin D. Richards at Ogden, and Lorenzo Snow at Brigham City to meet with the First Presidency on the afternoon of the 24th.150 Yet President Woodruff left his office on the evening of the 23rd without having written the document he had scheduled the meeting to discuss.

As he entered the First Presidency�s office the morning of 24 September 1890, Wilford Woodruff told John R. Winder, then a member of the Presiding Bishopric, that he had not slept much the night before. “I have been struggling all night with the Lord about what should be done under the existing circumstances of the Church. And,” he said, laying some papers upon the table, “here is the result.”151 George Q. Cannon confided in his diary: “This whole matter has been at President Woodruffs own instance. He has felt strongly impelled to do what he has, and he has spoken with great plainness to the brethren in regard to the necessity of something of this kind being done. He has stated that the Lord had made it plain to him that this was his duty, and he felt perfectly clear in his mind that it was the right thing.”152 What President Woodruff presented in his own handwriting was a document of 510 words. This document was edited to create the published Manifesto�s text of 356 words.

George Q. Cannon very carefully outlined the revision process for the Manifesto “because it is frequently the case that when important documents are framed there is a disposition to attribute their authority to one and another, and I have been often credited with saying and doing things which I did not say nor do.” He further observed that “I have not felt like doing anything connected with this document, except upon hearing it read to suggest alterations in it.” Counselor Cannon described three levels of revision in the Manifesto that occurred on 24 September 1890:

First, the First Presidency was engaged in other deliberations that morning and they asked George Reynolds, Charles W. Penrose, and John R. Winder to “take the document and arrange it for publication, to be submitted to us after they had prepared it.” Second, when the document this committee prepared was read, President Cannon himself “suggested several emendations, which were adopted.” Third, beginning at 2:30, Wilford Woodruff�s Manifesto as already revised by Reynolds, Penrose, Winder, and Cannon was read to the meeting of the First Presidency and Apostles Franklin D. Richards, Moses Thatcher, and Marriner W. Merrill (Lorenzo Snow was not able to attend the meeting), and “one or two slight alterations were made in it.” As soon as the First Presidency and three apostles approved these final changes, George Reynolds incorporated the revised Manifesto into a telegram the First Presidency sent for publication in national newspapers.153 As the Presidency left this meeting, they greeted a returning mission president, to whom President Woodruff remarked, “We are like drowning men, catching at any straw that may be floating by that offers any relief!”154

Wilford Woodruff�s first draft of the Manifesto was substantially the same as the shortened, printed version. It is obvious that when he wrote it, he depended upon his memory of the Utah Commission�s report as printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, because his first draft said the Commission “state that the Mormons are still carrying on the plural marriages in our temples or otherwise; and that . . ., [sic] marriages have been attended to during the past month,” which he denied, and then concluded redundantly more than four hundred words later that “the Utah Commission has reported that there have been some 80 cases of plural marriages in the last month. There is no truth in these charges.” The final version was changed to read, “that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year.” George Q. Cannon specifically suggested this change on the morning of 24 September and also recommended that President Woodruff�s reference to the publicized Jorgenson marriage (“this marriage was not with our permission or knowledge”) be changed simply to “without my knowledge” in the final version. Cannon pointed out that the first version would make the Jorgensons “unhappy, as it would throw a doubt on the legality of their marriage.”

Cannon also recorded some significant alterations in President Woodruff�s original draft of the Manifesto. One was the omission of his claim that “as soon as the Edmunds-Tucker law was passed President John Taylor gave orders for all plural marriages to cease” (which thousands of Latter-day Saints knew was untrue). Another was the revision of the statement “we are neither teaching nor practicing the doctrine of polygamy” to eliminate its inclusion of unlawful cohabitation by polygamous couples previously married, and to change the phrase “our advice to the Latter-day Saints is to obey the law of the land” (which would also have included unlawful cohabitation for previously married couples) to the narrowed definition of obedience in the final version: “to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” As had been true since 1887, Wilford Woodruff wanted to go further in making concessions about the practice of plural marriage than either his counselors or the other apostles. The final significant change was that President Woodruff drafted the original Manifesto as a third-person statement which he obviously intended to be published over the signatures of the full First Presidency or of the combined Presidency and Quorum of Twelve. Cannon�s diary does not comment upon this except to say, “This whole matter has been at President Woodruff�s own instance,” and apparently his counselors and the three apostles wanted to leave it that way in the published Manifesto.155 The final document was a personal statement.

Even the revised Manifesto was a curious document because most of its retrospective statements were untrue. The Utah Commission report claimed that forty Utah male residents married plural wives since June 1889. Sealing and genealogical records demonstrate that at least thirty men did so. Since Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith authorized and knew about the polygamous marriages in Mexico for Utahns during that period, they chose to redefine the Utah Commission�s report as a charge of new polygamous marriages performed in Utah, and yet even that did not end the difficulty: somebody in the First Presidency also signed recommends for the dozen plural marriages performed in the Salt Lake Endowment House and temples from June through October 1889.

