The “Law of the Land” and the Manifesto of 1890

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.  And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. (D&C 98:4-7)

It would be as easy for the United States to build a tower to remove the sun, as to remove polygamy. (Heber C. Kimball, Millennial Star 28:190)

[Speaking to the Tabernacle congregation] Now, which shall we obey, God or Congress?  For it is God, and Congress for it.”  [The assembly answered loudly:]  “We will obey God!”  (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, 9 January 1870)

Some few years ago, I remember being brought before a court to give evidence in a case. I was asked if I believed in keeping the laws of the United States. I answered Yes, I believe in keeping them all but one. What one is that? It is that one in relation to plurality of wives. Why don’t you believe in keeping that?  Because I believeit is at variance with the genius and spirit of our institutions—it is a violation of the Constitution of the United States, and it is contrary to the law of God. * * * God has laid upon us a command for us to keep, He has commanded us to enter into these covenants with each other pertaining to time and eternity, and has revealed this law through the holy priesthood and the regularly constituted channels which He has appointed for conveying this information, and we, having been baptized into one baptism and partaken of the same spirit, know for ourselves that these things are true. I know they are true, if nobody else does. I know it myself. I cannot help knowing it, and all the edicts and laws of Congress and legislators and decision of courts could not change my opinion. I know that it is from God, and therefore bear testimony of it. (John Taylor, November 30, 1879, JD 20:351-353)

Polygamy is a divine institution. It has been handed down direct from God. The United States cannot abolish it. . . . And when the Government conflicts with Heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the Government.  The United States says we cannot marry more than one wife. God says different. * * * When adulterers and libertines pass a law forbidding polygamy, the Saints cannot obey it. Polygamy is a divine institution. It has been handed down direct from God. The United States cannot abolish it. No nation on earth can prevent it, nor all the nations of the earth combined.  I defy the United States.  I will obey God.  (John Taylor, Salt Lake Tribune, January 6, 1880)

[We ask church members to pledge that you] would stand by the laws of God and take the consequences rather than obey the laws of man. (Excerpt from a sermon asking a “pledge,” delivered to most Latter-day Saints in the Spring of 1880, for example, see Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, 2:491-92, March 27, 1880)

Some say we violate their laws.  What law?  The law that was introduced to make us violate the revelations of heaven; but though men seek to trammel us, yet in the name of God we will perform all our religious duties and responsibilities, and let all Israel say amen.  [Amen from the congregation].  And yet, will we be subject to law.  Yes.  Here is Brother George Reynolds, [i.e., the subject of the January 1879 “Reynolds” Supreme Court Decision on plural marriage] who is present, he was subject to the law.  Did he fulfill the law?  Yes, he did.  Did he meet all its demands?  Yes.  And having met them, what more remains?  If a law is made, and because we are conscientious before God, seeking to fulfill his law unto us, we violate such a law, and we are deprived of our liberty, by the help of God, his power and grace being with us to sustain us, we will bear the consequence.  What can be asked then?  We think we can fulfill the law of God and the law of man as near as they will let us; and if they wish to punish us for keeping the commandments of God, let them do it, and let them abide the consequence. (John Taylor, June 26, 1881, JD 22:230)

One of the things contributing to Mormon difficulty was the liberty taken in formalizing marriage and divorce without civil authority.  In the heated atmosphere at Kirtland, it was inevitable that informal alliances would occasionally occur.  The leaders themselves, however, solemnized relationships without deputization from the state.  As others have suggested, these were less acts of defiance than attempts to resacralize matrimony.  * * * The sense of withdrawal from an apostate world and belief that theirs was the authority of heaven allowed Mormons to view their own performances as quite sufficient(Solemn Covenant, Carmon Hardy, University of Illinois Press, 1992, p. 6)

