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- Under the Prophet in Utah - 4/45 -
your religion. You have never obeyed the celestial covenant, and you have kept yourself aloof from the duties of the priesthood, but it may have been a providential overruling. I have talked with some of the brethren, and we feel that if relief does not soon appear, our community will be scattered and the great work crushed. The Lord can rescue us, but we must put forth our own efforts. Can you see any light?"
I replied that I had already been in Washington twice, on my own initiative, conferring with some of his Congressional friends. "I am still," I said, "of the opinion I expressed to you and President Taylor four years ago. Plural marriage must be abandoned or our friends in Washington will not defend us."
Four years before, when I had offered that opinion, President Taylor had cried out: "No! Plural marriage is the will of God! It's apostasy to question it!" And I paused now with the expectation that my father would say something of this sort. But, as I was afterwards to observe, it was part of his diplomacy, in conference, to pass the obvious opportunity of replying, and to remain silent when he was expected to speak, so that he might not be in the position of following the lead of his opponent's argument, but rather, by waiting his own time, be able to direct the conversation to his own purposes. He listened to me, silently, his eyes fixed on my face.
"Senator Vest of Missouri," I went on, "has always been a strong opponent of what he considered unconstitutional legislation against us, but he tells me he'll no longer oppose proscription if we continue in an attitude of defiance. He says you're putting yourselves beyond assistance, by organized rebellion against the administration of the statutes." And I continued with instances of others among his friends who had spoken to the same purpose.
When I had done, he took what I had said with a gesture that at once accepted and for the moment dismissed it; and he proceeded to a larger consideration of the situation, in words which I cannot pretend to recall, but to an effect which I wish to outline--because it not only accounts for the preservation of the Mormon people from all their dangers, but contains a reason why the world might have wished to see them preserved.
The Mormons at this time had never written a line on social reform-- except as the so-called "revelations" established a new social order-- but they had practiced whole volumes. Their community was founded on the three principles of co-operation, contribution, and arbitration. By co-operation of effort they had realized that dream of the Socialists, "equality of opportunity"--not equality of individual capacity, which the accidents of nature prevent, but an equal opportunity for each individual to develop himself to the last reach of his power. By contribution by requiring each man to give one-tenth of his income to a common fund--they had attained the desired end of modern civilization, the abolition of poverty, and had adjusted the straps of the community burden to the strength of the individual to bear it. By arbitration, they had effected the settlement of every dispute of every kind without litigation; for their High Councils decided all sorts of personal or neighborhood disputes without expense of money to the disputants. The "storehouse of the Lord" had been kept open to fill every need of the poor among "God's people," and opportunities for self help had been created out of the common fund, so that neither unwilling idleness nor privation might mar the growth of the community or the progress of the individual.
But Joseph Smith had gone further. Daring to believe himself the earthly representative of Omnipotence, whose duty it was to see that all had the rights to which he thought them entitled, and assuming that a woman's chief right was that of wifehood and maternity, he had instituted the practice of plural marriage, as a "Prophet of God," on the authority of a direct revelation from the Almighty. It was upon this rock that the whole enterprise, the whole experiment in religious communism, now threatened to split. Not that polygamy was so large an incident in the life of the community--for only a small proportion of the Mormons were living in plural marriage. And not that this practice was the cardinal sin of Mormonism--for among intelligent men, then as now, the great objection to the Church was its assumption of a divine authority to hold the "temporal power," to dictate in politics, to command action and to acquit of responsibility. But polygamy was the offense against civilization which the opponents of Mormonism could always cite in order to direct against the Church the concentrated antagonism of the governments of the Western world. And my father, in authorizing me to proceed to Washington as a sort of ambassador of the Church, evidently wished to impress upon me the larger importance of the value of the social experiment which the Mormons had, to this time, so successfully advanced.
"It would be a cruel waste of human effort," he said, "if, after having attained comfort in these valleys--established our schools of art and science--developed our country and founded our industries--we should now be destroyed as a community, and the value of our experience lost to the world. We have a right to survive. We have a duty to survive. It would be to the profit of the nation that we should survive."
But in order to survive, it was necessary to obtain some immediate mitigation of the enforcement of the laws against us. The manner in which they were being enforced was making compromise impossible, and the men who administered them stood in the way of getting a favorable hearing from the powers of government that alone could authorize a compromise. It was necessary to break this circle; and my father went over the names of the men in Washington who might help us. I could marvel at his understanding of these men and their motives, but we came to no plan of action until I spoke of what had been with me a sort of forlorn hope that I might appeal to President Cleveland himself.