Wilford Woodruff in the final version of the Manifesto referred to the publicized Jorgenson plural marriage in the spring of 1889 and said, “But I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony.” One of the three apostles who approved the Manifesto before its publication was Franklin D. Richards, who had officiated at the Jorgenson marriage and had also performed ten other plural marriages in the Endowment House from June through August 1889. The second of the three apostles who approved the Manifesto prior to publication was Marriner W. Merrill, the Logan Temple president who married a plural wife in July 1889 in that temple and who had performed several other plural marriages there from July to October 1889.156

Obviously, what set the Manifesto apart was President Woodruff�s specific commitment to stop new plural marriages; and in the eyes of many Mormons, this was a painful surrender to government authority. Immediately after the publication of the Manifesto, Thomas C. Griggs wrote, “It makes me sad,” and Apostle Abraham H. Cannon observed, “There is considerable comment and fault-finding among some of the Saints because of a manifesto which Pres. Woodruff issued on the 24th inst.”157 Although President Woodruff wrote in his diary on 25 September 1890 that he published the Manifesto after it was “sustained by my Councillors and the 12 Apostles,” only three apostles approved it in manuscript, and half the Quorum was barely supportive when the apostles met on 30 September and 1 October 1890 to discuss the published document. Of the nine apostles present, two said that they were bewildered by the announcement (one referred to the 1886 and 1889 revelations that seemed to prohibit such a declaration), and of the seven apostles who announced their support, four specifically stated that they understood it to apply only to the United States.158

These reactions indicate why President Woodruff did not consult with the full quorum before publishing the Manifesto, a consultation that would have required a delay of only three days. It seems obvious that President Woodruff�s experience with the apostles since 1887 convinced him that at least a portion of them would not approve such a document in advance. Therefore, while the rest of the Quorum was out on conference assignments, Wilford Woodruff invited responses from only four apostles: Lorenzo Snow and Franklin D. Richards (two senior apostles who had consistently supported him in previous confrontations with the younger apostles), Marriner W. Merrill (one of the most junior of the apostles who had not been involved in the earlier administrative conflicts, and who, like Apostle Richards, knew that most of what the Manifesto said was untrue anyway), and Moses Thatcher (who would not be expected to oppose the 1890 Manifesto since he had preached for four years that the Millennium would occur in 1891).159 When the full First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve formally voted retroactively on 2 October 1890 to sustain what President Woodruff had already done, they discussed whether to present the Manifesto to the upcoming general conference for a sustaining vote, and “some felt that the assent of the Presidency and Twelve to the matter was sufficient without committing the people by their votes to a policy which they might in the future wish to discard.”160 Only because the U.S. Secretary of the Interior demanded it as evidence that the Manifesto was official Church policy did the First Presidency and apostles decide on 5 October 1890 to present the Manifesto the next day for a sustaining vote.161

The general conference of 6 October 1890 was an emotionally charged and dramatic event. For years, Church authorities had publicly and privately expressed the conviction that the Latter-day Saints would not vote to sustain a document like the Manifesto, and George Q. Cannon�s diary indicated that President Woodruff was afraid they would not do so today.162 To prepare the way, he had them first sustain officially the familiar Articles of Faith, written by Joseph Smith, with its now particularly significant twelfth article that previously had been honored more in the breach than the observance: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”163 As the Manifesto was next read to the capacity crowd in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, tears streamed down Wilford Woodruff�s cheeks, nearly everyone in the audience wept, and the women “seemed to feel worse than the brethren.”164

Although official accounts of this meeting state that the congregation voted unanimously to sustain the Manifesto,165 that was not the case. William Gibson, later a representative in the Utah legislature, voted against it: “I am not ashamed of my action on the manifesto. I voted �no� in the conference. When George Q. Cannon announced a clear [unanimous] vote, I said, �All but one, right here.� We must let Babylon have her way for awhile, I suppose.”166 The majority of the congregation refused to vote at all when the Manifesto was presented, with the result that Apostle Merrill observed “it was carried by a Weak Vote, but seemingly unanimous,” Joseph H. Dean recorded “many of the saints refrained from voting either way,” and Thomas Broadbent noted, “I thought it A very Slim vote Considering the multitude Assembled.”167 Following the vote, the first speaker was George Q. Cannon who quoted the Doctrine and Covenants (now Section 124:49-50), and stated, “It is on this basis that President Woodruff has felt himself justified in issuing this manifesto.” One of those in attendance said that Cannon�s remarks “produced a profound sensation,” and some of the audience may have remembered that five years earlier the Deseret Evening News had editorialized that only “semi-apostates” would use those verses in the Doctrine and Covenants to justify a declaration ending the practice of plural marriage.168 Two years later, a Utah bishop observed, “The manifesto disturbed the equanimity of some I know. Several left the church through that.”169 For both the hierarchy and the general membership of the LDS Church, the Manifesto inaugurated an ambiguous era in the practice of plural marriage rivaled only by the status of polygamy during the lifetime of Joseph Smith.

Part 6