Table of Contents:
The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
(by permission of the author)
While the Brethren were at the Carlisle residence [in Murray] in May or June of 1886, letters began to come to President John Taylor from such men as John Sharp, Horace Eldredge, William Jennings, John T. Caine, Abraham Hatch, President Cluff and many other leading men from all over the Church, asking the leaders to do something, as the Gentiles were talking of confiscating their property in connection with the property of the Church.
These letters not only came from those who were living in the Plural Marriage relation, but also from prominent men who were presiding in various offices of the Church who were not living in that relation. They all urged that something be done to satisfy the Gentiles so that their property would not be confiscated.
It is reported that on August 6, 1922, in a meeting at the Bountiful, Utah, home of Nathan Clark, Lorin Woolley related the following:
Other men who wrote letters urging the issuing of the Manifesto, were W. W. Riter, Ira Hinckley, W. W. Cluff, Abram Hatch and scores of other financial men. After the death of John Taylor, these men were hammering Pres. Woodruff to death, trying to get a Manifesto. They cried, "We want a Manifesto or we will lose our property. The Gentiles will take it. They will take our banks, etc." They finally succeeded to get Pres. Woodruff to surrender to them in 1890.1
Confiscation of Private Property
The political milieu represented in this statement is not authentic, as a study of contemporary records evidences. None of the legislation enacted against plural marriage stipulated the confiscation of individual members' private property. The legislation was aimed instead of destroying the Church as a political and economic power through the disfranchisement of its members. It prohibited the Church from owning more than $50,000 worth of property in excess of that used directly and exclusively for devotional purposes.2 In fact, the virtual reverse of Lorin Woolley's claim was the case. In anticipation of passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, legislation being considered by Congress in 1886, the Church in a move of administrative strategy, placed its property in the hands of private members to hold in trust, thus attempting to circumvent the confiscation of its own real and personal property. An economic history of the Church explains:
In anticipation of the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, therefore, President Taylor and other general church authorities secretly decided to place church properties in the hands of individuals and local congregations and thus help, Taylor said, "to protect us in our personal and proprietary rights so far as our legal status will entitle us to protection." Thus, he concluded, "any plans instituted against us," would be "against the people in their individual capacity. . . and in direct interference with their proprietary rights which this nation and all other civilized nations professed always to respect."3
This move was not without precedent, for, following the initial antipolygamy legislation in 1862, Church properties were placed in the private ownership of Brigham Young for the same reason.4 Arrington further explains the plan:
Thus, with the transferral of Church property by trust assignment to private individuals to secure it against confiscation, it is fallacious to suggest that leading brethren in the Church were petitioning President Taylor to do something to protect their private property from confiscation.
A possible source for Lorin Woolley's claim of such letters came from a usurpative law passed against Mormon polygamists in Canada in 1909. John W. Taylor stated:
Letters from Leading Men
Let us investigate those specifically alleged to have written concerned letters to President Taylor during the summer of 1886.
John Sharp was a pioneer railroad builder serving as superintendent of the Utah Central Railway, as director of the Union Pacific Railroad, as director of the Deseret National Bank, and as first bishop of the Salt Lake Twentieth Ward. On September 18, 1885, he pleaded guilty to unlawful cohabitation as defined by the Edmunds Law, and he was fined three hundred dollars. For this action of bad faith he was requested by the stake high council and the First Presidency of the Church to resign as bishop, which he did on November 3, 1885. It is improbable that he would have further strained his relationship with the First Presidency by subsequently urging that plural marriage be terminated to prevent confiscation of his private property. There is no reference of any such urging in his extant correspondence with President Taylor during 1886.7
Horace Eldredge was a polygamist with four wives. He was vice-president of ZCMI, vice-president of the Deseret National Bank, a member of the territorial legislature, president of the Church's European Mission, and a member of the First Council of Seventy. It is unlikely that as a General Authority he would suggest terminating the practice of plural marriage. An examination of all of his personal correspondence with the First Presidency in 1886 reveals no letter written by him suggesting such an action.8
William Jennings was the mayor of Salt Lake City, superintendent of ZCMI, director of the Utah Central Railroad, and director of the Deseret National Bank. He died on January 15, 1886, and therefore could not have written any correspondence to President Taylor "in May or June of 1886," as contended by Woolley. Thus, any claims involving Jennings after his January 1886 death must be admitted false.9
John T. Caine was a monogamist and served as Utah's territorial delegate to Congress from 1882 to 1893. Voluminous amounts of his correspondence with the First Presidency are preserved. A careful search fails to reveal any letter to President Taylor of the nature alleged. On the contrary, his correspondence with the First Presidency indicates that he was laboring diligently in Washington to protect the Saints in their rights to live plural marriage without interference or restriction.10
Abraham Hatch was president of the Wasatch Stake and a member of the territorial legislature. Like John T. Caine, he remained a monogamist throughout his life--which should have made him immune from threats of having personal property confiscated. His files, like those of Caine, contain no correspondence with President Taylor of the nature purported.11
W. W. Cluff was president of the Summit Stake, president of the Provo Theater Company, and a member of the territorial legislature. In 1886 he wrote to President Taylor: "I do not wish in any way to be trying to carry out any policy that is not strictly in accord with the sentiments of the servants of God', who are placed over me.12
This statement concerned cooperative enterprises, but it reflects his general unquestioned obedience to his superiors, an obedience that would apply to all facets of gospel doctrine. His files contain no correspondence with President Taylor relating to the issue under consideration.
