|Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Under the Prophet in Utah -> Chapter XVI - The Price of Protest|
The Price of Protest
The members of the Mormon hierarchy continually boast that they are sustained in their power - and in their abuses of that power - "by the free vote of the freest people under the sun." By an amazing self deception the Mormon people assume that their government is one of "common consent;" and nothing angers them more than the expression of any suspicion that they are not the freest community in the world. They live under an absolutism. They have no more right of judgment than a dead body. Yet the diffusion of authority is so clever that nearly every man seems to share in its operation upon some subordinate, and feels himself in some degree a master without observing that he is also a slave.
The male members of the ward - who would be called "laymen" in any other Church - all hold the priesthood. Each is in possession of, or on the road to, some priestly office; and yet all are under the absolutism of the bishop of the ward. Of the hundreds of bishops, with their councilors, each seems to be exercising some independent authority, but all are obedient to the presidents of stakes. The presidents apparently direct the ecclesiastical destinies of their districts, but they are, in fact, supine and servile under the commands of the apostles; and these, in turn, render implicit obedience to the Prophet, Seer and Revelator. No policy ever arises from the people. All direction, all command, comes from the man at the top. It is not a government by common consent, but a government of common consent - of universal, absolute and unquestioning obedience - under penalty of eternal condemnation threatened and earthly punishment sure.
Twice a year, with a fine show of democracy, the people assemble in the Tabernacle at Salt Lake, and there vote for the general authorities who are presented to them by the voice of revelation. If there were no tragedy, there would be farce in the solemnity with which this pretense of free government is staged and managed. Some ecclesiast rises in the pulpit and reads from his list: "It is moved and seconded that we sustain Joseph F. Smith as Prophet, Seer and Revelator to all the world. All who favor this make it manifest by raising the right hand." No motion has been made. No second has been offered. Very often, no adverse vote is asked. And, if it were, who would dare to offer it? These leaders represent the power of God to their people; and against them is arrayed "the power of the Devil and his cohorts among mankind." Three generations of tutelage and suppression restrain the members of the conference in a silent acquiescence. If there is any rebel among them, he must stand alone; for he has scarcely dared to voice his objections, lest he be betrayed, and any attempt to raise a concerted revolt would have been frustrated before this opportunity of concerted revolt presented itself. Being a member of the Church, he must combat the fear that he may condemn himself eternally if he raise his voice against the will of God. He must face the penalty of becoming an outcast or an exile from the people and the life that he has loved. He knows that the religious zealots will feel that he has gone willfully "into outer darkness" through some deep and secret sin of his own; and that the prudent members of the community will tell him that he should have "kept his mouth shut." If there were a majority of the conference inclined to protest against the reelection of any of its rulers, the lack of communication, the pressure of training and the weight of fear would keep them silent. And in this manner, from Prophet down to "Choyer leader" (choir leader) the names are offered and "sustained by the free vote of the freest people under the sun."
During the days just before the American party's political agitation, a young Mormon, named Samuel Russell, returned from a foreign mission for the Church and found that the girl whom he had been courting when he went away was married as a plural wife to Henry S. Tanner, brother of the other notorious polygamist, J. M. Tanner. The discovery that his sweetheart was a member of the Tanner household drove Russell almost frantic. She was the daughter of an eminent and wealthy family, of remarkable beauty, well-educated and rarely accomplished. Young Russell was a college student - a youth of intellect and high mind - and he suffered all the torments of a horrifying shock. Unless he should choose to commit an act of violence there was only one possible way for him to protest. At the next conference, when the name of Henry S. Tanner was read from the list to be "sustained" - as a member of the general Sunday School Board - Russell rose and objected that Tanner was unworthy and a "new" polygamist. He was silenced by remonstrances from the pulpit and from the people. He was told to take his complaint to the President of his Stake. He was denied the opportunity to present it to the assemblage.
