Table of Contents:
The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
(by permission of the author)
President Taylor said that the time would come when many of the Saints would apostatize because of this principle. He said, "one-half of this people will apostatize over the principle for which we are now in hiding, yea, and possibly one-half of the other half" (rising off the floor while making the statement). He also said the day will come when a document similar to that (Manifesto) then under consideration would be adopted by the Church, following which "apostacy and whoredom would be rampant in the Church."
The word apostatize means to forsake one's faith, religion, party, or principles. In order for apostasy to "be rampant in the Church," as indicated above, the whole Church would have to be converted to plural marriage and then most members would have to forsake their convictions. Even at the peak of plural marriage in the Church, not more than 2 percent of Latter-day Saint families were polygamous. President Taylor gave the following statistics in 1885, when polygamy was advocated most strenuously:
The male members of our Church who practice plural marriage are estimated as not exceeding but little, if any, two per cent, of the entire membership of the Church.
It has been estimated that out of a community of about 200,000 people, more or less, from 10,000 to 12,000 are identified with polygamy.1
With not more than 2 percent of Latter-day Saint families polygamous in 1886 (or about 5 to 6 percent of the total Church membership), how would it be possible for 75 percent of the Church to apostatize over this principle following the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890? If this prediction of apostasy is supposed to refer to those who would support a manifesto terminating plural marriage in the Church, then it should have said that all of the Saints would apostatize, because virtually all Church members supported the Manifesto of 1890. According to the report of the general conference where the Manifesto was presented to the Church members, there were no hands raised in opposition to the announcement of the policy terminating the practice of polygamy.2
The allegation that "whoredom would be rampant in the Church" following the Woodruff Manifesto is equally absurd. The cessation of plural marriage would have had no such effect on the 95 percent majority, and since the polygamous 5 percent were required to be of the highest moral character in order to be deemed worthy to enter the principle, Lorin Woolley must mean that these men would become immoral.
Obviously the Woodruff Manifesto would not and did not have such dire results. If the continuance of plural marriage were the only way to control whoredom in the Church, then the principle would involve nothing better than physical gratification. This is poor tribute to pay devout Latter-day Saint families who have heeded the counsel of the Lord's prophet following President Taylor.
A Political Expedient?
Since plural marriage is the basic issue of Fundamentalist doctrine, one should not be surprised to find considerable speculation and misinformation on their part about the Woodruff Manifesto, the document that terminated plural marriage in the Church. Fundamentalists claim that the Manifesto was not a revelation from the Lord but was strictly a political expedient to enable Utah to gain statehood, so they excuse President Woodruff for issuing it.
The issuance of the Manifesto came in response to the demands of the people; President Woodruff signed it under a permissive grant. That he did not subscribe to it in spirit was well known by his intimates at the time. He did what he said he "felt inspired" to do; he doubtless did the best he knew how under the circumstances. But all the childish babble and prattle about the Manifesto being a revelation from God and putting an end to the practice of the patriarchal order of marriage [polygamy] is pure buncombe.3
In trying to absolve President Woodruff of responsibility in issuing the Manifesto, the Fundamentalists claim that he did not believe for one moment previous to the presentation of that manifesto that the people would vote for its approval... [and that] he made the statement before entering the conference session of that day, "the Saints will never approve of it." President Wilford Woodruff is reported to have grieved and felt more distressed... than any other being not possessing the knowledge he had been given could have felt.4
Fundamentalists claim the same thing about President Woodruff's counselors. Joseph Musser reported that Lorin Woolley said on August 7, 1932:
When the Manifesto was agreed to, Pres. Smith contended that the Saints would not accept it, and when they did at the succeeding conference, voting practically unanimously for it, it was a revelation and a shock to him as he had no idea that the Saints would sustain it. Bro. W.[oolley] refused to vote for it at conference.5
Authorship Attributed to Unbelievers
Fundamentalists claim that President Woodruff did not author the Manifesto, but that he merely signed a document that was authored by others in a spirit of desperation. They assign authorship to hostile nonmembers and dissident members, making the Saints appear stupid and blind in accepting it. Joseph Musser wrote:
President Woodruff did not write the Manifesto. It was written by Charles W. Penrose, with the assistance of Frank J. Cannon and John White. After being prepared, it was submitted to a committee of non-Mormon federal officials, among them Judges Charles S. Zane, C. S. Varian, O. W. Powers, and others. A change in the alleged facts set forth was insisted upon by these parties, the document recopied by a Mr. Green, a non-Mormon federal clerk, when it was returned to President Woodruff and received his signature.6
The original long version of the 1929 Lorin Woolley story (published in 1931) elaborated on the above statement:
After this the agitation continued. The Twelve finally held a meeting and we  were discussing the situation when it was finally suggested that the editor of the Deseret News, Charles W. Penrose, be asked to write a suitable document, For, said George Q. Cannon, "He can write and say more and mean less than any man in the Church." Brother Penrose got up one which was not satisfactory. Frank J. Cannon was then appointed to assist him. They too, failed and asked to be assisted by John H. White, the butcher, which was granted by the First Presidency.
