Eugene E. Campbell
Beginnings of Civil Government
[p.201]Determining the feelings of Mormon leaders toward the United States government during these first twenty years in the Great Basin is difficult. Bitter because federal officials did not help them in Missouri and Illinois, Brigham Young and other authorities called on members to “leave this wicked nation” and led them to settle in Mexican territory. Yet at the same time they furnished a battalion of men to help in the campaign to take California and notified U.S. president James K. Polk that they intended to apply for admission into the union if they settled in the Great Basin.
Initially, church leaders wanted to apply for “a territorial government of our own” and chose a representative to carry their petition to Washington, D.C. Changing their plans, however, they soon formed the State of Deseret and sent a second representative to the nation’s capital. As part of the Compromise of 1850, the Territory of Utah was created. Brigham Young, upon learning of his appointment as territorial governor, began to organize the territory before the arrival of non-Mormon officials. This led to a confrontation that alienated several federal appointees. They returned to Washington convinced that the Mormons were religious fanatics dominated by a theocratic priesthood, whose leaders practiced polygamy, were corrupting the Indians, and were disloyal to the United States.
Whether the Mormons were loyal to the United States at the time of their exodus from Illinois is especially difficult to assess. There had been little contact between the Mormons and federal officials prior to 1845, but church leaders blamed the federal government [p.202] for failing to protect them from antagonistic state governments. Martin Van Buren’s assertion to Joseph Smith in 1839 that “your cause is just but I can do nothing for you” demonstrated to Mormons the federal government’s weaknesses. Thus, Apostle Orson Pratt could write in 1845, without reprimand, “It is with greatest joy that I forsake this Republic,” and call on all Mormons “to get out of this evil nation by next spring.”
Negotiations between the Council of Fifty1 and the Texan government (1844-45) reveal that the Mormons at least contemplated the possibility of leaving the territorial limits of the Union. Brigham Young, in a general epistle to members “scattered abroad throughout the United States of America,” asserted during the fall of 1845 that removal beyond the boundaries of the U.S. would be a test of orthodoxy: “If the authorities of this Church cannot abide in peace within the pale of this nation, neither can those who implicitly hearken to their wholesome council. A word to the wise is sufficient.” The move into Mexican territory in 1847 and negotiations with Great Britain for permission to colonize Vancouver Island demonstrate that these were not idle threats. Later, when the church was threatened by the approaching federal army, Young expressed similar feelings: “The time must come when this kingdom must be free and independent of all other kingdoms. Are you prepared to have this thread cut today?”
However, an equally strong case can be made for Mormon loyalty to the United States. Some scholars feel that disloyal statements [p.203] were made in times of exasperation and usually directed toward government officials rather than the country itself. Expressions of loyalty, love of country, admiration for the Constitution, and willingness to fight for the country are certainly more numerous in the records than contrary ones. For example, in a letter addressed to President James Polk, dated 9 August 1846, Young wrote:
While we appreciate the constitution of the United States as the most precious among the nations, we feel that we had rather retreat to the deserts, islands, or mountain caves than consent to be ruled by governors and judges whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocence and virtue, who delight in injustice and oppression.
Six years later, on 4 July 1852, Daniel H. Wells reiterated the loyalty of the Saints:
Because demi-gods have arisen and seized the reigns of power, should we relinquish our interests in that country made dear to us by every tie of association and consanguinity? Those who have indulged such sentiments concerning us have not read Mormonism, … for never, no never, will we desert our country’s cause. Never will we be found arrayed on the side of our enemies although she herself may cherish them in her own bosom. Although she may launch forth the thunderbolts of war which may return and spend their fury upon her own head, never, no never will we permit the weakness of human nature to triumph over the love of country. Our devotions to her institutions were handed down to us by our honored sires and made dear by a thousand tender recollections.
Such patriotic statements could be multiplied. The fact is that the Mormons felt a dual loyalty to the Kingdom of God and to the United States, and in most situations, the two did not conflict. But if a choice had to be made, the Saints’ first loyalty was, and would always be, the Kingdom of God.
