Priesthood and the Seed of Cain

After having expressed myself [Joseph Smith] so freely upon this subject, I do not doubt, but those who have been forward in raising their voices against the South, will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling, unkind, and wholly unacquainted with the Gospel of Christ. It is my privilege then to name certain passages from the Bible, and examine the teachings of the ancients upon the matter as the fact is uncontrovertible that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation, and walked with God. And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude. “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant”[Gen. 9:25,26].

Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfillment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this singular occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, the curse is not yet taken off from the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before Him; and those who are determined to pursue a course, which shows an opposition, and a feverish restlessness against the decrees of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do His own work, without the aid of those who are not dictated by His counsel.  (Joseph Smith, DHC 2:30:438)

And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.  And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.  (Genesis 4:15)

And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them. (Moses 7:22)

. . . from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.  Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.  Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry; (Abraham 1:24-27)

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him, and he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant, and a veil of darkness shall cover him, that he shall be known among all men. (JST Genesis 9:29-30)

For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.  (Moses 7:8)

Cain’s Priesthood proved a cursing to him because of his unrighteousness.  (Joseph Smith, 1840, DHC 2:213)

He [Noah] cursed him [Canaan, Ham’s son] by the Priesthood which he held, and the Lord had respect to his word, and the Priesthood which he held…and the curse remains upon the posterity of Canaan until the present day. (Joseph Smith, DHC 4:445-6)

Joseph Smith speaks of “the Negroes or sons of Cain,” thus equating the black race with the lineage of Cain.  (Joseph Smith Journal, 25 January 1842, also DHC 4:501)

After the flood and after Ham had dishonored the holy priesthood, Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his younger son (Ham,) had done unto him.  And, as the priesthood descended from father to son, he delivered the following curse and blessing, as translated by King James’ wise men and recorded in Genesis:

“And he said, cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

“And he said, blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”

“God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall swell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”

History and common observation show that these predictions have been fulfilled to the letter.  The descendants of Ham, besides a black skin which has ever been a curse that has followed an apostate of the holy priesthood.  (Joseph Smith, Times & Seasons 6:857)

In this branch [in New York State] there is a coloured Brother, an Elder ordained by Elder William Smith while he [William Smith] was [still] a member of the Church, contrary, though to the order of the Church on the law of the Priesthood, as descendants of Ham are not entitled to that privilege.  (Journal of William I. Appleby, 19 May 1847)

This colored race have been subjected to severe curses, which they have in their families and their classes and in their various capacities brought upon themselves.  And until the curse is removed by Him who placed it upon them, they must suffer under its consequences; I am not authorized to remove it. * * *  When the Lord God cursed old Cain, He said, “Until the last drop of Abel’s blood receives the Priesthood, and enjoys the blessings of the same, Cain shall bear the curse,” then Cain is calculated to have his share next, and not until then; (Brigham Young, 23 January 1852, speech given at the Territorial Legislature, stenographic report by George D. Watt, Brigham Young Papers, Church Historical Department, TPBY vol. III, pp. 26, 28)

After the deed was done, the Lord enquired for Abel, and made Cain own to what he had done with him.  Now, says the grandfather, I will not destroy the seed of Michael and his wife, and Cain I will not kill you, nor suffer anyone else to kill you but I will put a mark upon you.  What is that mark?  You will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the Earth, or ever will see. Now I tell you what I know:  When the mark was put upon Cain, Abel’s children was [sic] in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the Priesthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Abel had received the Priesthood, until the redemption of the Earth.

If there never was a Prophet or Apostle of Jesus Christ [that] spoke it before, I tell you, this people, that are commonly called Negroes are the children of old Cain.  I know they are.  I know that they cannot bear rule in the Priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain on them, until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and for this reason the Negro cannot hold the Keys of the Priesthood until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the Earth, and from Michael’s seed.  Then Cain’s seed will be had in remembrance and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.