My father said thoughtfully: "What influence could you, a Republican, have with him? It's true that your youth may make an appeal--and the fact that you're pleading for your relatives, while not yourself a polygamist. But he would immediately ask us to abandon plural marriage, and that is established by a revelation from God which we cannot disregard. Even if the Prophet directed us, as a revelation from God, to abandon polygamy, still the nation would have further cause for quarrel because of the Church's temporal rule. No. I can make no promise. I can authorize no pledge. It must be for the Prophet of God to say what is the will of the Lord. You must see President Woodruff, and after he has asked for the will of the Lord I shall be content with his instruction."
Now, I do not wish to say--though I did then believe it--that the First Councillor of the Mormon Church was prepared to have the doctrine of plural marriage abandoned in order to have the people saved. It is impossible to predicate the thoughts of a man so diplomatic, so astute, and at the same time so deeply religious and so credulous of all the miracles of faith. He did believe in Divine guidance. He was sincere in his submission to the "revelations" of the Prophet. But, in the complexity of the mind of man, even such a faith may be complicated with the strategies of foresight, and the priest who bows devoutly to the oracle may yet, even unconsciously, direct the oracle to the utterance of his desire. And if my father was--as I suspected--considering a recession from plural marriage, he had as justification the basic "revelation," given through "Joseph the Prophet," commanding that the people should hold themselves in subjection to the government under which they lived, "until He shall come Whose right it is to rule."
We talked till midnight, in the quiet glow of the farmer's lamp-light, discussing possibilities, considering policies, weighing men; and then we parted--he to betake himself to whatever secure place of hiding he had found, and I to return to Ogden where I was then editing a newspaper. I was only twenty-nine years old, and the responsibility of the undertaking that had been entrusted to me weighed on my mind. I waited for a summons to confer with President Woodruff, but none came. Instead, my brother brought me word from the President that I must be "guided by the spirit of the Lord;" and, finally, my father sent me orders to consult the Second Councillor, Joseph F. Smith.
Joseph F. Smith! Since the death of the founder of the Mormon Church, there have been three men pre-eminent in its history: Brigham Young, who led the people across the desert into the Salt Lake Valley and established them in prosperity there; George Q. Cannon, who directed their policies and secured their national rights; and Joseph F. Smith, who today rules over that prosperity and markets that political right, like a Sultan. Of all these, Smith is, to the nation now, of most importance--and sinisterly so.
No Mormon in those years, I think, had more hate than Smith for the United States government; and surely none had better reasons to give himself for hate. He had the bitter recollection of the assassination of his father and his uncle in the jail of Carthage, Illinois; he could remember the journey that he had made with his widowed mother across the Mississippi, across Iowa, across the Missouri, and across the unknown and desert West, in ox teams, half starved, unarmed, persecuted by civilization and at the mercy of savages; he could remember all the toils and hardships of pioneer days "in the Valley;" he had seen the army of '58 arrive to complete, as he believed, the final destruction of our people; he had suffered from all the proscriptive legislation of "the raid," been outlawed, been in exile, been in hiding, hunted like a thief. He had been taught, and he firmly believed, that the Smiths had been divinely appointed to rule, in the name of God, over all mankind. He believed that he--ordained a ruler over this world before ever the world was--had been persecuted by the hate and wickedness of men. He believed it literally; he preached it literally; he still believes and still preaches it. I did not then sympathize with this point of view, any more than I do now; but I did sympathize with him in the hardships that he had already endured and in the trials that he was still enduring-- in common with the rest of us. The bond of community persecution intensified my loyalty. I felt for him almost as I felt for my own father. I went to him with the young man's trust in age made wise by suffering.
I had been directed to call on him in the President's offices, in Salt Lake City, where he was concealed, for the moment, under the name of "Mack"--the name that he used "on the underground"--and I went with my brother, late at night, to see him there. The President's offices were at that time in a little one-story plastered house that had been built by Brigham Young between two of his famous residences, the "Beehive House" and the "Lion House" (in which some twelve or fourteen of his wives had lived). The three houses were within the enclosure of a high cobblestone wall built by Brigham Young; and at night the great gate of the wall was shut and locked. We hammered discreetly on its panels of mountain pine, until a guard answered our knocking, recognized our voices and admitted us.
"He's in there," he said, pointing to the darkened windows of the offices--toward which he led us.
He unlocked the front door--having evidently locked it when he went to the gate--and he explained to a waiting attendant: "These brethren have an appointment. They wish to see Brother Mack."
The attendant led us down a dimly-lighted hall, through the public offices of the President into a rear room, a sort of retiring room, carpeted, furnished with bookcases, chairs, a table. The window blinds had all been carefully drawn.
Joseph F. Smith was waiting for us--a tall, lean, long-bearded man of a
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