In fact, the divine origin and destiny of the United States was a basic Mormon concept. Mormons believed that God had intentionally hidden America from the rest of the world until the proper time to open it to a new race of religious seekers. Mormonism was to culminate that grand plan. “The United States of America,” wrote Apostle Parley P. Pratt, “was the favorite nation raised up with institutions adapted to the protection and free development of the necessary truths and their practical results, and that great prophet, apostle, and martyr, Joseph Smith was the Elias, the restorer, the presiding messenger holding the keys of the dispensation of the fullness of times.” Without the United States, Pratt continued, this would not have been possible, for the grain of mustard seed—the nucleus [p.204] of the Kingdom of God—needed a land of free institutions where such organizations could be developed and protected. No other country provided the necessary conditions. The government of the United States, like all man-made governments, would ultimately fail and the Kingdom of God take over.2
More important than examining statements of Mormon loyalty are the actions the Saints took to establish a civil government in their new refuge. Although the United States had defeated Mexico, and both nations had signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on 2 February 1848, ratification had not taken place when the first contingent of church members left Winter Quarters for the Great Basin that April. Apostles George A. Smith and Ezra T. Benson, who remained behind, wrote their leader as follows:
If you find it wisdom to petition Congress for annexation as a state in the American union or for territorial privileges, send a petition to us by some of the brethren coming from your place next Fall or as soon as is convenient, and if you do, we would suggest the appointment of a delegate to Congress with credentials of his election by the people as the bearer of this petition. If the petition is favorably received, he might be admitted to the floor of the lower house. If not, he would be considered the accredited agent of the people and be heard in any of the committee rooms. As the Mexican Congress has refused to ratify a treaty of peace with the United States, which government may finally have jurisdiction over the basin, is impossible for us at present to tell. But we are in possession of the soil of our destiny with the independence, should Mexico maintain her old lines. We are not particularly in favor of either plan but are willing to abide by your better judgment and are willing to use our humble endeavors to the utmost in carrying out any project you may desire for the establishing of the “Kingdom of God and His Laws.”
Smith and Benson seemed more concerned with the welfare of the Kingdom than with loyalty. In a later letter, they listed advantages of having “legal communication with the United States” but warned against a territorial government.
By the time Smith’s and Benson’s letter arrived, most of the members of the Council of Fifty had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and decided to act along different lines. Called to assemble on 9 December 1848, council members elected to apply for a “territorial government of our own,” implying that officers would be chosen from [p.205] the Mormon leadership. An official petition was drawn up, and John M. Bernhisel was chosen to secure names on the petition and carry it to Washington, D.C. When Bernhisel left on 3 May 1849, the document bore 2,270 signatures, including those of Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders.
While Bernhisel was securing the signatures, the Council of Fifty decided to organize a civil government and to draft a constitution. They convened on 4 March 1849 to plan a constitutional convention, which would meet the following day, and that the election of officers should be held on 12 March. But no constitutional convention met. Instead, the Council of Fifty disregarded the new constitution, which specified that elections were to take place in May, and held elections on the date the council itself had originally designated, 12 March. The single slate of officers reflected a theocratic pattern of church organization. The ballot also included some officers not listed in the constitution of the State of Deseret and omitted some that were listed. Both the constitutional convention and constitution seem to have been little more than a facade to mask the beginnings of the political Kingdom of God under the name of Deseret.
The new General Assembly of the State of Deseret met in July 1849 and selected Almon W. Babbitt to carry its petition for statehood to Washington, D.C. Since Bernhisel was already on his way with a petition for territorial government, difficulties seemed inevitable. But when Bernhisel called on Thomas L. Kane in Philadelphia, Kane persuaded him that there was no hope of obtaining a territorial government “of their own” and that he should direct his efforts toward obtaining statehood. This, of course, coincided with Babbitt’s instructions, and the two delegates unified their efforts.
Unfortunately, the church’s application for statehood was doomed to defeat. Utah became part of the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California into the Union as a free state and created Utah and New Mexico as territories with the right to decide by popular sovereignty whether they would be slave or free, as a gesture to the South.