Now then, in the Kingdom of God on the Earth, a man who has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of Priesthood.  Why? Because they are the eternal principles the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it—men cannot, the angels cannot, and all the powers of Earth and Hell cannot take it off, but thus saith the Eternal, “I Am what I Am, I take it off at My pleasure”, and not one particle of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the Lord says He will have it taken away.  That time will come, when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of, and more.

* * *

In the Priesthood I will tell you what it will do.  Were the children of God to mingle their seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the Priesthood upon them but they entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it.  * * *

Again to the subject before us; as to the Negro men bearing rule; not one of the children of old Cain have one particle of right to bear rule in government affairs from first to last; they have no business there, this privilege was taken from them by their own transgressions, and I cannot help it; and should you or I bear rule we ought to do it with dignity and honor before God.

* * *

Let this Church which is called the Kingdom of God on the earth; we will summons the First Presidency, the Twelve, the High Council, the Bishopric, and all the Elders of Israel, suppose we summons them to appear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed with the black race of Cain, that they shall come in with us and be partakers with us of all the blessings God has given us.  On that very day and hour we should do so, the Priesthood is taken from this Church and Kingdom and God leaves us to our fate.  The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain, the Church must go to destruction—we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the Priesthood until that curse is removed.  (Brigham Young, February 5, 1852, speech given at the Territorial Legislature, stenographic report by George D. Watt, Brigham Young Papers, Church Historical Department, TPBY vol. III, pp. 42-43, 45-46)

We have this illustrated in the account of Cain and Abel.  Cain conversed with his God every day, and knew all about the plan of creating this earth, for his father told him.  But, for the want of humility, and through jealousy, and an anxiety to possess the kingdom, and to have the whole of it under his own control, and not allow any body else the right to say one word, what did he do?  He killed his brother.  The Lord put a mark on him; and there are some of his children in this room. When all the other children of Adam have [1] had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of [2] coming into the kingdom of God, and of [3] being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and [4] have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity.  He deprived his brother of the privilege of pursuing his journey through life, and of extending his kingdom by multiplying upon the earth; and because he did this, he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God.  (Brigham Young, 3 December 1854, JD 2:140)

The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam.  Cain slew his brother.  Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.

Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree.  How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them?  That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof.  Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood.  They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed.  When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion. (Brigham Young, 9 October 1859, JD 7:290)

The rank, rabid abolitionists, whom I call black-hearted Republicans, have set the whole national fabric on fire. Do you know this, Democrats? They have kindled the fire that is raging now from the north to the south, and from the south to the north. I am no abolitionist. Neither am I a proslavery man; I hate some of their principles and especially some of their conduct, as I do the gates of hell.  The Southerners make the negroes, and the Northerners worship them; this is all the difference between slaveholders and abolitionists.  I would like the President of the United States and all the world to hear this.

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race?  If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.  This will always be so.  The nations of the earth have transgressed every law that God has given, they have changed the ordinances and broken every covenant made with the fathers, and they are like a hungry man that dreameth that he eateth, and he awaketh and behold he is empty.

* * *

If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.

I am neither an abolitionist nor a pro-slavery man.  If I could have been influenced by private injury to choose one side in preference to the other, I should certainly be against the pro-slavery side of the question, for it was pro-slavery men that pointed the bayonet at me and my brethren in Missouri, and said, “Damn you we will kill you.”  I have not much love for them, only in the Gospel.  I would cause them to repent, if I could, and make them good men and a good community.  I have no fellowship for their avarice, blindness, and ungodly actions.  To be great, is to be good before the Heavens and before all good men.  I will not fellowship the wicked in their sins, so help me God.  (Brigham Young, March 8, 1863, JD 10:104)

The Lamanites or Indians are just as much the children of our Father and God as we are. So also are the Africans.  But we are also the children of adoption through obedience to the Gospel of his Son.  Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God.  They will go down to death.  And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.  The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence, and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God.  (Brigham Young, August 19, 1866, JD 11:272)