Almost immediately afterward, Tanner, for the first time in his life, was honored with a seat in the highest pulpit of the Church among the general authorities. And Russell was pursued by the ridicule of the Mormon community, the persecution of the Church that he had served, the contempt of the man who had wronged him, and the anger of the woman whom he had loved. One of the reporters of the Deseret News, the Church's newspaper, subsequently stated that he had been detailed, with others, to pursue Russell day and night, soliciting interviews, plaguing him with questions, and demanding the legal proofs of Tanner's marriage - which, of course, it was known that Russell could not give - until Russell's friends, fearing that he might be driven to violence, persuaded him to leave the state. Tanner is now reputed to have six plural wives (all married to him since the manifesto of 1890) of whom this young woman is one.
Similarly, at the General Conference of April, 1905, Don C. Musser (of whom I have already written) attempted to protest against the sustaining of Apostles Taylor and Cowley; but Joseph F. Smith promptly called upon the choir to sing, and Musser's voice was drowned in harmony. In more recent years Charles J. Bowen rose at a General Conference to object to the sustaining of some of the polygamous authorities, and he was hustled from the building by the ushers.
But the most notable case of individual revolt of this period was Charles A. Smurthwaite's. He had joined the Church, alone, when a boy in England, and the sufferings he had endured, for allying himself with an ostracized sect, had made him a very ardent Mormon. He had become a "teacher" in his ward of Ogden City, had succeeded in business as a commission merchant and was a great favorite with his bishop and his people, because of his charities and a certain gentle tolerance of disposition and kindly brightness of mind.
Smurthwaite, in partnership with Richard J. Taylor (son of a former President of the Church, John Taylor) engaged in the manufacture of salt, with the financial backing of a leading Church banker. Along the shores of Salt Lake, salt is obtained, by evaporation, at the cost of about sixty cents a ton; its selling price, at the neighboring smelting centers, ranges from three dollars to fourteen dollars a ton; and the industry has always been one of the most profitable in the community. In the early days, the Church (as I have already related) encouraged the establishment of "salt gardens," financed the companies, protected them in their leasehold rights along the lake shores, and finally, through the Inland Crystal Salt Company, came to control a practical monopoly of the salt industry of the intermountain country. (This Inland Crystal Company, with Joseph F. Smith as its president, is now a part of the national salt trust.)
After Smurthwaite and Taylor had invested heavily in the land and plant of their salt factory, the Church banker who had been helping them notified them that they had better see President Smith before they went any further. They called on Smith in his office, and there - according to Smurthwaite's sworn testimony before the Senate committee - the Prophet gave them notice that they must not compete with his Inland Crystal Salt Company by manufacturing salt, and that if they tried to, he would "ruin" them. This proceeding convinced Smurthwaite that Smith had "so violent a disregard and non-understanding of the rights of his fellow-man and his duty to God, as to render him morally unqualified for the high office which he holds." For expressing such an opinion of Smith to elders and teachers - and adding that Smith was not fit to act as Prophet, Seer and Revelator, since, according to his own confession to the Senate Committee he was "living in sin" - for expressing these opinions, charges were preferred against Smurthwaite by an elder named Goddard of Ogden City, and excommunication proceedings were begun against him.
Smurthwaite replied by making a charge of polygamous cohabitation against Goddard; and after the April Conference of 1905, Don Musser and Smurthwaite joined in filing a complaint in the District Court of Salt Lake City demanding an accounting from Joseph F. Smith of the tithes which the Church was collecting. Meanwhile Smurthwaite had been "disfellowshipped" at a secret session of the bishop's court, on March 22, without an opportunity of appearing in his own defense or having counsel or witnesses heard in support of his case; and on April 4, after a similarly secret and ex-parte proceeding, he was excommunicated by the High Council of his Stake, for "apostasy and un-Christianlike conduct." His charges against Goddard were ignored, and his suit for an accounting of the tithes was dismissed for want of jurisdiction!
