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- Under the Prophet in Utah - 6/45 -
considered my duty. I did not wish to be put in any such position; and I said so.
Justice Zane had a respect for the constitution and the statutes that amounted to a creed of infallibility. He was the most superbly rigid pontiff of legal justice that I ever knew. A man of unspotted character, a Puritan, of a sincerity that was afterwards accepted and admired from end to end of Utah, he was determined to vindicate the essential supremacy of the civil law over the ecclesiastical domination in the territory; and every act of insubordination against that law was resented and punished by him, unforgivingly. He promptly sentenced me to three months in the County jail and a fine of $150.
My imprisonment was, of course, a farce. I was merely confined, most of the time, in a room in the County Court House, where I lived and worked as if I were in my home. But the sentence remained on my record as a sufficient mark of my recalcitrance; and I knew that it would not aid me in my appeal to Washington, where I intended to argue--as the first wise concession needed of the Federal authorities--that Chief Justice Zane should no longer be retained on the bench in Utah, but should be succeeded by a man more gentle. He was the great figure among our prosecutors; the others were District Attorney Dickson and the two assistants, Mr. Varian and Mr. Riles. The square had only seemed to be broken by the recent retirement of Mr. Dickson; the strength of his purpose remained still in power, in the person of Judge Zane.
And let me say that whatever my opinion was of these men, at that time, I recognize now that they were justified as officers of the law in enforcing the law. If it had not been for them, the Mormon Church would never have been brought to the point of abating one jot of its pretensions. All four men, as their records have since proved, were much superior to their positions as territorial officers. Utah's admiration for Judge Zane was shown, upon the composition of our differences with the nation, by the Mormon vote that placed him on the Supreme Court bench. Indeed, it is one of the strange psychologies of this reconciliation, that, as soon as peace was made, the strongest men of both parties came into the warmest friendship; our fear and hatred of our prosecutors changed to respect; and their opposition to our indissoluble solidarity changed to regard when they saw us devoting our strength to purposes of which they could approve. But now, in the midst of our contentions, the aspect of splendor in their legal authority had something baleful in it, for us; and we saw our own defiance set with a halo of martyrdom and illumined by the radiance of a Church oppressed!
There was more than a glimmer of that radiance in my thoughts as I made the railroad journey from Utah to the East. The Union Pacific Railway, on which I rode, followed the route that the Mormons had taken in their long trek from the Missouri; and I could look from my car window and imagine them toiling across those endless plains--in their creaking wagons, drawn by their oxen and lean farm cows--choked with dust, burned by the sun of the prairies, their faces to the unknown dangers of an unknown wilderness, and behind them the cool-roomed houses, the moist fields, the tree-shaded streets, all the quiet and comfort of the settled life of homekeeping happiness that they had left. My own mother had come that road, a little girl of eight; and my mind was full of pictures of her, at school in a wagon-box, singing hymns with her elders around the camp fires at night, or kneeling with the mourners beside the grave of an infant relative buried by the roadside. Our train crossed the Loup Fork of the Platte almost within sight of the place where my father, a lad of twenty, had led across the river at nightfall, had been lost to his party, and had nearly perished, naked to the cold, before he struggled back to the camp. I could see their little circle of wagons drawn up at sunset against the menace of the Indians who snaked through the long grass to kill. I could feel some of their despair, and my heart lifted to their heroism. Never had such a migration been made by any people with fewer of the concomitants of their civilization. Their arms had been taken from them at Nauvoo; they had bartered their goods for wagons and cattle to carry them; even the grain that they brought, for food, had to be saved for seed. They felt themselves devoted to destruction by the people with whose laws and institutions they had come in conflict, and they went forth bravely, trusting in the power of the God whom they were determined to worship according to their despised belief.
Now they had built themselves new homes and meeting-houses in the fertile "Valley;" and the civilization that they had left, having covered the distance of their exile, was punishing them again for their law-breaking fidelity to their faith. Surely they had suffered enough! Surely it was evident that suffering only made them strong to resist! Surely there must be somebody in power in Washington who could be persuaded to see that, where force had always failed, there might be some profit in employing gentleness!
This, at least, was the appeal which I had planned to make. And I had decided to make it through Mr. Abraham S. Hewitt, then mayor of New York City, who had been a friend of my father in Congress. He was not in favor with the administration at Washington. He was personally unfriendly to President Cleveland. I was a stranger to him. But I had seen enough of him to know that he had the heart to hear a plea on behalf of the Mormons, and the brain to help me carry that plea diplomatically to President Cleveland.
