Post-manifesto Mormon Polygamy

Post-manifesto Mormon Polygamy

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Although necessary to give some cohesion to understanding post-Manifesto polygamy, this chronological overview inevitably obscures the individual. In few periods or topics of Mormon history have the contrasting activities of individual Church authorities been so crucial. It has often been assumed that documents still under the direct control of the First Presidency in various closed repositories were necessary to specify the details of Church authority and new polygamy after the Manifesto. Although those presently unavailable manuscripts would bring further corroboration and precision, sufficient information exists to verify the participation of Church authorities in new plural marriages from September 1890 through the end of 1904.

Wilford Woodruff (Apostle, 1838–98, Church President, 1887–98)

Wilford Woodruff was thirty when he married and nearly forty before he entered polygamy. During thirty years after the death of Joseph Smith he married ten plural wives, several of whom are lesser-known wives who divorced him. Although he married wives after the 1862 polygamy law, he had married none since the Edmunds Act of 1882, which legitimized all the plural children ever born to him.196

President Woodruff may have thought that he had settled the question of new polygamy on 24 September 1890, but a number of men already had longstanding engagements to enter plural marriage and they began to appeal to him for exceptions. When Erastus Beck brought his intended plural wife to the First Presidency’s office to get a recommend for a plural marriage immediately after the Manifesto’s publication, Wilford Woodruff was not at the office, and “they only laughed at us when we asked where we could find it [authorization],” but as the couple left they met Dan Seegmiller, a counselor in the Kanab Stake presidency, who said he would intercede on their behalf. Beck’s post-Manifesto plural wife later said, “In a short time he came back with it signed and we left for Mexico,” where their plural marriage was performed in October 1890.197 When Byron H. Allred asked for permission to marry the young woman who accompanied him to the President’s office on 4 October 1890, President Woodruff patiently explained the reasons he had issued the Manifesto and then told Allred to move as soon as possible with his intended plural wife to Mexico where Alexander F. Macdonald would perform the ceremony.198 Anson B. Call was bold enough to come to Woodruff’s own home about the same time and found the president hoeing strawberries. President Woodruff told him to sell all his property in the United States and move to Mexico with his intended wife. Upon his arrival in Colony Juarez on 11 December 1890, Call was married in polygamy by A. F. Macdonald, “to whom my note of recognition, from President Woodruff was addressed.” Macdonald said he had been expecting them a long time and married them immediately.199

Call’s marriage was the seventh and last plural ceremony to be performed in 1890 after the Manifesto. President Woodruff stopped signing recommends for these marriages by November 1890 because “such things had ceased to occur even there [in Mexico]. One young man who recently had this privilege, came back and allowed the knowledge of it to go out, and thus put the Church in danger.”200 This young man was thirty-one-year-old Christian F. Olsen who on 17 October 1890 was the first one married with these post-Manifesto recommends, but who brought his plural wife back to live with him and his first wife in Hyrum, Utah.201 By the time word of his actions reached the Presidency, Wilford Woodruff had already signed the recommends for the other six plural marriages. When Joseph C. Bentley personally appealed to President Woodruff in December 1890 for permission to move to Mexico and marry a plural wife, Woodruff refused.202 Yet that same month, President Woodruff did not give a flat refusal to George M. Brown, the Mexican colonist who had warned the Presidency in June about the diplomatic jeopardy of continued Mexican plural marriages. A secretary in the Presidency’s Office wrote that the authorization for Brown’s request would be communicated verbally by one of the General Authorities who next visited the Mexican colonies, because “the brethren prefer not to write much on such subjects.”203

In 1891, President Woodruff sent out equally mixed messages. When a woman wrote that her daughter was planning to move to Mexico to become a plural wife, Woodruff answered in March 1891 that “when they reach Mexico they would find that all plural marriages had ceased there as well as in the United States,” yet at a meeting of the First Presidency and Twelve on 2 April 1891, he said: “The principle of plural marriage will yet be restored to this Church, but how or when I cannot say.”204 Moreover, after he made the most explicit and authoritative public pronouncements that the Manifesto prohibited polygamous cohabitation and that excommunication was the penalty for violating the Manifesto, President Woodruff told the First Presidency and Twelve on 12 November 1891 “that he was placed in such a position on the witness stand that he could not answer other than he did; yet any man who deserts and neglects his wives or children because of the Manifesto, should be handled on his fellowship.” He then encouraged the assembled General Authorities to agree that men must try to avoid being arrested or convicted for unlawful cohabitation “and yet they must not break their covenants with their wives.”205 Exactly one week later, President Woodruff joined with his counselors and the apostles in petitioning U.S. President Benjamin Harrison for amnesty for all Latter-day Saint polygamists because they had strictly honored the Manifesto of 1890 and, “as shepherds of a patient and suffering people we ask amnesty for them and pledge our faith and honor for their future.”206