Even if a controversy over slavery had not been raging in Congress at the time, the admission of Deseret would have nevertheless been unlikely. The proposed territory embraced almost one sixth of the total territory of the United States, including most of southern California. Also, Deseret’s population fell far short of the 60,000 people required by the Northwest Ordinance for statehood.
Although the State of Deseret’s application was rejected and the Utah territory was formed on 9 September 1850, a Mormon state government, functioning since March 1849, continued to serve until [p.206] April 1851 when the territorial government took over. Since Brigham Young had been governor of the state and now was appointed territorial governor, little changed at first.
Following early exploration and colonization of the region, the following seven counties were organized and their boundaries set by the General Assembly: Salt Lake, Weber, Davis, Tooele, Utah, Sanpete, and Iron. Five cities were incorporated and chartered by the State of Deseret, including Great Salt Lake City, on 17 January 1851, and Ogden, Provo, Manti, and Parowan, on 6 February. The counties had no governing officials but were merely units of the state and served as legislative and later judicial districts. Church leaders appointed men to preside in these areas until cities were chartered and elections held. In Salt Lake City, officers were appointed by the governor and legislature on 19 January. The first regular election was held the following April, and all of the appointed officers retained their positions except two councilmen. The city was divided into municipal wards represented by aldermen; the tax rate for the city was fixed; and other necessary officers such as treasurer, marshal, and assessor were appointed. This procedure was followed in the other settlements in the State of Deseret.3
The State of Deseret also set up a judiciary. Civil courts replaced the high council and bishop’s courts of the “theodemocracy.” The latter courts had been adequate during the first years, but with the “gold rush” to California, legal disputes developed which church courts could not resolve. A church court might render a fair decision, but in a case involving Mormons and non-Mormons, a decision was almost certain to be condemned as partial, especially if the non-Mormon lost. This problem was not entirely solved by the establishment of civil courts, because the chief justice and associate judges were all church leaders, and the magistrates of the lower courts were primarily ward bishops. But despite claims of prejudice and unfairness, the courts continued to render an important service to Mormon settlers and people passing through the territory.
The courts frequently adjudicated claims of property rights and ownership of articles. Often such cases resulted from quarrels occurring within emigrant wagon trains. Captain Howard Stansbury, who came to the Salt Lake Valley in 1849, seemed favorably impressed by the work of the courts:
[p.207] The decisions were remarkable for their fairness and impartiality, and if not submitted to, were sternly enforced by the whole power of the community. Appeals for protection from oppression, by those passing through their midst, were not made in vain; and I know of at least one instance in which the Marshal of the State was dispatched, with an adequate force, nearly two hundred miles into the Western desert in pursuit of some miscreants who had stolen off with nearly the whole outfit of a party of emigrants. He pursued and brought them back to the City, and the plundered property was restored to its rightful owners.
Lieutenant John W. Gunnison, a government surveyor in Utah in 1850, reported a similar experience: “Of the parties organized in the States to cross the plains there was hardly one that did not break into fragments and the division of property caused a great deal of difficulty. Many of these litigants applied to the courts of Deseret for redress of grievances, and there was every appearance of impartiality and strict justice done to all parties.”4
During this period, the church’s representative John Bernhisel5 was promoting the appointment of Mormons or men known to be friendly to the church to the newly created territorial offices. Bernhisel recognized the need for diplomacy in order to secure the territory a corps of friendly officials. He wrote:
I have labored with my pen and otherwise used my best endeavors to obtain a consummation so devoutly to be wished and I am gratified to be able to inform you that my efforts were crowned with complete success. What I wished was that the 37th parallel should form the southern and the crest of the Rocky Mountains, the eastern boundaries. These limits were established just before the bill was ordered to be engrossed. For more territory, I dare not venture to ask lest we receive none exterior to the basin.6
[p.208] Bernhisel must be credited not only for securing territorial government and sizable territorial boundaries but also securing the appointment of Brigham Young as governor, along with three other Mormon officials. Immediately after the passage of the Omnibus Bill that created the Territory of Utah, Bernhisel had an interview with President Millard Fillmore regarding territorial officials. Of that meeting he afterwards wrote to Young:
He (Fillmore) is quite favorably disposed and I entertained but little doubt of your appointment. He inquired whether you would support the administration if you should be appointed and I replied that I thought that you would. The names of the following gentlemen have also been presented; Willard Richards for secretary of the territories, Zerubabbel Snow for Chief Justice, Daniel I. Miller of Iowa as one associate justice and Joseph L. Heywood for Marshall. The names of the other associate justice and the United States attorney I will give you in my next. Mr. Snow was baptized again last winter. Mr. Miller is not a member of the Church though friendly and is known to John Smith, patriarch and others. I have strong hopes that the whole ticket will be appointed. The president has requested my views in writing of the gentlemen whose names I presented to him for officers and I shall comply with his request tomorrow.