Saturday, May 31st, 1879, at the house of President Abraham O. Smoot, Provo City, Utah, Utah County, at 5 O’clock p.m. President John Taylor, Elders Brigham Young, Abraham O. Smoot, Zebedee Coltrin and L. John Nuttall met, and the subject of ordaining Negroes to the Priesthood was presented. * * * Brother Coltrin:  The Spring that we went up in Zion’s Camp in 1834, Brother Joseph sent Brother J. P. Green and me out to gather up means to assist in gathering out the Saints from Jackson County, Missouri. On our return home we got in conversation about the Negro having a right to the Priesthood, and I took up the side that he had no right.  Brother Green argued that he had.  The subject got so warm between us that he said he would report me to Brother Joseph when we got home for preaching false doctrine, which doctrine that I advocated was that the Negro could not hold the Priesthood.  “All right” said I “I hope you will.”  And when we got to Kirtland, we both went to Brother Joseph’s office together to make our returns, and Brother Green was as good as his word and reported to Brother Joseph that I said that the Negro could not hold the Priesthood.  Brother Joseph kind of dropped his head and rested it on his hand for a minute, and then said, “Brother Zebedee is right, for the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro has no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood.”  He made no reference to Scripture at all, but such was his decision.  I don’t recollect ever having any conversation with him afterwards on this subject.  But I have heard him say in public that no person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood.  In the washing and annointing of Brother [Elijah] Abel at Kirtland, I annointed him and while I had my hands on his head, I never had such unpleasant feelings in my life.  And I said, “I never would again annoint another person who had Negro blood in him unless I was commanded by the Prophet to do so.

Prest. A. O. Smoot said, W. W. Patten, Warren Parrish and Thomas B. Marsh were laboring in the Southern States in 1835 and 1836.  There were Negroes who made application for baptism.  And the question arose with them whether negroes were entitled to hold the Priesthood.  And by those brethren it was decided they would not confer the Priesthood until they had consulted with the Prophet Joseph, and subsequently they communicated with him.  His decision, as I understand was, they were not entitled to the Priesthood, nor yet to be baptized without the consent of their Masters.  In after years when I became acquainted with Joseph myself in the Far West, about the year 1838, I received from Brother Joseph substantially the same instructions.  It was on my application to him, what should be done with the Negro in the South, as I was preaching to them.  He said I could baptize them by consent of their Masters, but not to confer the Priesthood upon them.  (Saturday, May 31, 1879, Journal of L. John Nuttall 1:290-93)

Editor, Tribune: What then is the reason for the continued racial exclusion? The answer is simple. The Prophet Joseph Smith was commanded by God to withdraw the priesthood from Elijah Abel, and revoke the ordination. There is no exception. The continued church’s policy over the years is an evident fact that Presidents Young, Taylor, Woodruff and Snow, as well as Heber C. Kimball, William Clayton, and other leaders of the time, all knew of this excluding doctrine and continued to abide by it. Although there is no official Church record as to the revocation, Elijah Abel affirmed the fact to father, Thomas A. Shreeve, when both were living in the Salt Lake City 10th ward, during 1872-1877. At the time Bro. Abel told young Thomas, who baptized Abel’s grandchildren that the Prophet Joseph “came to him with tears in his eyes one day, and told him (Abel) that he had been commanded by the Lord to withdraw the Holy Priesthood from him.”  Patriarch Shreeve, testified many times before his death in 1931, of the facts in the case, and of his close relationship with Brother Abel. As of this date there are still living three members of the Shreeve family, who know of the facts to which their father testified Elijah Abel told him. (Caleb A. Shreeve, Sr. Salt Lake Tribune “Forum,” October 26, 1970)

He [Joseph F. Smith] said that the Prophet Joseph is credited with saying that…Ham had married a daughter of Cain, and by him the curse was carried through the flood…after Ham’s curse, his seed were entirely black.  (Journal of Abraham H. Cannon, 29 March 1892, see also First Presidency Meeting Minutes, August 18, 1900)

President Young held to the doctrine that no man tainted with Negro blood was eligible to have the Priesthood; that President Taylor held to the same doctrine, claiming to have been taught it by the Prophet Joseph Smith. (George Q. Cannon, Council Minutes, 22 August 1900)

