Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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MORMONS (IN U. S. HISTORY), a sect mainly located in Utah territory and the territories in its immediate neighborhood, to the number of about 150,000, but having also about 60,000 converts in other parts of the United States and in foreign countries.


—I. ORIGIN. Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vt., Dec. 23, 1805, and in 1816 removed to Palmyra, N.Y., with his parents. As a boy he bore no good reputation for industry, thrift or honesty, but about 1820 he professed to have become converted. He claims to have had a revelation, Sept. 21, 1823, of God's will that he should revive the covenant of Israel. He was told that the lost tribes of Israel had wandered to America and had there grown numerous, powerful and wealthy; that they had degenerated and fallen before their enemies; that, before their final extinction, one of their prophets, Mormon, had written on gold plates an account of their history, prophecy and doctrine; and that his son, Mormon, the last of the race, had buried the plates in the "hill of Cumora," about four miles from Palmyra. On the following day he was allowed to see the plates, under angelic guidance; and Sept. 22, 1827, he was allowed to take them from their 1,400 years' burial. They were written in the "reformed Egyptian character, which could only be deciphered by Smith through the aid of the Urim and Thummim, an enormous pair of spectacles. The plates disappeared after Smith had translated them, but eleven witnesses averred that they had seen them.


—It is asserted that one Solomon Spaulding, living in 1812 in Conneaut, Ashtabula county, Ohio, wrote the book of Mormon as an historical romance, under the title of "The Manuscript Found," its Jewish-Indian machinery being suggested by the prehistoric mounds in the neighborhood; that at his death in 1816 it was in possession of one Patterson, a Pittsburg editor, who intended to publish it, and with whom Sidney Rigdon, one of Smith's first disciples, was a compositor; and that at Patterson's death in 1826 it disappeared, to reappear in 1828-30 as the bible of a new sect. When Smith's book was published in 1830 its identity with Spaulding's was at once declared by the widow and neighbors of Spaulding, who had repeatedly heard it read.


—II. DOCTRINE. The sect is a secret with an hierarchical organization. At its head is the president, with two subordinates; then the twelve apostles, the seventy disciples, high priests, bishops, elders, priests, deacons, and teachers. The whole forms a despotism of the president, tempered by the continual necessity of yielding to the other officers in order to avoid revolt. The distinguishing features of the sect are polygamy; materialism; baptism for the remission of sins and for the dead; a belief in the inspiration of the head of the sect; and a liberal dedication of themselves, their property and their services to the advancement of the sect at home and abroad. They hold that those who define God as a spirit, "that is, as nothing," and worship him as such, are as much atheists as those who deny that there is a God; and they maintain that God is a material being, "having body, parts and passions," but of infinite power. These doctrines they derive from the following sources: 1. In addition to the Bible they accept the book of Mormon as authority in matters of faith. This book is written in imitation of biblical language, but is marred by numerous inaccuracies, violations of common grammatical rules, and anachronisms. All these the Mormons acknowledge, but hold that the defects of Smith's early education do not at all detract from the truth of the message which he was only the instrument in delivering. 2. Furthermore the sect accept the "revelations" given by God to their spiritual head. These pertain to every point of polity and social economy, but the unfailing promptitude with which they appear when needed seems as yet to have awakened no general suspicion of their genuineness among the Mormons. The most tremendous of these "revelations" was that which, in 1843, sanctified polygamy, in direct contradiction to the book of Mormon itself. Up to that time, in theory at least, monogamy had been the Mormon law for both leaders and people; but the sudden elevation of the leaders to uncontrolled power, and their inability to control their passions, changed the whole basis of the sect's existence. The revelation was first proclaimed by Young, Aug. 29, 1852, and was at once denounced as a forgery by the widow and sons of Joseph Smith, who joined in the antipolygamous schism known from its leader, Gladen Bishop, as the "Gladdenites" 3. The sect has also its canon of inspired books and epistles, which expands with the growth of the church. The authority of these, however, rests rather on agreement than on any internal claim of inspiration.


—III. HISTORY. Smith's first converts were of his own family and neighbors, and from the beginning he gave these as a name, "The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Their first organized conference was held at Fayette, N.Y., June 1, 1830, the church then numbering some thirty members. Their early leaders were Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and William W. Phelps. In 1831 the whole church removed to Kirtland, Ohio, as a halting place on their road to Independence, Mo., which Smith intended to make their final headquarters. Arrangements were at once made to build up the Missouri refuge, and the sect then soon numbered nearly 2,000. Their assumptions of superiority, their intolerance of "gentiles," and probably also their anti-slavery opinions, made them obnoxious to the people of Jackson county, Mo., who mobbed and outraged their leaders , and in 1838 violently expelled the whole colony. Early in 1839, now numbering about 15,000, they settled in Illinois, just above the Des Moines rapids on the Mississippi, and founded a city called Nauvoo. Among their new accessions were Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, Heber C. Kimball, and Parley P. Pratt.