Nevertheless, in July 1892 President Woodruff consented to renewing the performance of plural marriages in Mexico for a few men who continued to pester him for that privilege. Although he personally signed the recommends for the polygamous marriages performed between October and December 1890, President Woodruff thereafter tried to distance himself as President of the Church from future authorizations. His counselor, George Q. Cannon, indicated that the distance was not very great when he copied in the First Presidency letterbook the following authorization to Apostle George Teasdale for the first plural marriage for a nonresident of the Mexican colonies since the end of 1890: “It will be quite satisfactory to all of us for you to render him the services which he needs.”207

Yet for nearly two years, President Woodruff did not encourage new plural marriages and permitted only three United States residents and one local resident to marry plural wives in Mexico and Canada. That changed in 1894. At the meeting of the Presidency and Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple on 5 April 1894, President Cannon expressed regrets that there were no provisions for polygamous marriages, to which President Woodruff replied: “The day is near when there will be no difficulty in the way of good men securing noble wives.”208 A month later, President Woodruff wrote a letter of instruction to Apostles Brigham Young, Jr., and John Henry Smith concerning their second trip to Mexico in five months, authorizing them “in adjusting all matters that properly comes [sic] under your calling.” Whether President Woodruff added verbal clarifications, Apostle Young, who had told the Mexican Saints in February that it was impossible for any man to marry a plural wife anywhere in the world and to cancel any polygamous engagements, performed at least five plural marriages there when he returned in May-June 1894. Among these plural marriages was one for Franklin S. Bramwell, then a stake high councilman, who later wrote, “When I took my second wife I had a letter signed by President Woodruff himself and went to Mexico with a personal letter from Prest. George Q. Cannon.”209 President Woodruff may or may not have known that George Q. Cannon signed a recommend on his behalf at this same time for a plural marriage to be performed in the Logan Temple,210 but there can be no question that in October 1894 President Woodruff personally authorized Apostle Abraham H. Cannon to marry a new plural wife: “Father [George Q. Cannon] also spoke to me about taking some good girl and raising up seed by her for my brother David…. Such a ceremony as this could be performed in Mexico, so Pres. Woodruff has said.”211 Six months later, Wilford Woodruff gave a newspaper interview: “I hurl defiance at the world,” said President Woodruff, “to prove that the manifesto forbidding plural marriages has not been observed.”212

No specific evidence of Wilford Woodruff’s direct involvement in new polygamous marriages emerges again until 1897. In June 1897, the First Presidency authorized Juarez Stake President Anthony W. Ivins to perform polygamous ceremonies in Mexico, and in the fall President Woodruff authorized Anthon H. Lund to perform two plural marriages aboard ship, one on the Pacific Ocean and one on the Great Lakes.213 President Woodruff met with Lund on 1 December 1897, apparently to authorize the aboard-ship ceremony that Lund would perform exactly one month later en route to Palestine, and Lund made the following observation: “President Woodruff took me to one side and spoke to me concerning Mrs. Mountfert. I was rather astonished.” Born in Jerusalem and raised as a Christian, Madame Lydia Mary von Finkelstein Mountford claimed descent from Ephraim and Judah, and lectured throughout the United States about Palestine and evidences for Christ’s life. She was baptized in the LDS Church shortly after her first lectures in Salt Lake City in February 1897.214

Circumstantial evidence indicates that Wilford Woodruff married Madame Mountford as a plural wife in 1897. President Woodruff recorded attending her lecture on 7 February 1897, the first of ninety references to her in his diary during the next eighteen months. By April, he was recording frequent “private” or “personal” talks with her in the First Presidency’s office, and she was a dinner guest at the Woodruff home. She left Salt Lake City on 28 April to stay in San Francisco. By 8 May 1897, President Woodruff indicated his increasing interest in the charismatic forty-nine-year-old woman:

Bro Nuttall came. I had some talk on private matters with him and in some writing I wished to send to San Francisco….

I went to the office & attended to some personal writing with Bro Nuttall….