From the moment of his first public protest against Smith, all Smurthwaite's former associates fell away from him, and by many of the more devout he was shunned as if he were infected. Benevolent as he had been, he could find no further fellowship even among those whom he had benefited by his service and his means. I know of no more blameless life than his had been in his home community - and, to this, every one of his acquaintances can bear testimony - yet after the brutally unjust proceedings of excommunication against him the Deseret News, the Church's daily paper, referred to "recent cases of apostasy and excommunication" as having been made necessary by the "gross immorality" of the victims. When a man like Chas. A. Smurthwaite could not remonstrate against the individual offenses of Joseph F. Smith, without being overwhelmed by financial disaster, and social ostracism, and personal slander, it must be evident how impossible is such single revolt to the average Mormon. Nothing can be accomplished by individual protest except the ruin of the protestant and his family.
In the case of my own excommunication, the issues were perhaps less clearly defined than in Smurthwaite's. I had not been for many years a formal member of the Church; and yet in the sense that Mormonism is a community system (as much as a religion) I had been an active and loyal member of it. In my childhood - when I was seven or eight years of age - I began to doubt the faith of my people; and I used to go into the orchard alone and thrust sticks lightly into the soft mould and pray that God would let them fall over if the Prophets had not been appointed by Him to do His work. And sometimes they fell and sometimes they stood! Later, when I was appalled by some of the things that had occurred in the early history of the Church, I silenced myself with the argument that one should not judge any religion by the crudities and intolerance's of its past. I felt that if I were not hypocritical - if I were myself guided by the truth as I saw it myself - and if I aided to the utmost of my power in advancing the community out of its errors, I should be doing all that could be asked of me. In the days of Mormon misery and proscription, I chose to stand with my own people, suffering in their sufferings and rejoicing with them in their triumphs. Their tendency was plainly upward; and I felt that no matter what had been the origin of the Church - whether in the egotism of a man or in an alleged revelation from God - if the tendencies were toward higher things, toward a more even justice among men, toward a more zealous patriotism for the country, no man of the community could do better than abide with the community.
The Church authorities accepted my aid with that understanding of my position toward the Mormon religion; and, though Joseph F. Smith, in 1892, for his own political purposes, circulated a procured statement that I was "a Mormon in good standing," later, when he was on the witness stand in the Smoot investigation, he testified concerning me: "He is not and never has been an official member of the Church, in any sense or form." I made no pretenses and none were asked of me. I was glad to give my services to a people whom I loved, and trusted, and admired; and the leaders were as eager to use me as I was eager to be used in the proper service of my fellows. (Even Joseph F. Smith, in those days, was glad to give me his "power of attorney" and to trust me with the care of the community's financial affairs.) But when all the hierarchy's covenants to the nation were being broken; when the tyranny of the Prophet's absolutism had been re-established with a fierceness that I had never seen even in the days of Brigham Young; when polygamy had been restored in its most offensive aspect, as a breach of the Church's own revelation; when hopelessly outlawed children were being born of cohabitation that was clandestine and criminal under the "laws both of God and of man" - it was impossible for me to be silent either before the leaders of the Church or in the public places among the people. I had spoken for the Mormons at a time when few spoke for them - when many of the men who were now so valiantly loyal to the hierarchy had been discreetly silent. I had helped defend the Mormon religion when it had few defenders. I did not propose to criticize it now; for to me, any sincere belief of the human soul is too sacred to be so assailed - if not out of respect, surely in pity - and the Mormon faith was the faith of my parents. But I was determined to make the strongest assault in my power on the treason and the tyranny which Smith and his associates in guilt were trying to cover with the sanctities of religion; and I had to make that assault, as a public man, for a public purpose, without any consideration of private consequences.
After I began criticizing the Church leaders, in the editorial columns of the Salt Lake Tribune, my friend Ben Rich, then president of the Southern States Missions, and J. Golden Kimball, one of the seven presidents of the seventies, came to me repeatedly to suggest that if I wished to attack the leaders of the Church I should formally withdraw from the Church. This I declined to do: because I was in no different position toward the teachings of the Church than I had been in previous years - because I was not criticizing the Church or its religious teachings, but attacking the civil offenses of its leaders as citizens guilty against the state - and because I saw that my attack had more power as coming from a man who stood within the community, even though he had no standing in the Church. I continued as I had begun. After the publication of an editorial (January 22, 1905), in which I charged President Smith with being all that the testimony then before the Senate committee had proven him to be, Ben Rich advised me that I must either withdraw from the Church or Smith would proceed against me in the Church tribunals and make my family suffer. I replied that I would not withdraw and that I would fight all cases against me on the issue of free speech. On February 1, 1905, I published, editorially, "An address to the Earthly King of the Kingdom of God," in which I charged Smith with having violated the laws (revelations) of his predecessors; with having made and violated treaties upon which the safety of his "subjects" depended; with having taken the bodies of the daughters of his subjects and bestowed them upon his favorites; with having impoverished his subjects by a system of elaborate exaction's (tithes) in order to enrich "the crown" and so forth. All of which, burlesquely written as if to a Czar by a constitutionalist, was accepted by the Mormon people as in no way absurd in its tone as coming from one American citizen to another!