After being prepared, a committee was appointed, consisting of George Q. Cannon, Francis M. Lyman, Erastus Snow  and Moses Thatcher, to present the manifesto to certain non-Mormon federal officials for their approval, among them Judge C. S. Zane and Judge Dixon, O. W. Powers and C. S. Varean, both groups being accompanied by body guards. (Daniel R. Bateman and Samuel Sedden being the guards of the brethren.) The meeting was in the office at the federal offices in the buildings now  occupied by the Kenyon Hotel, Second South and Main. These men insisted upon a change in the text, adding to the statement, "I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages having during that time period been solemnized in our temples or in any other place, in the territory," the statement that "one case has been reported, in which the parties allege that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, etc." as witnesses were then in the adjoining room who could testify to the fact. The document was then rewritten by Mr. Green, a court clerk, and non-Mormon and was presented and accepted by the church in that form.9
Joseph Musser and J. Leslie Broadbent wrote in 1934:
Other men have testified that President Penrose told them that he wrote the Manifesto. It is certain that Pat Lannen, Bartch, Zane and others of the Gentile op position had something to do with making slight changes in the wording. Frank J. Cannon, who wanted to bind the Church to the Manifesto, called it a "triple plated revelation."10
One of the "other men" to whom Joseph Musser refers is Thomas J. Rosser. He gave the following statement, which has been referred to by numerous Fundamentalists:
The following is a true and correct statement of an occurrence that transpired in Bristol, England,... [at] a conference, which was held Sunday, May 24, 1908. On Monday morning, the 25th, our Conference Priesthood Meeting was held, which lasted four hours and a half. After the preliminary exercises, President Charles W. Penrose asked if any of the brethren had any questions... . "President Penrose," I said, "I have heard much discussion on the Principle of Plural Marriage, some saying that it is withdrawn from the earth and that the Manifesto was a revelation from God. Dear President, what about this. . . ?"
President Penrose then rose to his feet, scratched the side of his head with his right hand for a moment or so, then stretched out his right hand toward us and said: "Brethren, I will answer that question, if you will keep it under your hats. I, Charles W. Penrose, wrote the Manifesto with the assistance of Frank J. Cannon and John White. It's no revelation from God, for I wrote it. Wilford Woodruff signed it to beat the Devil at his own game. Brethren, how can God withdraw an everlasting Principle from the earth? He has not, and can not, and I testify to you as a servant of God that this is true."12
Issuance of the Manifesto
Let us examine the record and compare these Fundamentalist traditions with the firsthand testimony of those directly involved. Describing what happened, President Woodruff testified:
The God of Heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write.13
In his journal for September 25, 1890, President Woodruff wrote:
After praying to the Lord and feeling inspired I have issued the following declaration (the Manifesto) which is sustained by my counselors and the Twelve Apostles.14
George Reynolds testified at the Smoot Hearings in Washington, D. C., in 1906 that he and two others (Charles Penrose and John R. Winder) edited the Woodruff Manifesto for publication after it was written:
Mr. Worthington: You said something about helping to write the Manifesto. Will you explain that?
Mr. Reynolds: President Woodruff wrote it in his own hand--and he was a very poor writer, worse, I believe, than Horace Greeley--and he gave it into the hands of three of the elders to prepare it for the press. I was one of those three.
Mr. Worthington: Who were the three?
Mr. Reynolds: C. W. Penrose, John R. Winder, and myself.
Mr. Worthington: What did you do? You said you helped to write the manifesto, and I want to have an understanding of what you mean by that.
Mr. Reynolds: The answer came from the fact of the question coming to me whether I had read it and under stood it, and I answered that I had assisted in writing it.
Mr. Worthington: Did you three, then, transcribe these notes of President Woodruff, or did you rewrite it, or what?
