|Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Under the Prophet in Utah -> Chapter IV - The Manifesto|
I found him in the office of the Presidency - in the little one-story house that I have described in my early interview with Joseph F Smith - and he received me with the gracious affectionateness of a fatherly old man. He asked me, almost at once: "What are they going to do to us in Washington?"
"President Woodruff," I replied, "we've been spared - temporarily. The axe will not fall for a few moments. It depends on ourselves, now, whether it shall fall or not."
"Come into the other room," he said, under his voice, in an eager confidentiality, like a child with a secret. And pattering along ahead of me, quick on his feet, he signed to me to follow him - with little nods and beckonings - into the retiring room where I had talked with Smith.
There he sat down, on the edge of his chair, his elbows supported on the broad arms, leaning forward, partly bowed with his age, and partly with an intentness of curiosity that glittered innocently in his guileless eyes. A dear old character! Sweet in his sentiments, sweet in his language, sweet in the expression of his face.
I told him, in detail, of the events in Washington, and of the men who had helped us in them - particularly of Mr. Blaine, who was apparently a new character in his experience, and of Senator Orville H. Platt, in whom he discovered an almost neighborly interest when I told him that the Senator came from Connecticut, his native state. I warned him that the passage of the measure of disfranchisement had been no more than retarded. I pointed out the fatal consequences for the community if the bill should ever become law - the fatal consequences for the leaders of the Church if the non-polygamous Mormons, deprived of their votes, were ever left unable to control the administration of local government. I repeated the promise that my father had authorized me to carry to the Senators and Congressmen who still had the Cullom-Struble bill in hand; and I emphasized the fact that because of this promise the bill had been held back - with the certainty that it would never become law if we met the nation half way.
I was watching him to see if he sensed the point I wished him to get. When I touched the matter of my father's promise, his face became softly reverent; and when I had done - looking at me without a trace of cunning in his benignity, with an expression, rather, of exalted innocence and faith, - he said: "Brother Frank, I have been making it a matter of prayer. I have wrestled mightily with the Lord. And I think I see some light."
In order that there might be no misunderstanding, I put into plainer words what I meant and what the prominent men in Washington had been led to look for: since, by a "revelation" of the Church we were ordered to give obedience to the government of the nation, and since we had exhausted all our legal defenses, it was hoped that the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church would find a way, under the guidance of God, to bring our people into conformity with the law.
As he accepted this calmly, I added: "To be very plain with you, resident Woodruff, our friends expect, and the country will insist, that the Church shall yield the practice of plural marriage."
His eyelids quivered a little, but he showed no other sign of flinching. I saw that the counsels of his advisers and the comfort that he had derived from his prayers had prepared him for an immolation that was more serious to him than any personal sacrifice that he could make. He said sadly: "I had hoped we wouldn't have to meet this trouble this way. You know what it means to our people. I had hoped that the Lord might open the minds of the people of this nation to the truth, so that they might be converted to the everlasting covenant. Our prophets have suffered like those of old, and I thought that the persecutions of Zion were enough - that they would bring some other reward than this." If I had been the bearer of a new edict of proscription, I think he could not have been more profoundly oppressed by the sense of his responsibility. "Did your father tell you," he asked, "that I had been seeking the mind of the Lord?"
I replied that he had.
He reflected silently. "I shall talk with you again about it," he said, at last. "I hope the Lord will make the way plain for his people."
I do not wish to idealize the polygamous relation - but in monogamy a man is not persecuted for his marriage, and sometimes he does not appreciate the tie. In polygamy, the men and women alike had been compelled to suffer on its account by the grim trials of the life itself and by the hatred of all civilization arrayed against it. They had grown to value their marriage system by what it had cost them. They had been driven by the contempt of the world to argue for its sanctity, to live up to their declarations, and to raise it in their esteem to what it professed to be, the celestial order that prevailed in the Heavens! I knew, as well as President Woodruff did, the wrench it would give their hearts to have to abandon, at last, what they had so long suffered for.
In the days of anxious waiting that followed, I saw Joseph F. Smith and sounded him for any hint of progress. He said: "I'm sure I don't know what can be done. Your father talked with President Woodruff and me before he went to Washington, but I'm sure I can't see how we can do anything." When my father returned home, I went to him many times - without however learning anything definite. I knew that the men in Washington would demand some tangible evidence of our good faith before Congress should reconvene; and I repeatedly urged the necessity of action.
