Table of Contents:
The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
(by permission of the author)
After that he [John Taylor] talked for about an hour and then sat down and wrote the revelation which was given him by the Lord upon the question of Plural Marriage (which revelation follows....)
My son John, you have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant and how far it is binding upon my people; thus saith the Lord: All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name, unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.
Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments, and yet have I borne with them these many years; and this because of their weakness--because of the perilous times, and furthermore, it is more pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters. Nevertheless, I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not, and as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham's seed and would enter into my glory, they must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof; even so, Amen.
After the meeting referred to, President Taylor had L. John Nuttall write five copies of the revelation. He called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and myself.... He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation.
There is no mention in President John Taylor's daily journal of him writing copies of the purported revelation1; nor is there any mention of the revelation being received. Copies of such a revelation would obviously be treasured heirlooms and strong evidence for the truth of the Lorin Woolley story. Fundamentalists, however, have never published any such copies, nor even referred to them in their subsequent writings. Where are those copies today, that they may be produced as evidence of the above claim?
If the Lorin Woolley story is true, there should be two copies with the descendants of John and Lorin Woolley, one with the George Q. Cannon family, one with the Charles Wilcken family, and one with the Samuel Bateman family.
One might well suppose that Daniel Bateman would have his father's copy. But the best Daniel Bateman could produce was a copy in his own handwriting. Joseph Musser reported:
Elder Bateman frequently, and with a show of pardonable pride, exhibited his Journal bearing a copy of the 1886 Revelation which he claimed to have copied from the original in Prest. Taylor's own handwriting.2
John W. Taylor is also purported to have had an additional copy, and yet at his trial in 1911 he entered as evidence a copy written in his own hand. Surely L. John Nuttall's copy would have been more convincing--if indeed it ever existed.
Revelation and the Story
There is no mention of this revelation in the 1912 version of the Lorin Woolley story. In fact, Lorin Woolley begins the 1912 account by stating that he does not remember the exact date of the meeting; yet the date of the 1886 revelation was then known as September 27, 1886, through copies that were being circulated among those advocating continued plural marriage. This revelation was apparently added to the story later, and it thus fixed the date of the purported events.
With the incorporation of this revelation into the Lorin Woolley story, Fundamentalists have since assumed that vindication of the revelation would constitute vindication of the Lorin Woolley story. The two, however, are not mutually supportive. Even if the revelation could be proved authentic, the story that was later built up around it could be a complete hoax. However, because of the importance Fundamentalists attached to this revelation, let us examine the various claims in the light of available information on the subject.
Origin of the Document
When the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890 was being discussed by the Quorum of the Twelve following its issuance, Elder John W. Taylor was reported as saying:
My father when President of the Church sought to find a way to evade the conflict between the Saints and government on the question of plural marriage, but the Lord said it was an eternal and unchangeable law and must stand.3
Two years later, in a meeting of the Council of the Twelve, John W. Taylor said, in relation to the Woodruff Manifesto:
I do not know that that thing was right, though I voted to sustain it, and will assist to maintain it; but among my father's papers I found a revelation given him of the Lord, and which is now in my possession, in which the Lord told him that the principle of plural marriage would never be overcome. President Taylor desired to have it suspended, but the Lord would not permit it to be done.4
In 1905 John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley resigned their apostleship, and in 1911 both were tried for their fellowship in the Church because of their continued involvement with plural marriage. Elder Cowley was disfellowshiped; Elder Taylor was excommunicated. The revelation of John Taylor in 1886 was referred to in Matthias F. Cowley's trial before the Council of the Twelve:
C.W. Penrose: What do you think of the revelation to President Taylor in 1886?
M.F. Cowley: This would not justify me. He referred to a revelation to President Woodruff [presumably the revelation of 1889], which he took to President Smith and read it to him and he said if it had not been for President Woodruff's strength in that principle we would have had worse than the Manifesto, and explained what certain diplomatic brethren thought was best to do. In view of this revelation [1889?] thought the brethren really felt that they were not justified in stopping it and that is all the effect it had on my mind and the Taylor revelation had very little effect. I thought I should receive my instructions from the living oracles.5
The 1886 revelation to John Taylor was the main topic of discussion at John W. Taylor's trial before the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Excerpts follow:
Taylor: My father received a revelation which, however, was never presented to the Church, and I refer to this not because it was a revelation to my father; I don't think a revelation because it came through him was any greater than one received through any other President of the Church, but because it seems to pertain to this question. The revelation was read by Brother Penrose.