These circumstances give rise to murder, infanticide, suicide, disease, remorse, despair, wretchedness, poverty, untimely death, with all the attendant train of jealousies, heart rending miseries, want of confidence in families, contaminating disease, &c; and finally, to the horrible license system, in which governments called Christian, license their fair daughters [for marriage], I will not say to play the beast, but to a degradation far beneath them; for every species of animal creation, except man, refrain from such abominable excess, and observe in a great measure the laws of nature in procreation.  (Belinda Marden Pratt, in a letter to her sister, published in the Millennial Star, July 19, 1854)

The “social institution” [polygamy] which has been manufactured into such a formidable bug-bear by persons interested in keeping Utah a vassal of the Government, is not an institution of the Territory but of a church; it will not be an institution of the state if Utah should be admitted [to the Union].  It is not in any sense a feature of the political organization here and has nothing to do with it, because those who are connected with the institution form and sustain their domestic relations, not under any secular law or regulation, but solely and entirely under Church ordinances, forms and rules(Deseret News, July 14, 1882, “What We Contend For.”)

To “multiply,” was the first commandment given to our first parents.  Purity in matrimonial intercourse, I always believed, should accompany that command, and I have always endeavored to observe faithfully its practice.  I married because it was commanded of God, and commenced in plural marriage.  I contracted marriage with four women about the same time, and with a mutual understanding with each that they were to be equal—neither was to take or assume the status of a first or legal wife.  Two of them were united to me in the sacred bonds of matrimony at one and the same time, by the same ceremony.  The other two shortly after, also at one and the same time and in like manner. (Lorenzo Snow, January 10, 1886, JD 26:364)

We believe in celestial marriage, in celestial covenants, in men and women being united for time and for all eternity.  Are we going to suffer a surrender of this point?  No, never!  No, never!  We intended to be true to our covenants in time and in the eternities to come.  They call it bigamy.  What is a bigamist? A man who marries one wife promising to be true to her, and afterwards representing himself as an honorable man, marries another one and deceives both of them.  He is a breaker of covenants.  A polygamist does not do that.  Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon did not perpetrate such infamies.  Nor do we.  Bigamy is an institution of a perverted Christianity and not ours. (John Taylor, August 20, 1882, JD 23:235)

God spoke by the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, in a sermon delivered by the Prophet at Nauvoo a short time before his death, on the powers and policy of this government of the United States and the freedom and liberty secured in the American Constitution, that it was broad and ample in its provisions, extending human freedom to every soul of man and protecting them in every natural right . . . Referring at the same time to those narrow, contracted, bigoted, sectarian laws of some of the States against plural marriage, he [Joseph Smith] said they were not in harmony with the Constitution nor the purposes of heaven; that God had caused our fathers to establish this constitution, to maintain the liberty of all people of every creed, and it will become the duty of all lovers of freedom throughout the land to maintain those principles of human freedom. (Erastus Snow, October 7, 1882, JD 23:301)

The Prophet [Joseph Smith] did not say that any law passed by Congress is the supreme law of the land.  He knew better.  He knew Congress would pass laws that would be invalid.  What he said was this… “When a people or a church have received a Divine command and a law is enacted against it, do they not know whether the law is constitutional or not, seeing that Congress is prohibited by that sacred instrument from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion?  And if the Supreme Court, yielding to popular clamor against an unorthodox body rules that the unconstitutional law is constitutional, does that alter the stubborn, patient, invincible fact that the law is in violation of the great guarantee of religious freedom?  Any man who says that he really and firmly believes a certain law of God binding on him, and who will not obey it in preference to a conflicting law of man or a decision of a court, has either an unsound mind or a cowardly soul, or is a most contemptible hypocrite.”