Mr. Reynolds: We transcribed the notes and changed the language slightly to adapt it for publication....
The Chairman: And when it was handed to you it was an inspiration, as you understand, from on high, was it not?
Mr. Reynolds: Yes.15
Frank J. Cannon Rebuttal
In a book which he published in 1911, Senator Frank J. Cannon made a public rejoinder to claims that he had written the Woodruff Manifesto, especially claims made by Lorin Woolley. Senator Cannon wrote of being invited to confer with President Woodruff prior to the publication of the Manifesto:
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. ... 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 hand-writing. 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 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."16
Cannon then proceeded to give his views as to who he thought might have aided President Woodruff in preparing the Manifesto:
I was convinced also by several of his remarks, that he had consulted with the Church's attorney, Mr. Franklin S. Richards.17
Thus it is clear that, Lorin Woolley's claims notwithstanding, Frank J. Cannon had nothing to do with writing or editing the Manifesto shown to him, which was later published and approved by the general conference of the Church.
Question of Joseph F. Smith Opposition
Fundamentalists have claimed that Joseph F. Smith opposed the Manifesto and that he chided President Woodruff for his action. Joseph Musser wrote:
"My God! what have I done," President Woodruff is reported to have said, after placing his signature to the Manifesto. And one of his counselors [Joseph F. Smith] answered, "You have signed a covenant with death and an agreement with hell, that's what you have done."18
In the councils of the Church President Smith was opposed to the issuance of the Manifesto of 1890 abolishing plural marriage. His signature was not attached to the Manifesto; and, as we are informed, he absented himself from the October Conference of 1890 to avoid voting on the document. Not favoring it he did not wish to embarrass his brethren by voting against it.19
George Q. Cannon gave the reason why he and Joseph F. Smith did not sign the Manifesto:
There is only one man at a time on the earth who holds the keys of sealing, and that man is the president of the church [D&C 132:7], now Wilford Woodruff. Therefore, he signed that document himself. Some have wondered and said, "Why didn't his counselors sign? Why didn't others sign?" Well, I give you the reason--because he is the only man on earth that has this right, and he exercised it, and he did this with the approval of all of us to whom the matter was submitted.20
President Smith did approve of the Woodruff Manifesto, as noted by all authentic accounts. Frank J. Cannon, who attended the meeting where the Manifesto was presented in the presiding councils, later wrote:
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.
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.21
To continue a statement of President Woodruff cited above:
I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write. I laid it before my brethren -- such strong men as Brother George Q. Cannon, Brother Joseph F. Smith, and the Twelve Apostles. I might as well undertake to turn an army with banners out of its course as to turn them out of a course that they considered to be right. These men agreed with me, and ten thousand Latter-day Saints also agreed with me. Why? Because they were moved upon by the Spirit of God and by the revelations of Jesus Christ to do it.22
Later we find Joseph F. Smith himself issuing what has since been called "The Second Manifesto" at April General Conference in 1904.23 With such unequivocal evidence before us, does it seem likely that Joseph Musser's above-cited statements concerning the Woodruff Manifesto represent the truth?
Later Fundamentalist "Manifesto"
For all the scorn and ridicule Fundamentalists leaders have heaped upon Wilford Woodruff for allegedly giving in to governmental pressure over the plural marriage issue, when they them selves were incarcerated for the same reason in 1945 they did not hesitate to repudiate their beliefs by submitting a written pledge to the government in order to escape further confinement. After serving only four months of their sentences, a group of Fundamentalists issued the following statement to qualify for parole:
To whom it may concern:
The undersigned officers and members of the so-called Fundamentalist religious group do hereby declare as follows:
That we individually and severally pledge ourselves to refrain hereafter from advocating, teaching, or countenancing the practice of plural marriage or polygamy, in violation of the laws of the State of Utah and of the United States.
The undersigned officers of the religious group above referred to further pledge ourselves to refrain from solemnizing plural marriages from and after this date contrary to the laws of the land.