Because of these two editorials I was charged (February 21, 1905) before a ward bishop's court in Ogden with "unchristianlike conduct and apostasy," after two minor Church officials had called upon me at my home and received my acknowledgment of the authorship of the editorials, my refusal to retract them, and my statement that I did not "sustain" Joseph F. Smith as head of the Church, since he was "leaving the worship of God for the worship of Mammon and leading the people astray." On the night of February 24, I appeared in my own defense before the bishop's court, at the hour appointed, without witnesses or counsel, because I had been notified that no one would be permitted to attend with me. And, of course, the defense I made was that the articles were true and that I was prepared to prove them true.
Such a court usually consists of a bishop and his two councilors, but in this case the place of the second councilor had been taken by a high priest named Elder George W. Larkin, a man reputed to be "richly endowed with the Spirit." I had a peculiar psychological experience with Larkin. After I had spoken at some length in my own defense, Larkin rose to work himself up into one of the rhapsodies for which he was noted. "Brother Frank," he began, "I want to bear my testimony to you that this is the work of God - and nothing can stay its progress - and all who interfere will be swept away as chaff" - rising to those transports of auto-hypnotic exaltation which such as he accept as the effect of the spirit of God speaking through them. "You were born in the covenant, and the condemnation is more severe upon one who has the birthright than upon one not of the faith who fights against the authority of God's servants." I had concluded to try the effect of a resistant mental force, and while I stared at him I was saying to myself: "This is a mere vapor of words. You shall not continue in this tirade. Stop!" He began to have difficulty in finding his phrases. The expected afflatus did not seem to have arrived to lift him. He faltered, hesitated, and finally, with an explanation that he had not been feeling well, he resumed his seat, apologetically.
That left me free to "bear testimony" somewhat myself. I warned the members of the "court" that no work of righteousness could succeed except by keeping faith with the Almighty - which meant keeping faith with his children upon earth. I reminded them of the dark days, which all of them could recall, when we had repeatedly covenanted to God and to the nation that if we could be relieved of what we deemed the world's oppression we would fulfill every obligation of our promises. I pointed out to them that the Church was passing into the ways of the world; that our people were being pauperized; that some of them were in the poorhouses in their old age after having paid tithes all their active lives; that by our practices we were bearing testimony against the revelations which Mormons proclaimed to the world for the salvation of the bodies and souls of men.
They listened to me with the same friendly spirit that had marked all their proceedings for these men had no animosity against me; they were merely obeying the orders of their superiors. And when we arose to disperse, the bishop put his hand on my shoulder and said, in the usual form of words: "Brother Frank, we will consider your case, and if we find you ought to do anything to make matters right, we will let you know what it is."
I returned to my home, where I had left my wife and children chatting at the dinner table. They had known where I was going. They knew what the issue of my "trial" would be for them and for me. Yet when I came back to them, none asked me any questions and none seemed perturbed. And this is typical of the Mormon family. I think the experiences through which the people have passed have given them a quality of cheerful patience. They have been schooled to bear persecution with quiet fortitude. Tragedy sweeps by them in the daily current of life. A young man goes on a mission, and dies in a foreign land; and his parents accept their bereavement like Spartans, almost without mourning, sustained by the religious belief that he has ended his career gloriously. Taught to devote themselves and their children and their worldly goods to the service of their Church, they accept even the impositions and injustices of the Church leaders with a powerful forbearance that is at once a strength and a weakness.