A law has been specially framed against an establishment of their religion. The issue is obedience to God or submission to man; choice between a divine decree about which they have no doubt, and a human enactment that they firmly believe to be unconstitutional and void. It is a matter of conscience . . . (Deseret News, Editorial, July 6, 1886)

The laws prohibiting plural marriage were regarded as unconstitutional and unjust by the Church, and their execution was bitterly opposed. *** While this storm raged John Taylor stood immovable in his conviction that the anti-polygamy law was unjust, and died without making any concession. This was the outstanding feature of his administration. (Conference Report, April 1922, p. 38)

The severest prosecutions have never been followed by revelations changing a divine law, obedience to which brought imprisonment or martyrdom. Though I go to prison [and he did], God will not change his law of celestial marriage. (Lorenzo Snow, 1887, Whitney’s History of Utah, 3:471, Historical Record 6:144)

[The Church leadership] could not ask Church members to obey the law and repudiate their plural wives.  (Apostle Brigham Young, Jr., April 24, 1890, Brigham Young, [Jr.] Diaries, Church Archives)

[Referring to the principle of plural marriage] No principle or revelation that God ever gave to his people was to be laid on the shelf as a thing of the past(Apostle John Henry Smith, one week before the Manifesto, as quoted in the Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, September 16, 1890, ed. A. Karl Larson and Katherine Miles Larson, 2 Vols., Logan, Utah, Utah State University Press, 1980, 2:718)

[The Manifesto was] a cowardly proceeding, the more I thought of it the less I liked it. (Brigham H. Roberts, as quoted in Walker, “B. H. Roberts and the Woodruff Manifesto,” pp. 363-366)

During the [October 1890] conference I saw that movements were on foot to have the whole people support it [the Manifesto], a proceeding I viewed with alarm.  When the crisis came I felt heartbroken but remained silent.  It seemed to me to be the awfulest moment in my life, my arm was like lead when the motion was put; I could not vote for it [the Manifesto], and did not. (Diary of Brigham H. Roberts, February 10, 1893, quoted in Walker, “B. H. Roberts and the Woodruff Manifesto,” p. 365)

I design [to continue] to live with and have children by my wives, using the wisdom God gives me to avoid being captured by the officers of the law.  (Apostle Francis M. Lyman, Abraham H. Cannon Diaries, September 30-October 1, 1890)

I do not believe the Manifesto was a revelation from God but was formulated by Prest. Woodruff and endorsed by his counselors and the Twelve Apostles for expediency to meet the present situation of affairs in the Nation or those against the Church. (Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, Marriner Wood Merrill Diaries, August 20, 1891)

I, Charles W. Penrose, wrote the Manifesto with the assistance of Frank J. Cannon and John White. It’s no revelation from God, for I wrote it. Wilford Woodruff signed it to beat the Devil, at his own game. Brethren, how can God withdraw an everlasting Principle from the earth? He has not, and can not, and I testify to you as a servant of God that this is true.  (Apostle Charles Penrose, May 25, 1908, at a Missionary Conference in Bristol, England, Thomas J. Rosser, to Robert C. Newson, August 4, 1956)

[The Manifesto was] a trick to beat the devil at his own game(Apostle John Henry Smith, Salt Lake Tribune, January 16, 1906, “Manifesto Only Trick to Beat Devil at Own Game,” see also Smoot congressional proceedings 4:13)

Why in the world [did] President Woodruff ever make that Logan speech in which he declared the Manifesto to be a revelation? (Senator and Apostle Reed Smoot to Apostle John Henry Smith) 

I don’t know!!!  (Response from Apostle Smith) 

(As reported by Senator Smoot’s secretary, Carlos Ashby Badger Diaries, February 19, 1905, Church Archives)

Well, the Church will see the day when it will apologize for that.  Yes, sir, I did consent to the Manifesto with the rest of the church to President Woodruff, much to my regret, but I am not going to acknowledge it again; the time will surely come for that principle to rule. (Lucy Walker Smith, Plural Wife of Joseph Smith, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant. Vs. Church of Christ, Complainant’s Abstract, Lamoni, Iowa:  Herald Publishing House, 1893, p. 375)

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.  I believe in concubinage, or some plan whereby men and women can live together under sacred ordinances and vows until they can be married. *** Such relationships would have to be kept secret until the government changed its laws to permit formal polygamous marriages to be performed.  (First Presidency member and Apostle George Q. Cannon, As reported in the Abraham H. Cannon Diaries, April 5, 1894)