President Lyman: When did you find the revelation?
Taylor: I found it on his desk immediately after his death when I was appointed administrator of his estate....
A. W. Ivins: Do you know how extensively this revelation has been circulated in times past and has guided people in their action in this regard?
Taylor: Brother Joseph W. Robinson came to me and asked for a copy of it upon the suggestion of Brother Cowley and he got it from Brother Badger. Brother Joseph F. Smith, jr., also got a copy, but I don't know how many have got copies from these....
J. F. Smith, jr: It is true I obtained a copy of this revelation from brother Rodney Badger. He let me take the original and I made a copy and filed it in the historian's office. This was but a short time ago.6
The letter file of President John Taylor for 1886 contains a typewritten copy of the purported revelation with the following heading: Revelation given to John Taylor, September 27, 1886, copied from the original manuscript by Joseph F. Smith, Jr., August 3, 19O9.7
Since many of those unwilling to cease polygamous activity after the issuance of the Woodruff Manifesto based a defiant stand in opposition to the course of the Church on the strength of this revelation, President Heber J. Grant met the situation with the following statement:
It is alleged that on September 26-27, 1886, President Taylor received a revelation from the Lord, the purported text of which is given in publications circulated apparently by or at the instance of this same organization (Fundamentalists).
As to this pretended revelation it should be said that the archives of the Church contain no such revelation; nor any evidence justifying a belief that any such revelation was ever given. From the personal knowledge of some of us, from the uniform and common recollection of the presiding quorums of the Church, from the absence in the Church Archives of any evidence whatsoever justifying any belief that such a revelation was given, we are justified in affirming that no such revelation exists.
Furthermore, so far as the authorities of the Church are concerned and so far as the members of the Church are concerned, since this pretended revelation, if ever given, was never presented to and adopted by the Church or by any Council of the Church, and since to the contrary, an inspired rule of action, the Manifesto, was (subsequently to the pretended revelation) presented to and adopted by the Church, which inspired rule in its terms, purport, and effect was directly opposite to the interpretation given to the pretended revelation, the said pretended revelation could have no validity and no binding effect and force upon Church members, and action under it would be unauthorized, illegal, and void.8
Following the issuance of this official statement in 1933 denying that the archives contained the revelation, apparently a more thorough search was initiated. Anthony W. Ivins, counselor in the First Presidency, revealed the following in a letter to the wife of Rulon C. Allred, a leader of Fundamentalism, who with her husband was then investigating Woolley's claims:
The latter purported revelation of John Taylor [the 1886 revelation] has no standing in the Church. I have searched carefully, and all that can be found is a piece of paper found among President Taylor's effects after his death. It was written in pencil and only a few paragraphs which had no signature at all. It was unknown to the Church until members of his own family claimed to have found it among his papers. It was never presented or discussed as a revelation by the presiding authorities of the Church.
The fact is that neither of these pretended revelations [1880 and 1886] has any purport whatsoever so far as the Church is concerned. They were never published or presented to the body of the Church for approval, and consequently if such statements were made they have never been in force.9
Status of Official Acceptance
Fundamentalists recognized from the above comments that if the 1886 revelation were to enjoy status as a doctrinal revelation it would have had to be presented to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve and approved and accepted by them. Joseph Musser wrote:
You also say the revelation was never submitted by President Taylor to his associates in the Presidency or to the Twelve. It is a matter of record that one of his counselors, George Q. Cannon, was present with President Taylor at the time and had a perfect knowledge of the revelation. The other counselor, Joseph F. Smith, was in the Hawaiian Islands at the time, but was sent for, and the revelation explained to him by President Taylor shortly before the latter's death. Later, I am reliably informed, the revelation was discussed in meetings of the Quorum of Twelve, but was neither accepted as a revelation to the Church nor rejected. I believe there are members in your own Quorum now that can inform you on this subject in accordance with my understanding.10
But the only "record" that George Q. Cannon "had a perfect knowledge of the revelation" is, of course, Lorin Woolley's 1929 statement given some forty-three years after the alleged occurrence. To date, no "record" has been found that vindicates the incident reported by Woolley.