When I arrived in New York I set about finding him without the aid of any common friend. I did not try to reach him at his home, being aware that he might resent an intrusion of public matters upon his private leisure, and fearing to impair my own confidence by beginning with a rebuff. I decided to see him in his office hours.
I cannot recall why I did not find him in the municipal buildings, but I well remember going to and fro in the streets in search of him, feeling at every step the huge city's absorption in its own press and hurry of affairs, and seeing the troubles of Utah as distant as a foreign war. It was with a very keen sense of discouragement that I took my place, at last, in the long line of applicants waiting for a word with the man who directed the municipal activities of this tremendous hive of eager energy.
He was in the old Stewart building, on Broadway, near Park Place; and he had his desk in what was, I think, a temporary office--an empty shop used as an office--on the ground floor. There must have been fifty men ahead of me, and they were the unemployed, as I remember it, besieging him for work. They came to his desk, spoke, and passed with a rapidity that was ominous. As I drew nearer, I watched him anxiously, and saw the incessant, nervous, querulous activity of eyes, lips, hands, as he dismissed each with a word or a scratch of the pen, and looked up sharply at the next one.
"Well, young man," he greeted me, "what do you want?"
I replied: "I want a half hour of your time."
"Good God," he said, in a sort of reproachful indignation, "I couldn't give it to the President of the United States."
I felt the crowd of applicants pressing behind me. I knew the man's prodigious humanity. I knew that if I could only hold them back long enough--"Mr. Hewitt," I said, "it's more important even than that. It's to save a whole people from suffering--from destruction."
He may have thought me a maniac; or it may be that the desperation of the moment sounded in my voice. He frowned intently up at me. "Who are you?"
"I'm the son of your old friend in Congress, George Q. Cannon of Utah," I said. "My father's in exile. He and his people are threatened with endless proscriptions. I want time to tell you."
His impatience had vanished. His eyes were steadily kind and interested. "Can you come to the Board of Health, in an hour? As soon as I open the meeting, I'll retire and listen to you."
I asked him for a card, to admit me to the meeting, having been stopped that morning at many doors. He gave it, nodded, and flashed his attention on the man behind me. I went out with the heady assurance that my first move had succeeded; but I went, too, with the restrained pulse of realizing that I had yet to join issue with the decisive event and do it warily.
I do not remember where I found the Board of Health in session. I recall only the dark, official board-room, the members at the table, and--as the one small spot of light and interest to me--Mr. Hewitt's white-bearded face, as an attendant opened the door to me, and the Mayor, looking up alertly, nodded across the room, and waved his hand to a chair.
As soon as he had opened the meeting, we withdrew together to a settee in some remote corner, and I began to tell him, as quickly as I could, the desperateness of the Mormon situation. "Yes," he said, "but why can't your people obey the law?"
I explained what I have been trying to explain in this narrative--that these people, following a Church which they believed to be guided by God, and regarding themselves as objects of a religious persecution, could not be brought by means of force to obey a law against conscience. I explained that I was not pleading to save their pride but to spare them useless suffering; their history showed that no proscription, short of extermination outright, could overcome their resistance; but what force could not accomplish, a little sensible diplomacy might hope to effect. No first step could be made, by them, towards a composition of their differences with the law so long as the law was administered with a hostility that provoked hostility. But if we could obtain some mitigation of the law's severity, the leaders of the Church were willing to surrender themselves to the court--such of them as had not already died of their privations or served their terms of imprisonment--and a sense of gratitude for leniency would prepare the way for a recession from their present attitude of unconquerable antagonism.
He listened gravely, knowing the situation from his own experience in Congress, and checking off the items of my argument with a nod of acceptance that came, often, before I had completed what I had to say. He asked: "Do you know President Cleveland?"
I told him that I had seen the President several times but was not known to him.
"Well," he said, "I may be able to help you indirectly. I don't care for Cleveland, and I wouldn't ask him for a favor if I were sinking. But tell me what plan you have in your mind, and I'll see if I can't aid you-- through friends."
I replied that I hoped to have some man appointed as Chief Justice in Utah who should adopt a less rigorous way of adjudicating upon the cases of polygamists; but that before he was selected--or at least before he knew of his appointment--I wished to talk with him and convert him to the idea that he could begin the solution of "the Mormon question" by having the leaders of the community come into his court and accept sentences that should not be inconsistent with the sovereignty of the law but not unmerciful to the subjects of that sovereignty.
"The man you want," Mr. Hewitt said, "is here in New York--Elliot F.
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