—Nauvoo at once became an imperium in imperio, having its own government, revenue and army, of which "Lieutenant General Smith" was absolute head. As in Missouri, they became unpopular. Stories of their refusal to allow the execution of state writs, and of their gross immoralities, explained and confirmed by the "revelation" of 1843 as to polygamy, fired the surrounding country against them, so that in June, 1844, Governor Ford, of Illinois, took the field in person, with a militia force, to keep the peace. Upon his pledge of the honor of the state for their safe-keeping and fair trail, the two Smiths and two other leaders surrendered and were lodged in hail at Carthage. During the evening of June 27 a mob of 200 disguised men overpowered the guard and shot and killed both the Smiths.


—Brigham Young became president in Smith's place by the unanimous vote of the twelve apostles and the acquiescence of the sect, and hurried forward the building of the great temple in which the sect took an especial pride. But Nauvoo was now fairly besieged, and open war was varied by arson and secret murderr on both sides Jan.20, 1846, the "high council" announced that a final home was to be sought beyond the Rocky mountains. The migration began in the following month, but in September the impatient people of the neighborhood poured in and drove out the little remnant with fire and sword. In May the temple had been solemnly consecrated, and the next day dismantled to the walls.


—It was not until 1848 that this extraordinary migration was ended, and the Mormons were fully settled at Salt Lake in Utah. It had been managed with consummate skill. The younger men had been steadily pushed ahead to plant crops which were to be gathered by, and to support, the main body. In this manner, inspite of individual suffering, the main body successfully endured two winters on the plains, and in 1848 organized that government of their own, far from the "gentiles" of Missouri and Illinois, to which they were to give the still illegal title of "the state of Deseret."


—In 1850, after the organization of the territory (See UTAH; COMPRISES, V.), Young was appointed governor by President Fillmore, but he was soon found to be infinitely more a Mormon than a federal officer. The federal laws for the government of the territories were contemptuously disregarded whenever they clashed with the Mormon peculiar institutions. Shocking stories were told of the cruelties perpetrated by the "Danites," or Mormon "destroying angels," upon intruding gentiles. One of these, the massacre of about 100 emigrants at Mountain Meadows in 1857, was peculiarly atrocious in its details, but was not punished until 1877, when John D. Lee was condemned to death by shooting for his share in it. The impossibility of obtaining a successor to Gov. Young without efficient federal support led the president, in 1857, to order Col. A. S. Johnston, with a force of federal troops, to enter Salt Lake City. Sept 15, by proclamation, Young forbade the entrance of soldiers, and ordered out his own troops for resistance. Johnston wintered among the mountains, and finally entered the city. June 10, 1858, President Buchanan informed congress that the Mormon difficulties were over. They really, however, were not. The enormous power of the hierarchy was constantly exerted to "freeze out" gentile traders, control federal grand juries, and neutralize federal laws.


—The connection of Salt Lake City with the Union Pacific railroad, in May, 1869, at last brought the Mormons again face to face with the enemies from whom they had so often escaped. A new corps of federal judges, determined to suppress polygamy, entered the territory; the grand juries passed out of Mormon control; and indictments of polygamous practices became common. Convictions, however, were practically impossible, owing to the secrecy of the sect's workings, and the difficulty of obtaining evidence to convict. This difficulty has not yet been surmounted. The Edmunds bill, which was passed March 14, 1882, practically disfranchises every one guilty of polygamy in the territories, and makes the practice a misdemeanor, but its result remains to be seen. April 26, 1882, George Q Cannon, a Mormon, who had for many years represented his sect and territory in congress, was unseated by the house. Aug. 29, 1877, Brigham Young died, and was succeeded in the presidency by John Taylor.


—The essential difficulty in the Mormon question is not so much present as prospective, by the constitution of the United States, the subjects of marriage and divorce in the states are exclusively under the control of the states themselves. If then, Utah ever becomes a state, its legislature becomes omnipotent over these subjects. In the hope of this consummation, it seems probable that the Mormon leaders will submit with patience to any present disfranchisement, since the political control of a territorial government, subject to a federal governor's veto and to the control of the federal congress, is comparatively and unimportant matter. The true solution of the question seems to lie in the adoption of an amendment giving congress the exclusive power, by general laws, to legislate on marriage and divorce. With such an absolute bar to hope for the future, the Mormon leaders would probably be compelled to a monogamous revelation.


—The name Descret is understood by Mormons to mean "the land of the honey-bee." The name Nauvoo signifies "beautiful." The following extraordinary derivation for the name Mormon was seriously given by Joseph Smith himself: the Egyptian mon, good, and the English more; hence Mormon, "more good."—(See The Book of Mormon, (4th edition, 1834); Millenial star; Times and Seasons; The Gospel Reflector; New York Prophet; Doctrines and Covenants (1854); Voice of Warning (1854); Jacques' Latter-Day Saints' Catechism (1870); Hyde's Mormonism (1857); Mrs. Ferris' Mormons at Home (1852),Ferris' Utah and the Mormons (1856); 3 Atlantic Monthly (campaign of 1857); Ludlow's Heart of the Continent (1870); Stenhouse's Rocky Mountain Saints (1873); United States Revised Statutes, § 5352; Tucker's Origin and Progress of Mormonism (1867); Gunnison's History and Doctrines of the Mormons; Smucker's History of the Mormons; Harper's Magazine and Century Magazine for January, 1882.


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