Another account, written by Douglas M. Todd, Sr., pretends to supply additional information concerning acceptance of the 1886 document by the Council of Twelve:
September 1, 1934. After reading some expressions in a letter ascribed to A. W. Ivins in which the foregoing revelation [1886 document] is referred to as an unsigned scrap of paper a so-called revelation--the words of a man which were never submitted to the people of the Church and are not binding, etc., I went up and talked with my sister Nellie E. Taylor, plural wife of John W. Taylor, to learn what she knew about it. She says John W. referred to the circumstances on several occasions and told how his father was in hiding at the home of John Woolley at Centerville the night it was received. That Lorin Woolley was on guard in the next room and witnessed a strange light under Pres. Taylor's door. Next day [27th] a message was sent to those of the Apostles then at home to meet Pres. T[aylor] at Centerville. . . . George F. Gibbs secured a sheep wagon and took them up in the evening. John W. Taylor was asked to stand guard in the front room and was not with them, but understood that the purpose of the meeting was to receive the revelation. To have presented this revelation in open conference in times like those in 1886 would have been fatal.11
Todd made his statement after reading Anthony W. Ivins's letter, cited above, which was published in a pamphlet authored by Joseph Musser and J. Leslie Broadbent in 1934. This pamphlet goes on, however, to preclude the claims made by Todd:
When God revealed his word to President John Taylor, on the night of September 26-27, 1886, it doubt less did not occur to him that he should also visit other Church officials and reiterate his message to them, in order that it should not be denied by them in years to come!12
Todd Claims Analyzed
Let us examine the various claims made by Douglas Todd, which he attributed to John W. Taylor.
The account alleges that a message was sent "to Salt Lake City asking those of the First Presidency and Twelve who were there to meet him at Centerville." The First Presidency at this time was composed of John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith. President Smith was in Hawaii presiding over the Sandwich Islands Mission, and President Taylor and President Cannon were staying at John Woolley's home in Centerville, so it would hardly have been necessary to send a messenger to Salt Lake City to ask the two men to meet with themselves at Centerville.
The message was purportedly sent on Monday, September 27. It is not clear from the account, however, which day the apostles are supposed to have arrived--on September 27, or on the following day. The account simply states: "George F. Gibbs secured a sheep wagon and took them up in the evening."13 A check on members of the Quorum of the Twelve for those two days reveals their locations as follows:
Lorenzo Snow: Penitentiary
Erastus Snow: Mexico City
Brigham Young, Jr.: Arizona
Moses Thatcher: Mexico
Francis M. Lyman: Idaho
George Teasdale: Mexico14
The five remaining apostles were locally available. Private journals supply the following information as to what these five were doing on the two days in question:
Wilford Woodruff had been in hiding in St. George during this period, but had returned to Salt Lake City on a short visit. He arrived on September 21 and remained secreted at the home of a friend in the Farmer's Ward south of the city. On September 23 he wrote to President Taylor and President Cannon, announcing his arrival. On September 27 he recorded in his journal:
I wrote 3 letters to J. Jacques, Teasdale and Bulah. I received 6 letters from Jacques, Hall, Wilford, Beatie, J. D. T. McAllister & Lot Smith. I met Owen in the evening.
On September 28 he reported:
I wrote 2 letters to J. D. T. McAllister and Thomas Cottam.
There is no mention in his journal of a visit with President Taylor at Centerville as claimed by Todd--merely a mention of letter communication between them.