Nine days later, he recorded a further conversation with his trusted secretary about “Madam Mountford who is now in California.” President Woodruff’s letters to and from her were the only references to correspondence in his diary for 1897-98. She returned to Salt Lake City from July to August, when she was a frequent guest at the Woodruff home. After her return to California, Wilford Woodruff began referring to her as “M,” and asked his secretary to go with him “on the quiet” to the Pacific coast, waited until the day before his departure to inform his wife Emma of the trip, and irritated her by declining her request to accompany him because it was to be “a very quiet trip.” On the train from Utah to Portland, President Woodruff “talked with Bro Nuttall confidentially in regard to some of my personal affairs,” and once the two were on the coast they not only avoided the usual visits with Mormon officials and non-Mormon friends, but President Woodruff also noted that they made all their hotel and travel arrangements under “assumed names.” Nuttall manifested uneasiness about the trip that seemed less and less than merely “for a change of air and exercise,” and while in their Portland hotel room, he vocally prayed that he would do nothing on the trip to offend God. In response, President Woodruff “then laid my hands on Bro Nuttall’s head and blessed him for any emergency that may arise and which may be necessary now or in the future in mine or our behalf.”

In view of the abundant references to Madame Mountford’s residing in San Francisco before this trip, there is a deafening silence concerning her name during the trip, particularly during their stay in that city from 18 to 20 September 1897, when they boarded a steamship for the return trip to Portland. Their train did not reach Ogden until 25 September 1897, after which they corresponded several times a week, and she visited President Woodruff twice before she traveled to Palestine from which she did not return until after his death. Four years after L. John Nuttall accompanied President Woodruff on this trip to the Pacific coast, Madame Mountford wrote him a letter from New York City, to which Nuttall responded, “I have not forgotten the Ogden & other days with our Mutual friend.”215

Although there is no presently available document that records the sealing ceremony specifically, the evidence seems compelling that L. John Nuttall performed a polygamous marriage for Wilford Woodruff and Madame Lydia Mary Mountford aboard ship on the Pacific Ocean on 20 September 1897. That such a marriage has never been acknowledged in the Woodruff family’s published genealogies is no argument against its existence: those genealogies also fail to mention that he married Eudora Young Dunford as a plural wife in 1877, even though she bore him a child that died the day of its birth. Their divorce less than two years after this pre-Manifesto plural marriage was apparently the reason neither the Woodruff nor Young family histories acknowledges the marriage, and President Woodruff’s manifesto was greater cause to ignore the polygamous wife the ninety-year-old Church president married a year before his death. At any rate, there is documentary evidence of the polygamous ceremony President Woodruff authorized Apostle Anthon H. Lund to perform “on the Pacific Ocean” a month later; and at the meeting in December 1897 where President Woodruff apparently gave final authorization to Lund for the second aboard-ship ceremony Lund would perform, President Woodruff confided the “astonishing” news about Madame Mountford. President Woodruff’s nephew, Apostle Matthias F. Cowley, later told the Quorum of Twelve, “I believed President Woodruff married a wife the year before he died, of course, I don’t know, I can’t prove it,” and still later, Mormon Fundamentalists (who had no access to the Lund diary) stated that Madame Mountford was the plural wife Wilford Woodruff married after 1890.216 In the last year of his life, Wilford Woodruff thus maintained a public stance that was at variance with his private activities regarding polygamy. When Protestant ministers charged the Church with allowing new plural marriages, President Woodruff wrote the editor of the Protestant newspaper that “no one has entered into plural marriage by my permission since the Manifesto was issued.”217 Four days after that denial was published, President Woodruff held a special meeting with the married children born to his youngest wife and had L. John Nuttall read them the revelation he had received in 1880, which stated in part: “And I say again, wo unto that Nation or house or people who seek to hinder my People from obeying the Patriarchal Law of Abraham,” and concluded, “Therefore let mine Apostles keep my commandments and obey my laws and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”218 One of Wilford Woodruff’s sons at this meeting was an apostle, took this reading to heart and married a plural wife three years later.219 In August 1898, a student at Brigham Young Academy in Provo went with her prospective husband to request President Woodruff’s permission to marry polygamously: “He brushed them aside with a wave of his hand and said he would have nothing to do with the matter, but referred them to President George Q. Cannon…. Then they were given a letter by President George Q. Cannon to President Ivins, of the Juarez stake, and they went to Mexico” where Ivins performed the ceremony.220

The First Presidency’s office not only authorized these post-Manifesto plural marriages in Mexico as performed by the presiding authority there, but also was aware of and recorded the plural marriages that visiting apostles performed in Mexico. First Presidency clerk George Reynolds wrote to A. W. Ivins asking for the name of the officiator of four sealings that occurred in Mexico during March 1898 (two were polygamous) with the comment: “I imagine it was Bro. John W. Taylor,” and then he routinely recorded the ordinances in the record book of the then defunct Salt Lake Endowment House.221 Until his death in September 1898, Wilford Woodruff maintained a public image of opposition to, a private image of official aloofness from, and a personal involvement with post-Manifesto polygamy.