At length he sent me word, in Ogden, that President Woodruff wished to confer with me, and he suggested that it would be permissible for me to speak my opinions freely. I hastened to Salt Lake City, to the offices of the Presidency. President Woodruff took me into a private room and read me his "manifesto."
It was the same that was issued on September 24, 1890, and ratified by a General Conference of the Mormon Church on October 6, following. It was the proclamation that freed the oppressed of Utah; for, by the subsequent "covenant" - and its acceptance by the Federal government - the nation did but confirm their freedom and accord them their constitutional rights. Here, shaking in the hand of age, was a sheet of paper by which the future of a half million people was to be directed; and that simple old man was to speak through it, to them, with the awful authority of the voice of God.
He told me he had written it himself, and it certainly appeared to me to be in his handwriting. Its authorship has since been variously attributed. Some of the present-day polygamists say that it was I who wrote it. Chas. W. Penrose and George Reynolds have claimed that they edited it. I presume that as Mormons, "in good standing," believing in the inspiration of the Prophet, they appreciate the blasphemy of their claim!
I found it disappointingly mild. It denied that the Church had been solemnizing any plural marriages of late, and advised the faithful "to refrain from contracting any marriages forbidden by the law of the land." In spite of this mildness, President Woodruff asked me whether I thought the Mormons would support the revelation - whether they would accept it.
I replied that there could be no proper anxiety on that point. The majority of the Mormon people were ready for such a message. It might be very much stronger without arousing resistance. With the exception of the comparatively few men and women who were living in polygamy, the community would accept it gratefully. Rather, I made bold to say, my anxiety was as to whether the nation would believe that such an equivocally-worded document meant an absolute recession from the practice of plural marriage.
It was plain that his advisers had not pointed out this danger to him. He asked me how I thought the nation would take it.
I asked him, point blank, whether it meant an absolute recession from polygamy.
He answered that it did.
Then (I said) with such an interpretation of it, and a formal and public acceptance of it by the Church authorities, I did not doubt that we could convince the nation of its sufficiency. I reminded him - as I am now glad to remember - that the word of the Mormon people had passed current in the political and commercial circles of the country; that I had several times been the bearer of messages from them to prominent men; that we had been taken on faith and the faith had been always vindicated. Finally, in order that I might carry away no misapprehension, nor convey any, I asked him if it was the intention of the manifesto to inhibit any further plural marriage living.
He answered, quaintly: "Why, of course, Frank - because that's what they've been persecuting us for." There was not even a shrewdness in his voice when he added: "You know they didn't get our brethren in prison for polygamy, but for living with their plural wives."
Perhaps no other man in Utah could have said such a thing without sarcasm. The fact was that the United States authorities had been practically unable to prove a case of polygamy (which was a felony) because the marriage records were concealed by the Church; but they could prove plural marriage living (a mere misdemeanor) by repute and circumstance. It was part of President Woodruff's unworldliness that he did not see the satire of his words; and I was the more convinced of his good faith.
I was convinced also, by several of his remarks, that he had consulted with the Church's attorney, Mr. Franklin S. Richards; and while I trusted the President's unworldly faith, I trusted more the sagacity of his more worldly advisers. I began to see, with a sure hope, the beginning of the end of all our miseries.
Some days later I was summoned to attend a meeting of the Church authorities in the President's offices; and I knew that the test had come. The Church was governed by the Presidency, composed of President Woodruff and his two Councilor's, with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presidents of Seventies, and the presiding Bishopric, composed of three members. These quorums aggregate twenty-five men; and to their number may be added the Chief Patriarch of the Church, making a body of twenty-six general authorities - the Hierarchy. It was from these latter men, polygamists and (I feared) parochial in their ignorance of the nation and their trust in the protection of their followers - it was from them (and the other practicers of polygamy) that any opposition would come to the acceptance and publication of the manifesto.