John Henry Smith, Heber J. Grant, and Franklin D. Richards were in Salt Lake City. On Monday evening, September 27, Elder Smith and Elder Grant attended a "meeting of the Home Insurance Company at the City Hall, where the articles of incorporation were read and after some few changes were passed."15 Franklin D. Richards spent Monday, September 27, at the office working. That evening he reported: "Jane and Charles came down [from Ogden] and with Manie and Pearl I attended Pinafore' at [the] theater. We slept at the office."16 Tuesday evening, September 28, John Henry Smith "attended a director's meeting of the Co-op Furniture Co., at which it was decided to secure a place of business on Main St. if possible."17 On September 28, after attending to business and ordinance work with Elder Smith and Elder Grant, Elder Richards reported: "I took. . . the 5 p.m. freight [and] arrived [in Ogden] at 8 p.m. Brother Anson Call stayed all night with us--enroute for Logan."18
John W. Taylor Involvement
John W. Taylor kept no journal that is extant, and there is no account of his activities in the available journals of others, so we are reliant on other sources for a report of his activities. On the dates in question he apparently was at his home in Salt Lake City awaiting arraignment at Blackfoot, Idaho, on a charge of "inciting to acts of lawlessness." His letter file contains a letter written to John Taylor dated September 8, and another letter dated September 30. He reported to President Taylor and President Cannon: "I am spending most of my time in arranging my business affairs for while I hope for the best I am preparing for the worst."19
John W. Taylor was reported in Todd's journal as being at the John Woolley home with the other apostles, but "was asked to stand guard in the front room and was not with them, but understood that the purpose of the meeting was to receive this revelation." One wonders why, after going to all the trouble of getting him there under such hazardous circumstances to be made aware of such a revelation, he would be asked to miss the whole important event by standing guard while the meeting was in progress. Available journals show that the regular guards were at the Woolley home at the time mentioned. Surely they would have been the obvious ones chosen to stand guard.
Having John W. Taylor stand guard makes neither good sense nor plausible history. If John W. Taylor were "stand[ing] guard in the front room," where was the meeting purportedly taking place? Since John Taylor's private room opened off the "front room," and if the meeting were held there, might not the door have been left open so that John W. Taylor could listen to the meeting while standing at his post?
The 1911 trial of John W. Taylor referred to above supplies even more cause for doubt. Elder Taylor's first line of defense would logically have been to point out the fact that his father had received the revelation, and that three of those present accompanied him to the John Woolley home, where they were personally informed of the revelation by President Taylor. How does one forget such a singular event?
Elder Taylor's defense would logically have continued with a rehearsal of all the details of the Lorin Woolley story. Most pertinent to his case would have been a description of the setting apart of a select group of men to perpetuate plural marriage independent of the Church. After all, this perpetuation was the very thing he was accused of doing, and a reminder of others especially set apart to do the same thing (some of whom were his accusers) would have been a most important part of his defense. Yet we look in vain for such an argument at his trial. Could it be that he knew of no such action?
If Joseph F. Smith had the whole episode rehearsed to him by President Taylor prior to his death, as is alleged, why did he permit the trial and investigation to take place at all? If the trial proceeded without his sanction, why did he not step forth and vindicate John W. Taylor? Surely, if Fundamentalist claims are true, President Smith would have suppressed the whole matter to protect the workings of a higher priesthood body of which he was allegedly a member.
In comparing Todd's account with B. Harvey Allred's version (referred to in chapter 1), more questions present themselves. Allred claimed that two apostles were present On September 26 and 27 at the time the meetings were supposedly being held. He did not name these two apostles, and a question arises as to their identity. If they were present, why did they need to return shortly (as indicated in Todd's account) to have rehearsed to them the very things they supposedly witnessed firsthand a day or two previously? Clearly, details of the various versions are hopelessly at variance with each other.
Terminating the Practice
As to content, the 1886 revelation merely reiterates the instructions of the original revelation of 1843 (see D&C 132); it adds nothing new to its requirements. It is similar to other revelations on plural marriage received by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff during this same period.20 The revelation indicates the Lord as saying: "How can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.... I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting." The Lord never does revoke an eternal principle or law, but he can and has revoked the practice of a principle when it has been imprudent for his Church to continue its practice.
The Lord apparently did not authorize the practice of plural marriage among the Nephites, but declared that the principle would be valid for that people if he commanded it:
Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.21
Francis M. Lyman stated at John W. Taylor's trial:
Up to the issuance of the Manifesto it was never taught that it [plural marriage] would be given up, I didn't think it would for a minute, still I believed the Manifesto of President Woodruff was from the Lord. The law will stand forever, but the practice was discontinued.22
In October 1891, Joseph F. Smith gave the following testimony before the Master in Chancery:
Q: Do you believe that God has revoked it (the practice of polygamy)--changed it as a true principle?