Lorenzo Snow (Apostle, 1849–1901, Counselor, 1873–77, President Of The Twelve, 1889–98, Church President, 1898–1901)

Lorenzo Snow was a bachelor until the age of thirty, when he married two wives on the same day at Nauvoo. He married the last of his ten plural wives, Minnie Jensen, in 1871. As each of his wives passed the time of fertility, by “mutual consent” they agreed to discontinue sexual cohabitation, so that by the passage of the Edmunds Act in 1882 Lorenzo Snow was cohabiting with only his last wife.222 When he was sentenced to the penitentiary in 1886 for unlawful cohabitation, Lorenzo Snow protested his innocence, said that he had obeyed the Edmunds Act, and denied that God would give a new revelation to end plural marriage.223

Nevertheless, more openly than Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow expressed support for issuing a public renunciation of the practice of plural marriage in the United States. When the apostles voted to reject such a document in December 1888, Lorenzo Snow said that he “could not endorse our taking the proposed Course although he would really like to see the experiment tried,” and he added, “If this Church would put itself in harmony with the country I believe the Lord would approve of it, if it did not cost too much.”224 A month before the 1889 revelation, Lorenzo Snow also told the apostles and Presidency that he favored an official announcement of the policy to end plural marriages in the United States.225 Thus, President Woodruff knew he was inviting an ally for accommodation when he asked Lorenzo Snow (who was also his Son-in-law) to give pre-publication approval to the Manifesto.

Even though Snow was unable to reach Salt Lake City before the Manifesto’s publication, he approved it and told the other apostles “that even had he not been able to approve of it that he should not have opposed it as he did not feel that he would be justified in setting up his opinions in opposition to the presidency,226 As the second ranking apostle and president of the quorum, Lorenzo Snow made the official motion on 6 October 1890 for the general conference ratification of the Manifesto. When he and the First Presidency testified in court in October 1891, President Snow stated that the Manifesto induced “all matters concerning plural marriage, embracing the present condition of those that had previously entered into marriage,” and affirmed that Church discipline should be imposed upon any Latter-day Saint “who should fail to follow the counsel given in the manifesto.”227 He told the apostles on two occasions in 1892 that he had not slept at all the night following his testimony.

Still as president of the Twelve he stated contrasting views about unlawful cohabitation. In January 1892, he said that he “did not intend to forsake his wives and had sworn that he would not and that the Lord would not require it.” Three months later in April, he told the apostles “that our having to give up living with our wives was a very great sacrifice, but the brethren would not lose their reward.” When the rest of the apostles said they had no intention of discontinuing polygamous cohabitation, he dropped the subject.228 He signed the amnesty plea later that year but by 1896 had retreated from his advocacy of polygamous celibacy. He told the quarterly meeting of the apostles in April 1896 that “it was his belief that the Lord would so arrange matters that those brethren who have wives can live with them and raise families by them.”229 By then Lorenzo Snow had a personal motivation for his changed views: his forty-year-old plural wife Minnie was two months pregnant. In September, he visited the Mormon settlements in Canada and listened to Apostle John W. Taylor give a spirited defense of polygamy in a public sermon. In November, Minnie bore his last polygamous child at Cardston.230

Although in April that year, Lorenzo Snow had assured the apostles that polygamy “will again be practiced by this people,”231 he had misgivings by the time he became Church president in September 1898. Protestant ministers and the Salt Lake Tribune were publicly claiming that Mormons had entered into post-Manifesto polygamy, and he seemed initially opposed to allowing new plural marriages. When the apostles sustained him as President of the Church with his counselors George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith on 13 September 1898, “Prest. Lorenzo Snow then told the brethren that he had heard rumors of people thinking that plural marriages could be contracted. He wanted it understood that this can not be done”; and then as an indication of his awareness of the post-Manifesto marriages that his predecessor had authorized, President Snow added: “As to things which have happened in the past, I do not want to talk about them.”232 Two days later, President Snow told a reporter from a New York newspaper:

“Polygamy, that is, marrying plural wives, ceased among the Latter-day Saints on the issuance of President Woodruff’s Manifesto, October 6th, 1890, and his inhibition will not be changed by me.”233

Anthony W. Ivins, on 29 October 1898, told the Juarez Stake High Council that during October conference George Q. Cannon had informed him that “Prest Snow had decided that Plural marriages must cease throughout the entire Church and that was absolute and affected Mexico as well as elsewhere.”234 First Presidency secretary George F. Gibbs later said that President Snow had learned of United States citizens, married plurally in Mexico with First Presidency authorization, who returned to the United States instead of remaining in Mexico. President Snow therefore “withdrew all authority from Mexico to solemnize plural marriages there as it had been withdrawn in Utah.”235 But Ivins and Gibbs portrayed this restriction by Lorenzo Snow as more absolute and inclusive than it was.