I shall leave this august chamber with head erect and brow undaunted and walk God’s earth as the angels walk the clouds, with no sense of shame upon me.  (B.H. Roberts, upon leaving the United States Congress Chambers in Washington D. C., when the body of United States congressmen refused to seat him because he was continuing to live as a polygamist after the Manifesto, though duly elected as a Senator by the state of Utah, Congressional Record 3:1104)

I am a law breaker; so is Bishop [Orson F.] Whitney; so is B. H. Roberts.  My wives have brought me only daughters.  I propose to marry until I get wives who will bring me sons.  (Heber J. Grant, 1899, “That Awful Mouth Again,” Salt Lake Tribune, September 8 1899; and “The Grant Declaration,” ibid., September 9, 1899)

The Church has obeyed the law of the land, and it has kept its pledges with this Government, but I have not, as an individual, I have taken that chance myself. (Joseph F. Smith, publicly commenting on the fact that he continued to live with and have children with his plural wives for many years after the Manifesto.  Smoot Investigation 1:97; also Salt Lake Tribune, October 8, 1910)

I only authorized him [Brother Wolff] to perform one [plural marriage after the Manifesto] and this was a case of merit, but I told him to investigate very thoroughly before the ceremony; *** I simply delivered a message to him [Brother Wolff] from some in authority. The same as when I was traveling in Arizona and Mexico, with [Apostle] John Henry Smith years ago, he performed certain [post-Manifesto plural] ceremonies and rites and I performed others for reasons which we understood at the time. I only authorized Brother Wolff to marry Brother Levitt. *** On that trip [in Arizona and Mexico] we married over ninety couples and a good many of them were plural marriages, this was in 1897. The two cases I referred to could also be put on the old list since 1890, but not since 1904.  (Apostle John W. Taylor, February 22, 1911, during the trial for his membership, “The Trials of Apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley,” Doctrine of the Priesthood, Collier’s Publishing Co. January 1987)

Brother [Apostle] Penrose told me once in the city of Mexico, that he had written the manifesto, and it was gotten up so that it did not mean anything and President [Joseph F.] Smith had told me the same.  I mention these things only to show the training I have had from those over me.  (Apostle Matthias F. Cowley, Testimony under oath in the trial for his membership, May 10, 1911, “The Trials of Apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley,” Doctrine of the Priesthood, Collier’s Publishing Co. January 1987, p. 28)

The Manifesto issued in 1890 and adopted by the Church in Conference assembled, was not a revelation but was a statement drawn up by the leaders of the Church. …” (Millennial Star 101:413, June 1939.)

Conflicting Statements From More Recent Times:

We have announced in previous conferences, as it was announced by President Woodruff, . . . plural marriages have ceased in the Church. . . . I want to say that we have been doing all in our power to prevent it or to stop it; and in order that we might do this, we have been seeking, to our utmost, to find men who have been the agents and the cause of leading people into it. We find it very difficult to trace them but when we do find them, and can prove it upon them, we will deal with them as we have dealt with others that we have been able to find. (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, April 1911, p. 8)

So polygamy was given to the Latter-day Saints by the Lord as part of the restoration of all things, and now it was taken away by the Lord.  In both instances—the giving of this practice and its discontinuance—it was a divine act.  It was not of man. (Mark E. Petersen, Way of the Master, p. 52)

Polygamy hasn’t been part of the doctrine of the Church since 1890. (Lance B. Wickman, Second Quorum of the Seventy, KUTV Interview, September 4, 1998)

SALT LAKE CITY — The world president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated categorically Sunday that the Church has nothing to do with polygamy, and that proponents of plural marriage are in violation of the law—both God’s and man’s. (LDS Church Press Release, October 4, 1998)