A: I believe that he has suffered it to be revoked, that is so far as the practice of it is concerned.
Q: I am speaking of the principle of plural marriage?
A: I do not think he has revoked the principle.23
The Lord may declare the principle or law inviolate, and may also terminate its practice when circumstances militate against it.
Authority Not Mentioned
There is no language in the 1886 revelation that would have altered the doctrines on eternal marriage or the authority of the sealing power or the succession of that authority. In fact, the revelation does not even mention the authority required to perform plural marriages. This was clearly expressed by Orson F. Whitney at John W. Taylor's trial:
There is no authority as far as I can see, in that revelation, no authority given to man to exercise such authority in marrying anyone, but the question of whether they should go into the relationship was left with the individual, as in President Young's time when men were commanded to go into it.24
Is it not strange that a revelation allegedly designed to perpetuate the practice of plural marriage would fail to mention the means of perpetuation purportedly given at the same time--that is, the pretended organization of a super priesthood presidency? The analysis made in this book suggests that the story is a presumption built up around what is at best an obscure revelation. Even if the revelation were proved authentic, that fact would offer not one iota of proof of the validity of the story that Lorin Woolley built up around it.
1. Although its authenticity has not been established, for convenience the document concerned is referred to in the text of this book as the 1886 revelation.
2. Truth, vol. 8, no. 1 (June 1942), p. 14.
3. Journal of Abraham H. Cannon, vol. 13, September 30, 1890.
4. Journal of Abraham H. Cannon, March 29, 1892. This document was later circulated among early Fundamentalists. In Truth Magazine of October, 1938, Joseph Musser reproduced "A Facsimile Copy of the Revelation" which was so poor, how ever, that it was difficult to read. Because of the poor quality of the photograph, later Fundamentalist writers have taken the liberty of tracing over the photograph to make it reproduce more legibly. In the pamphlet, 1886 Revelation, one can see the results of this endeavor. Still another pamphlet, The Four Hidden Revelations, shows an additional retracing effort.
5. Matthias F. Cowley File, May 10, 1911, Church Archives, Salt Lake City. Note that Elder Cowley laid more emphasis on President Woodruff's 1889 revelation than on President Taylor's 1886 document.
6. John W. Taylor File, February 22 and March 1, 1911. For additional quotations from the trial, see 1886 Revelation. Joseph Musser obtained a copy of the minutes from the Church Archives.
7. This agrees with the testimony cited in John W. Taylor's File above.
8. Official Statement, Deseret News, Church Section, June 18, 1933. This statement reiterated the judgment of John W. Taylor at his trial in 1911: "His construction upon it [the 1886 revelation] is very mischievous and against the position and discipline of the Church by the living oracles."
9. Anthony W. Ivins Letter File, February 10, 1934, Church Archives, Salt Lake City. (Although emphasis is added here, it conforms to emphasis found in other sources: Musser and Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, p. 15.)
10. Joseph W. Musser, Marriage, 1934, pp. 44-45.
11. Excerpts From the Journal of Douglas M. Todd, Sr. (Salt Lake City, 1972), pp. 10-12.
12. Musser and Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, p. 70.
13. A Fundamentalist publication indicates that September 28, 1886, was the day that is meant in this passage. For further information, see The Most Holy Principle: A History Problem, vol. 3 (Murray, Utah: Gems Publishing Company, 1971), p. 231.
14. Information derived from private journals, the Journal History of the Church, and The Historical Record.
15. See journals of John Henry Smith and Abraham H. Cannon for September 27, 1886
16. Franklin D. Richards Journal, September 27, 1886, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
17. See journals of Abraham H. Cannon and Franklin D. Richards, September 28, 1886.
18. Franklin D. Richards Journal, September 28, 1886.
19. John W. Taylor Letter File, September 30, 1886.
20. See the Annie Taylor Hyde collection, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
21. Jacob 2:26-27, 30.
22. John W. Taylor File.
23. Deseret News Weekly, October 24, 1891, pp. 572-8 1.
24. John W. Taylor File.