Two days later I was met on the street by a young Dutch elder, who could scarcely speak English, and he gave me the official document from the bishop's court notifying me that I had been "disfellowshipped for unchristianlike conduct and apostasy." I was then summoned to appear before the High Council of the Stake in excommunication proceedings, and after filing a defense which it is unnecessary to give here - and after refusing to appear before the Council for reasons that it is equally unnecessary to repeat I was excommunicated on March 14, 1905. No denial was made by the Church authorities of any of the charges which I had made against Smith. No trial was made of the truth of those charges. As a free citizen of "one of the freest communities under the sun," I was officially ostracized by order of the religious despot of the community for daring to utter what everyone knew to be the truth about him.
For myself, of course, no edict of excommunication had any terrors; but the aim of the authorities was to make me suffer through the sufferings of my family; and, in that, they succeeded. I shall not write of it. It has little place in such a public record as this, and I do not wish to present myself, in any record, as a martyr. It was not I who was ostracized from the Mormon Church by my excommunication; it was the right of free speech. The Mormon Church deprived me of nothing; it deprived itself of the helpful criticism of its members. No anathema of bigotry could take from me the affection of my family or the respect of any friends whose respect was worth the coveting. In that regard I suffered only in my pity for those of my neighbors who were so blindly servile to the decrees of religious tyranny that they turned their backs on the voice of their own liberty raised, in protest, for their own defense.
And it was not by the individual protestants but by the entire community that the heaviest price was paid in this whole conflict. It divided the state again into the old factions and involved it in the old war from which it had been rescued. The Mormons instituted a determined boycott against all Gentiles, and "Thou shalt not support God's enemies" became a renewed commandment of the Prophet. Wherever a Gentile was employed in any Mormon institution, he was discharged, almost without exception, whether or not he had been an active member of the American party. Teachers in the Church would exclaim with horror if they heard that a Mormon family was employing a Gentile physician; and more than one Mormon litigant was advised that he not only "sinned against the work of God," but endangered the success of his law suit, by retaining a Gentile lawyer. Politicians were told that if they aided the American party, they need never hope for advancement in this world, or expect anything but eternal condemnation in the world to come; and though few of them counted on the "spoils" of the hereafter, they understood and appreciated the power of the hierarchy to reward in the present day. The Gentiles did not attempt any boycott in retaliation; they had not the solidarity necessary to such an attempt; and many Gentile business men, in order to get any Mormon patronage whatever, were compelled to employ none but Mormon clerks.
The Gentiles had been largely attracted to Utah by its mines; they were heavily interested in the smelting industry. Colonel B. A. Wall, one of the strongest supporters of the American party, owned copper properties, was an inventor of methods of reduction, and had large smelting industries. Ex-Senator Thomas Kearns, and his partner David Keith, owners of the Salt Lake Tribune, and many of their associates, had their fortunes in mines and smelters; they were leaders of the American party and they were attempting to enlist with them such men as W. S. McCornick, a Gentile banker and mine owner, and D. C. Jackling, president of the Utah Copper Company, who is now one of the heads of the national "copper combine" and one of the ablest men of the West.
In 1904, in the midst of the political crisis, the Church newspapers served editorial notice on these men that, on account of the smelter fumes and their destructive effect upon the vegetation of the valley, the smelters must go; and that if the present laws were not sufficient, new laws would be enacted to drive them out. Men like Wall and Keith and Kearns and Walker were not terrorized; but McCornick and Jackling and the representatives of the American Smelting and Refining Company either surrendered to a discreet silence or openly joined the Church in the campaign. They were rewarded with the assurance that the Church would protect them against any labor trouble and that no adverse legislation would be attempted against them. Today Jackling, of the copper combine, is a newspaper partner of Apostle Smoot, and he is mentioned for the United States Senate as the Church's selection to succeed George Sutherland. The Church has large mining interests; Smoot and Smith are in close affiliation with the smelting trust; and this is another powerful partnership in Washington that protected Smoot in his seat and has been rewarded by the Church's assistance in looting the nation.