I condemn it [plural marriage] yes, as a practice, because I think that it is not doctrinal, it is not legal and this Church takes the position that we will abide by the law.  (Gordon B. Hinckley, September 8, 1998, “Larry King Live” televised interview)

At last, when the Supreme Court had declared the anti-polygamy laws constitutional and there was no prospect that there would be a reversal of this decision, the Church loyally and gracefully accepted it. President Wilford Woodruff issued his Manifesto against the practice of plural marriage, and this was accepted by a unanimous vote of the General Conference assembled in Salt Lake City, Oct. 6th, 1890. This was done by divine revelation to President Wilford Woodruff. — By this action [the Manifesto] the Church voted to conform to the laws of the land as interpreted by the highest tribunal, and to leave the issue with God. Since that conference, and, in fact, for some time previous to the acceptance of the Manifesto, no plural marriage has been performed anywhere with the sanction of the Church, or the approbation of the First Presidency, or anyone representing them, as was fully proved during the so-called Smoot investigation in the United States Senate, which commenced January 16, 1904. (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, Smith and Sjodahl, Deseret Book, 1923, pp 836-837)

NOTE:  The Doctrine and Covenants Commentary from which the above excerpt is taken has enjoyed and still enjoys a long and continued use in the LDS Church.  It was the text for at least two religious courses that I took while attending Brigham Young University.  The Supreme Court decision referred to in the excerpt was the “Reynolds” decision which was rendered on January 6, 1879, more then eleven and one half years before the Manifesto.  More than five and one half years after this Supreme Court decision, on 6 October 1884, President of the church John Taylor declared that that no compromise was possible on the subject of plural marriage (see quotes in previous section).  This was only one statement among so many other similar declarations where LDS leaders also spoke out continuously and adamantly for plural marriage after and in spite of the Reynolds Supreme Court decision.  The LDS Church at the time remained defiant against the “law of the land” that they knew was unjust and which was formulated only to persecute and destroy the Kingdom of God.  They did not submit “loyally and gracefully” by any stretch of the imagination.  For example, upon passage of the Edmunds-Tucker act in 1887, Wilford Woodruff declared the following:

Congress has turned the Last key that seals their Condemnation and lays the foundation for the overthrow and final destruction of the United State Government.  (Wilford Woodruff, January 13, 1887, Commenting on the fact that Congress had just passed the infamous “Edmund-Tucker Act, Wilford Woodruff Journal, Kenney, 8:420-421)

As seen in the statement quoted in this section by B. H. Roberts, the sustaining vote in the October 1890 Conference for the Manifesto was not unanimous—there were many abstentions, and at least one contrary vote which was mentioned by name in the press.  It is also a falsehood in the above excerpt to state that no church or LDS Church leader sanctioned plural marriage had been performed anywhere since, or for some time previous to the Manifesto.  There were hundreds of LDS church-sanctioned plural marriages that have been documented since the Manifesto.  My own great-grandfather, Helaman Pratt, married his third wife in 1897—seven years after the Manifesto.  This marriage was performed by Anthony Ivins, who later became a member of the First Presidency under President Grant.  My own grandfather, Rey L. Pratt, is also mentioned in a Salt Lake Tribune article of October 8, 1910 in a very long list comprised of LDS men who mad married a plural wife since the Manifesto.  My grandfather then went on to serve in the presidency of the Seventy of the LDS Church about 1925 or so, about five or six years before he died. He also had one of the instruction buildings named after him at the LDS Missionary Training center in Provo, Utah.  Contrary also to the final statement in the above collection of untruths (from the Smith and Sjodahl quote), the Smoot Congressional Investigation did indeed uncover much evidence of the continued practice of plural marriage in the LDS Church after the Manifesto—starting with the personal admissions of then LDS President Joseph F. Smith under oath in Washington D. C., that he had continued to live with and to father children by his plural wives after the Manifesto, which actions were, by his own confessions at the hearings, against both the laws of the land and the supposed “laws of God.”  (—Ed.)