John Y. Barlow* I. W. Barlow
J. W. Musser* Albert E. Barlow
A. A. Timpson R. C. Allred*
Edmund F. Barlow Joseph Lyman Jessop
Oswald Brainich David B. Darger24
Dated at Salt Lake City, Utah, this 24th day of September, 1945. Subscribed and sworn by me the day and year above written. George H. Carman, Notary.25
Joseph Musser then published the following clarification of this statement:
The statement binds the signers to hereafter refrain from teaching the practice of plural marriage, or polygamy, entering into the principle themselves, or solemnizing such marriages, contrary to the laws of the land. It is the sincere intention of the parties involved to adjust and conform their lives and marital conduct, to both the letter and spirit of this pledge. .. . the parolees involved must bide their time in patience until a public sentiment can be aroused to place legislation on the statute books allowing all men the privilege of worshipping Almighty God as their consciences shall dictate . . .26
The subsequent course of the Fundamentalists involved indicates that they did not keep this pledge for long, if at all. Their later actions raise the real question as to whether or not they intended to keep it in the first place. Polygamous marriages have multiplied, and Fundamentalism has diversified and expanded on all fronts since this "manifesto." So the sin of "perjury" is added to the Fundamentalist record. Only five years prior to issuance of the Fundamentalist "manifesto" Joseph Musser had approvingly published the following statement:
Better the Penitentiary for faithfulness in this world, than the Prison-house for perjury in the next.27
A Doctrinal Paradox
The Fundamentalist manifesto of 1945 produces a doctrinal paradox. The five men claimed to have been set apart in 1886 are alleged to have formed the basis of a seven-man council that comprises the "Presidency of the Priesthood."28 To the Fundamentalists, those who approved the Woodruff Manifesto in 1890 lost their priesthood office, and it fell upon the five who were especially set apart to keep the principle of plural marriage alive.
Those who agreed to the Manifesto automatically forfeited their former seniority, as upon previous occasions others had done and those chosen by President Taylor at Centerville became Senior and the lawful administrators of the fulness of the ordinances, holding the keys to bind or loose on earth and in heaven.29
In setting the five men apart and ordaining them to the Priesthood Presidency of Seven, John W. Woolley was first given that high calling, coming next to Wilford Woodruff in order of ordination; so that the keys to Priesthood passed in natural order from Wilford Woodruff to John W. Woolley.30
Thus the paradox becomes apparent. If President Woodruff forfeited the keys of the priesthood, as claimed, because he signed the Manifesto in 1890, what shall be said of the ten Fundamentalist leaders who issued a like manifesto in 1945? Following the rules of consistency, did they not also forfeit their supposed priesthood office and standing--or are they playing the game by a different set of rules?
But the paradox goes even further. President Woodruff's Manifesto was issued under duress, not to save himself from personal confinement but to save the Church from utter ruin--to preserve and keep inviolate the temples, to provide for the continuance of the preaching of the gospel to the living and to preserve ordinance work for the dead, and to save thousands of men and women from the ordeal of prison walls. But what of this small group of Fundamentalist leaders? What did their "manifesto" accomplish? Why was it issued and under what conditions?
Certainly there is no public claim by these men that they "wrote what the Lord told them to write." The Fundamentalist "manifesto" was voluntarily issued to spare the authors from personal confinement only, and it allowed them to return to their former circumstances, only to break every promise they had made. In fact, these later Fundamentalist leaders weren't nearly as devout as were the polygamists of the 1880-1890 period, because the late Fundamentalists were not threatened with confiscation of Church property and disfranchisement as were the polygamists of the earlier period.
Fundamentalists have justified their "manifesto" by citing Joseph Musser's ill health while he was in prison:
While in prison brother Joseph suffered an attack, which was perhaps the fore-runner to his final illness. Being completely exhausted from years of work among the people; also having been the leading figure in the long legal battle, plus discomforts of the State Penitentiary, all worked together against his health.31
How does this justification compare with the alleged behavior of John Taylor -- who was suffering the "discomforts" of being a fugitive on the underground -- when he was asked about issuing a manifesto in 1886?
Sign that document, -- Never! I would suffer my right hand to be severed from my body first. Sanction it,--never! I would suffer my tongue to be torn from its roots in my mouth before I would sanction it!32
For all their criticism of the Church, Fundamentalist leaders are guilty of more than the "sins" they ascribe to President Woodruff and the members of the Church. If the Woodruff Manifesto is a mark of apostasy of the Church, the 1945 Fundamentalist manifesto must be much the more a mark of apostasy of the Fundamentalist movement. In addition, all their misrepresentations of President Woodruff's Manifesto further condemn them and their followers.
1. James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 3 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc. 1966), pp. 11, 31.
2. See the minutes of conference in the Deseret News Weekly, October 11, 1890, p.526. For justification of this action, see the Deseret News Weekly, October 18, 1890, pp.550-52.