They met - something less than a score of them, with two or three of their most trusted advisers - in one of the general offices of the Presidency, sitting in leather chairs along its walls, with a sort of central skylight illuminating subduedly the anxiety of their silent faces. President Woodruff and his two Councilor's entered to them; and this insignificant-looking apartment - of such tremendous community significance, because of the memories of its past - seemed to take on the gravity of another momentous crisis in the destiny of its people. The portraits in oils of the dead presidents, martyrs, and prophets of the Church, looked down on us from the façade of a little gallery, and caught my eyes almost hypnotically with the imperturbability of their gaze. No word from them! In the midst of the broken utterance of emotion - when the tears were wet on faces to whose manliness tears were the very sweat of martyrdom - I saw those immovable countenances as placid as the features of the dead.
President Woodruff stood under them, so old and other-worldly, that he seemed already of their circle rather than ours; and he spoke in a voice of feeling for us, but with a simple and courageous finality that sounded the very note of fate. He had called the brethren together (he said) to submit a decision to their consideration, and he desired from them an expression of their willingness to accept and abide by it. He knew what a trial it would be to the "whole household of Israel." "We have sought," he said, "to live our religion - to harm no one - to perform our mission in this world for the salvation of the living and the dead. We have obeyed the principle of celestial marriage because it came to us from God. We have suffered under the rage of the wicked; we were driven from our homes into the desert; our prophets have been slain, our holy ones persecuted - and it did seem to me that we were entitled to the constitutional protection of the courts in the practice of our religion."
But the courts had decided "against us." The great men of the nation were determined to show us no mercy. Legislation was impending that would put us "in the power of the wicked." Brother George Q. Cannon, Brother John T. Caine, and the other brethren who had been in Washington, had found that the situation of the Church was critical. Brother Franklin S. Richards had advised him that our last legal defense had fallen. "In broken and contrite spirit" he had sought the will of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that it was necessary for the Church to relinquish the practice of that principle for which the brethren had been willing to lay down their lives.
A sort of ghastly stillness accepted what he said as a confirmation of the worst fears of the men who had evidently come there with some knowledge of what they were to hear. I glanced at the faces of those opposite me. A set and staring pallor held them motionless. I was conscious of a chill of heart that seemed communicated to me from them. My brother Abraham was sitting beside me; I knew his deep affection for his family; I knew with what a clutch of misery this edict of separation was crushing his hope; I felt myself growing as pale and tense as he.
The silence was broken by President Woodruff asking one of the brethren to read the manifesto. When it was concluded, he said: "The matter is now before you. I want you to speak as the Spirit moves you."
There was no reply, except a sort of general gasp of low-voiced interjections and a little buzz of whisperings that sounded like emotion taking its breath. He called on my father to speak. The First Councilor rose to make a statesmanlike review of the crisis; and I understood that with his usual diplomacy he was putting aside from him the authority of leadership until he could see whether an opposition was to develop that should make it necessary for him to front it.
That opposition made a rustle of stirring in the pause that followed. I saw it in the changed expressions of some of the faces. Several of the men - including my brother Abraham, and Joseph F. Smith - asked whether the manifesto meant a cessation of plural marriages: whether no more such marriages were to be allowed.
President Woodruff answered that it did; that the Lord had taken back the principle from the children of men and that we would have no power to restore it.
Then they asked whether it meant a cessation of plural marriage living - whether they would be required to separate from the wives whom they had taken in the holy covenant.
He answered, firmly, that it did; that the brethren in Washington found it imperative; that it was the will of the Lord; that we must submit.
I saw their faces flush and then slowly pale again - and the storm broke. One after another they rose and protested, hoarsely, in the voice of tears, that they were willing to suffer "persecution unto death" rather than to violate the covenants which they had made "in holy places" with the women who had trusted them. One after another they offered themselves for any sacrifice but this betrayal of the women and children to whom they owed an everlasting faith. And a manlier lot of men never spoke in a manlier way. Not a petty word was uttered. Their thought was not for themselves. Their grief was not selfish. Their protests had a dignity in pathos that shook me in spite of myself.
When they had done, my father rose again with a face that seemed to bear the marks of their grief while it repressed his own. He dwelt anew on the long efforts of our attorney and our friends in Congress to resist what we believed to be unconstitutional measures to repress our practice of a religious faith. But we were citizens of a nation. We were required to obey its laws. And when we found, by the highest judicial interpretation of statute and constitution, that we were without grounds for our plea of religious immunity, we had but the alternative either of defying the power of the whole nation or of submitting ourselves to its authority. For his part he was willing to do the will of the Lord. And since the Prophet of God, after a long season of prayer, had submitted this revelation as the will of the Lord, he was ready for the sacrifice. The leaders of the Church had no right to think of themselves. They must remember how loyally the people had sacrificed their substance and risked their safety to guard their brethren who were living in plural marriage. Those brethren must not be ungrateful now. They must not now refuse to make their sacrifice, in answer to the sacrifices that had been made for them so often. The people had long protected them. Now they must protect the people.