W. W. Riter was a founder of the railroad system in Central Utah. He served several terms in the territorial legislature, serving as speaker of the house in 1886 and 1888. He was president of the Deseret Savings Bank, vice-president of the Deseret National Bank, vice-president of the First National Bank of Rexburg, vice-president of the Oregon Lumber Company, vice-president of the Utah Hotel Company, vice-president of the Utah Light and Railway Company, vice-president of the Utah Archeological Society, chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of Utah, and a member of the Salt Lake Stake high council. A careful search through his correspondence with the First Presidency during 1886 gives no indication that he was concerned over his property being confiscated because of gentile threats.13
Ira Hinckley was president of the Millard Stake of Zion. A considerable amount of his correspondence with the First Presidency is preserved, and there is no mention in any of his correspondence about concern over confiscation of personal property or over the issue of plural marriage in general.14
The 1886 correspondence files of "scores of other financial men" have been carefully checked, but they do not reveal a single letter to John Taylor evidencing any concern over private property being confiscated in connection with the property of the Church. This merely corroborates the above findings that individual members' property was in no danger of confiscation in 1886 either through actual or pending legislation. The claim, therefore, that such concerned letters came from "prominent men who were presiding in various offices in the Church" appears to be a misstatement of the facts. Speaking of events leading to the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890, George Q. Cannon stated:
State Constitution and the Council of Fifty
The idea that prominent LDS men in finance and business in the Church urged cessation of plural marriage probably stems from the fact that several of these men were members of the constitutional convention of 1887, which sought statehood through a proposed constitution that banned polygamy. This committee included many of the men mentioned by Lorin Woolley, such as W. W. Riter, John T. Caine, and Abraham Hatch.16
Interestingly, some of the brethren alleged by Woolley to have written letters requesting a manifesto to preserve their private property were members of John Taylor's revived Council of Fifty. This Council was reorganized in April 1880 to protect the Latter-day Saints in their constitutional rights.17 The Council of Fifty of the 1880s included George Q. Cannon, John Sharp, Horace Eldredge, W. W. Cluff, William Jennings, and others.18 It is unlikely that men of such position and responsibility would be guilty of the acts alleged by Lorin Woolley in his 1929 statement.
Paradoxes in Allegiance
In connection with events leading to the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890, Fundamentalists have written:
There are several discrepancies in this statement. In the 1929 Lorin Woolley statement, Abraham Hatch, John Sharp, Horace Eldredge, and William Jennings are each named as having written letters in 1886 to President Taylor requesting him "to do something, as the Gentiles were talking of confiscating their property in connection with the property of the Church." But according to the above report, four years later, at a time when the pressures were becoming even greater, John Sharp and Abraham Hatch were urging a diametrically opposite course. Peery of Ogden is also mentioned by Woolley as favoring a nonconciliatory course for the Church, yet three years before the Manifesto, in 1887, he was a member of the constitutional convention that sought statehood for Utah by perpetually banning polygamy through nonrevokable clauses. George Q. Cannon, according to Woolley's 1929 story, headed a committee to draft a manifesto in 1886, but four years later he is alleged to be in the opposite camp. Woolley also claimed that William Jennings urged a conciliatory approach "shortly before the Manifesto [of 1890] was issued," but Jennings had been dead for over four years by that time.
In view of these discrepancies and of the fact that contemporary records fail to produce any supportive evidence, Lorin Woolley's claim of letters petitioning President Taylor appears to be false.
1. Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 4.
2. Morrill Antibigamy Act of 1862, section 3; the act, as amended by the 1882 Edmunds Act and the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Law, also details the prohibitions imposed by law.
3. Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1958), p. 362.
4. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, p. 356.
5. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, pp. 362-63.
6. John W. Taylor File, February 22, 1911; Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
7. John Sharp Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
8. Horace Eldredge Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
9. See The Historical Record, January 15, 1886.
10. John T. Caine Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
11. Abraham Hatch Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
12. W. W. Cluff Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
13. W. W. Riter Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
14. Ira Hinckley Letter File, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
15. Juvenile Instructor 26:670.
16. L. John Nuttall journal for July 7, 1887, Brigham Young University Library Special Collections, Provo, Utah.
17. See Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (Michigan State University Press, 1967), pp. 17 3-79.
18. For a complete list, see Brigham Young University Library File M1221.
19. Words of Lorin C. Woolley spoken in a Priesthood Council meeting and recorded by Joseph Musser, taken from an undated mimeographed sheet of Fundamentalist origin. Copy in possession of the author. See also Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 26.