Joseph F. Smith testifies to Joseph having taught doctrine.  It is true that the Negro race is barred from holding the Priesthood, and this has always been the case. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this doctrine.  (Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 27:564, 1924)

President George Q. Cannon remarked that the Prophet [Joseph] taught this doctrine: That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood, nor act in any of the offices of the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain’s offspring.  (22 August 1895, Minutes of Meeting of General Authorities, The Way to Perfection, 1931, Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 110)

Orson Hyde received a revelation in about February 1839 which was recorded in the diary of Joseph Allen Stout: “I was on my return from Richmond landing with a span of mares and wagon, belonging to B. Jones, and on the wide prairie I saw a man walking behind me. I reined in the team to let him overtake me, and who should it be but Orson Hyde, who had apostatized in the fuss, but had seen a vision in which it was made known to him that if he did not make immediate restitution to the Quorum of the Twelve, he would be cut off and all his posterity, and that the curse of Cain would be upon him.” (Autobiography and Journal of Joseph Allen Stout, Utah State Historical Society, pg. 9-10)

In the Grand Council in heaven there were some spirits that did not take part in the great rebellion at all.  They were called neutral spirits,—they were on the fence, and when Cain killed his brother Abel, God placed a skin of blackness upon him as the first of Adam’s race and through the posterity of Ham this seed was propagated through the flood.  And the neutral spirits in heaven possess these black bodies. And after the flood no doubt Noah must have found him doing some little low trick for he said:  “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall though be to thy brethren.” And those neutral spirits in heaven preferred to take the body of a Negro rather than have no body at all.  (Anson Call, relating answers given personally by the Prophet Joseph Smith to questions asked of him by Anson Call and others. Preserved by John M. Whitaker, John M. Whitaker Papers, Special Collections, University of Utah Library, Salt Lake City)

In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the LORD’s house shall be like the bowl’s before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts(Zechariah 14:20-21)

11  And they who do charge thee with transgression, their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun;

12  And also that God hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons, and to blind their minds, that they may not understand his marvelous workings; that he may prove them also and take them in their own craftiness;

13  Also because their hearts are corrupted, and the things which they are willing to bring upon others, and love to have others suffer, may come upon themselves to the very uttermost;

14  That they may be disappointed also, and their hopes may be cut off;

15  And not many hears hence, that they and their posterity shall be swept from under the heaven, saith God, that not one of them is left to stand by the wall.

16  Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.

17  But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves.

18  And those who swear falsely against my servants, that they might bring them into bondage and death—

19  Wo unto them; because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house.

20  Their basket shall not be full, their houses and their barns shall perish, and they themselves shall be despised by those that flattered them.

21  They shall not have right to the priesthood, nor their posterity after them from generation to generation.  (D&C 121:11-21)

Conflicting Statements From More Recent Times:

Admittedly, our direct and positive information is limited. I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough. The prophets for 133 years of the existence of the Church have maintained the position of the prophet of the Restoration that the Negro could not hold the priesthood nor have the temple ordinances which are preparatory for exaltation. I believe in the living prophets as much or almost more than the dead ones. They are here to clarify and reaffirm. I have served with and under three of them. The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error [?!?!] which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that he will do, I am sure. These smart members who would force the issue, and there are many of them, cheapen the issue and certainly bring into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority. (Spencer W. Kimball, June 15, 1963, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 449)

I am not sure that there will be a change [to the policy preventing blacks from holding the priesthood], although there could be. We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy [policy?!?!]. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it, and I know of no change, although we are subject to revelations of the Lord in case he should ever wish to make a change.  (Spencer W. Kimball, March 1971, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 449)

Mike Wallace:  From 1830 to 1978, blacks could not become priests in the Mormon church. Right?

Gordon B. Hinckley:  That’s correct.

MW:  Why?

GBH:  Because the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine that way. [cut]

MW:  Church policy had it that blacks had the mark of Cain. Brigham Young said, “Cain slew his brother, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.”

GBH:  It’s behind us. Look, that’s behind us. Don’t worry about those little flecks of history(Gordon B. Hinckley and Mike Wallace in “60 Minutes” Interview, April 7, 1996)