Under the commanding persuasion of his voice I saw the determination of their resistance begin to falter and relax. President Woodruff called on me to speak, and I felt that it was my duty to represent the needs, the hopes, and the opportunities of the hundreds of thousands of the undistinguished mass who would make no decision for themselves, but whose fate was trembling on the event. I rose to speak for them, with my hand on my brother's shoulder, knowing that my every word would be a stab at his heart, and hoping that my grasp might be a touch of sympathy to him - knowing that I must urge these elders to sacrifice themselves and their families for a redemption of which I was to share the benefits - but sustained by the remembrance of the solemn pledge which I had been authorized to give in Washington to honorable men who had trusted in our honor - and strengthened by the thought of all those dear, to me, whose sufferings would be multiplied, with no hope of relief, if the few would not now yield to save the many.
I described the situation as I had seen it in Washington and as I knew it in Utah from a more intimate personal experience than these leaders could have of the sufferings of the people. I told them how cheerfully and bravely the non-polygamists had borne the brunt of protecting them in the practice of their faith, and yet how patient a hope had been always with us that the final demand might not be made upon us for the sacrifice of a citizenship which we valued more because it shielded them than because it armed us.
Encouraged by the face of President Woodruff, I reminded them that the sorrow and the parting, at which they rebelled, could only be for a little breath of time, according to their faith; that by the celestial covenant, into which they had entered, they were assured that they should have their wives and children with them throughout the endless ages of eternity. The people had given much to them. Surely they could yield the domestic happinesses of the little remaining day of life in this world, in order to save and prosper those who were not to enjoy their supreme exaltation of beatitude in the world to come.
I had felt my brother strong under my hand. He rose, when I concluded. And with a manful brevity he replied that he submitted because it was the will of the Lord, and because he had no right to interpose his selfish love and yearnings between the people of God and their worldly opportunity. The others followed. Not one referred to the equivocal language of the manifesto or questioned it. They accepted it - as it was then and afterwards interpreted - as a revelation from God made through the Prophet of the Church; and they subscribed to it as a solemn covenant, before God, with the people of the nation.
Joseph F. Smith was one of the last to speak. With a face like wax, his hands outstretched, in an intensity of passion that seemed as if it must sweep the assembly, he declared that he had covenanted, at the altar of God's house, in the presence of his Father, to cherish the wives and children whom the Lord had given him. They were more to him than life. They were dearer to him than happiness. He would rather choose to stand, with them, alone - persecuted - proscribed - outlawed - to wait until God in His anger should break the nation with His avenging stroke. But -
He dropped his arms. He seemed to shrink in his commanding stature like a man stricken with a paralysis of despair. The tears came to the pained constriction of his eyelids.
"I have never disobeyed a revelation from God," he said. "I cannot - I dare not - now."
He announced - with his head up, though his body swayed - that he would accept and abide by the revelation. When he sank in his chair and covered his face with his hands, there was a gasp of sympathy and relief, as if we had been hearing the pain of a man in agony. And my heart gave a great leap; for, in these supreme moments of feeling, things come to us that are larger than our knowledge, more splendid than our hopes; and I saw, as if in the blinding glisten of the tears in my eyes, a radiant vision of our future, an unselfish people freed from a burden of persecution, a nation's forgiveness born, a grateful state created. I saw it - and I looked at Smith and loved him for it. I knew then, as I know now, that he and those others were at this moment sincere. I knew that they had relinquished what was more dear to them than the breath of life. I knew the appalling significance, to them, of the promise which they were making to the nation. And in all the degraded after-years, when so many of them were guilty of breach of covenant and base violation of trust, I tried never to forget that in the hour of their greatest trial, they had sacrificed themselves for their people; they had suffered for the happiness of others; they had said, sincerely: "Not my will, O Lord, but Thine, be done!"