3. Joseph W. Musser, "Editorial," Truth, vol. 1, no. 2 (July 1935), p. 9.
4. Allred, A Leaf in Review, p. 196.
5. Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 6.
6. Truth, vol. 1, p. 8.
7. For all his later derision of the Woodruff Manifesto and those he claimed wrote it, Lorin Woolley once claimed that he was involved in its production. Joseph Musser reported being at a meeting in 1922; Lorin Woolley spoke, saying: "He said he knew the Manifesto, because he helped to make it, and cited reasons for knowing that it had not been kept by the leading authorities." (Joseph W. Musser Journal, April 9, 1922.)
8. Erastus Snow died on May 27, 1888, so he obviously was not a member of this alleged committee. Further, there is no evidence of the others functioning on the committee or that any such committee was ever organized.
9. Jessee Burke Stone, An Event of the Underground Days, pp. 6-7, a pamphlet reprinted from Baird and Baird, Reminiscences of John W. Woolley and Lorin C. Woolley, vol. 3, appendix A. See also Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 7; Darter, Keys of the Kingdom-- Where?, pp. 5-6. This original version also contained a statement of confirmation by Daniel R. Bateman which has since been deleted from more recent published versions. Bateman's original 1929 statement included: "The proceedings of the meeting, as also the circumstances relating to the Woodruff Manifesto as related by Brother Woolley are correct in every detail." (An Event of the Underground Days, p. 7.)
10. Musser and Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, p. 31.
11. This statement is a parroting of a hostile Salt Lake Tribune headline of January 16, 1909. Elder John Henry Smith is alleged to have said in a secondhand report: Why Brother Wolfe, do you not understand that the Manifesto was only a trick devised to beat the devil at his own game?" Salt Lake Tribune, January 6, 1909.
12. Robert C. Newson, Is the Manifesto a Revelation? (n. p.' 1956), pp. 6-8.
13. Deseret News, November 7, 1891.
14. Wilford Woodruff Journal, September 25, 1890.
15. Proceedings Before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate in the Matter of the Protests Against the Right of Honorable Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat (hereafter referred to as Smoot Hearings), vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1904), pp. 52-53.
16. Frank J. Cannon and Harvey J. O'Higgins, Under the Prophet in Utah (Boston, Mass.: The C. M. Clark Publishing Company, 1911), pp. 99-100.
17. Cannon and O'Higgins, Under the Prophet in Utah, p. 102.
18. Truth, vol. 4. no. 3 (August 1938), p. 42.
19. Truth, vol. 9, no. 4 (September 1943), p. 93.
20. Deseret News, November 3, 1890, cited in Smoot Hearings, vol. 1, p. 345.
21. Cannon and O'Higgins, Under the Prophet in Utah, pp. 110-11.
22. Deseret News Weekly, November 7, 1891.
23. Conference Reports, April 1904; Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 4, pp. 84-85.
24. Asterisks indicate those who have claimed to hold the keys of the sealing power that Wilford Woodruff held.
25. Truth, vol. 11, no. 8, (January, 1946), p. 218. Note that this "manifesto" was issued on September 24, 1945, fifty-five years to the day from the issuance of the Woodruff Manifesto. This "manifesto" even mimics the original language of the Woodruff Manifesto.
26. Truth, vol. 11, no. 8 (January 1946), pp. 218-19.
27. Truth, vol. 7, no. 4 (September 1941), p. 80.
28. Truth, vol. 5, no. 9 (February 1940), p. 202; vol.7, no. 3 (August 1941), p. 61; and vol. 14, no. 7 (December 1948), p. 176.
29. Joseph Musser, Truth, vol. 9, no. 10 (March 1944), p. 251. Italics added.
30. Truth, vol. 9, no. 3 (August 1943), p. 74. See also Joseph Musser, A Priesthood Issue and the Law of Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Truth Publishing Company), and Musser and Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.
31. Saint Joseph White Musser, In Memoriam," Truth, vol. 20, no. 1 (June1954), p. 34.
32. 1929 version of the Lorin C. Woolley story as printed in Musser and Broadbent, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, pp. 56-61. Joseph Musser also reported the following magnanimous claim: "Ex-Judge Charles S. Zane, one of our most rabid anti-Mormon officials, said to Lorin C. Woolley, 'If I believed in that principle as you and your father do, I would see the U. S. in hell before I would give it up. I would rot in jail before I would surrender it'."(Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 15.)