Lorenzo Snow stopped plural marriages in Mexico for United States residents who needed First Presidency recommends, but he simultaneously authorized an expansion of post-Manifesto polygamy that Wilford Woodruff never allowed: the performance of plural marriages by the Juarez Stake president for stake members who needed no First Presidency authorization. Since March 1898 Miles A. Romney of the Juarez Stake High Council had written three letters to Salt Lake City asking for such permission. It was not granted until October 1898 when Anthony W. Ivins began performing plural marriages for Romney and other residents of the stake.236 Moreover, before performing a plural marriage in Idaho in October 1898 for Joseph Morrell, Apostle Matthias F. Cowley asked permission of President Snow who “simply told me that he would not interfere with Brother Woodruff’s and Cannon’s work.”237 It is doubtful that Lorenzo Snow realized that Cowley would continue throughout his presidency to perform these plural marriages within the United States or that George Q. Cannon would continue sending to Cowley any U.S. resident who asked for this privilege. What President Snow had done in October 1898 was stop plural marriages that required his personal knowledge and consent for specific individuals; what Ivins did in Mexico and Cowley did in the United States no longer required the Church President’s personal knowledge.

In every other respect, Lorenzo Snow seemed to consistently oppose post-Manifesto polygamy. In November 1898 he declined to allow Apostle Abraham Owen Woodruff to seal even monogamous marriages in Arizona and wrote Stake President Charles O. Card in Canada that “I do not see my way clear to delegate the sealing power outside the Temple.”238 In conversation with J. Golden Kimball the following month, President Snow said that he had no personal knowledge of any post-Manifesto plural marriages and added: “But I can assure you there will be no more until the Lord reveals it direct”; on 29 December 1898 the Deseret Evening News gave front page coverage to his statement to a New York newspaper: “Polygamous marriages in the Mormon Church have entirely ceased.”239 After the North American Review published an article in April 1899 charging Utah Mormons with entering new plural marriages in Canada and Mexico, President Snow told the apostles that he refused to give permission for a Utah resident to marry a plural wife and move to Canada, and in May he told a public meeting in St. George, Utah: “I will say now before this people, that the principle of plural marriage is not practiced. I have never, in one single instance, allowed any person to have that ceremony performed, and there are no such marriages at the present time, nor has [sic] there been during the time of my presidency over this church.”240 This was technically true: but Ivins and Cowley had, since the previous October, performed several plural marriages already in Mexico and the United States.

On 7 October 1899, an anti-Mormon filed a legal complaint against President Snow for unlawful cohabitation with Minnie J. Snow due to the birth of their polygamous child.241 A few days later Benjamin Cluff, Jr., president of Brigham Young Academy at Provo, put Lorenzo Snow in the position of having to inquire about polygamous marriages in Mexico for Juarez Stake residents which he had authorized in principle to obviate the need to deal with them in specifics. Cluff wanted to marry plurally Florence Reynolds, who had just moved to Juarez Stake where she was teaching in the Church school. Cluff accompanied her to the colonies and asked Anthony W. Ivins to perform the ceremony, but Ivins refused because Cluff was not a resident of the stake and did not have a letter from the First Presidency. When Ivins reported the matter to Apostle Francis M. Lyman during October conference, Lyman arranged a meeting attended by Presidents Snow and Smith, Apostles Francis M. Lyman, John Henry Smith, and Anthon H. Lund, Church Superintendent of Schools Karl G. Maeser, Florence’s father George Reynolds, Anthony W. Ivins, and Cluff. Lorenzo Snow told Cluff to cancel his marriage plans and also instructed Ivins to perform no more plural marriages for residents of the stake in Mexico, an absolute prohibition which Ivins strictly observed throughout the balance of Snow’s presidency.242 President Snow also “was very much put out” when he learned that Northern States Mission President Louis A. Kelsch was talking to others about having been married in polygamy this same month in Salt Lake City by Apostle Matthias F. Cowley. Cowley later claimed that President Snow gave him no instructions to stop performing plural marriages.243

Part 8