Despite Fillmore’s friendliness, his appointments were disappointing to Bernhisel, who wrote to Young on 9 November, expressing his deep regret that his recommendations had not been followed and suggesting that his lack of legal training may have been the reason for this.
News of the appointment of territorial officers reached Great Salt Lake City on 27 January 1851 in a copy of the New York Tribune which came to Utah via Los Angeles. Young was on a preaching tour at the time, so Daniel H. Wells, the chief justice of Deseret, went to Davis County at the head of a body of cavalry and a brass band to inform Young of his appointment as governor. Although the news was not official, Young felt that it was reliable enough to justify taking office. So on 5 February 1851, he took the oath of office as chief executive of Utah territory.
In addition to his appointment as governor, Young was also designated superintendent of Indian Affairs. Other officials appointed by Fillmore were: Broughton D. Harris, as territorial secretary; Lemuel H. Brandebury, a non-Mormon, as chief justice; Perry E. Brocchus, a non-Mormon, as an associate justice; Zerubabbel Snow, [p.209] a Mormon, as an associate justice; Joseph L. Heywood, a Mormon, as U.S. marshal; and Seth M. Blair, a Mormon, as U.S. Attorney.
The 1850 act provided for a territorial legislature and a delegate to Congress. Since representatives to the legislature and to Congress were elected by the people, they were chosen by the same theodemocratic process that had governed the State of Deseret. According to Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn, “Up to 1890 the [LDS] General Authorities were the source of first approval for every political nomination in Utah that they regarded as important.” This included appointments recommended to the governor by the legislative assembly.
Members of the thirteen-member territorial Council and twenty-six-member House of Representatives were for many years unanimously elected. The presiding officers of the two bodies were usually members of the First Presidency or Council of the Twelve Apostles, and most of the members belonged to the Council of Fifty. Annual forty-day sessions of the legislature, beginning in December, were usually peaceful. One year the session was completed “without the occurrence of a negative vote on any question or action.”
The territorial delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives were quasi-ecclesiastical appointments. Bernhisel and his successors for more than forty years were selected and set apart by the First Presidency, and no elections for the office were contested until non-Mormons filed a candidate in 1867, twenty years after the Saints had arrived in the region.7
Although much smaller than the proposed State of Deseret, the territory over which Brigham Young presided was extensive. It was bounded north and south by the 42nd and 37th parallels; the summits of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada completed the boundaries. Estimates place the Indian population from 12,000 to 35,000. If the more conservative figure is taken, then whites and Indians were almost equal in number when the territory was born. But whites increased rapidly, while the displaced natives decreased until the mid-twentieth century. Fueled largely by the “gathering” of the Latter-day Saints, the population of Utah territory was reported [p.210] by the decennial censuses to be 11,380 in 1850; 40,273 in 1860; 86,786 in 1870; 143,963 in 1880; and 210,779 in 1890.
Young’s relationship with the non-Mormon officials was damaged from the start when he began a census and called for an election of legislators before the arrival of the non-Mormon officials. Since the Secretary of State was supposed to supervise the census-taking and certify the validity of the election, Young appeared to have acted precipitously.
However, the non-Mormon territorial officials were slow in arriving. Chief Justice Brandebury arrived on 7 June 1851, and Secretary Harris, with Indian agents Stephen B. Rose and Henry R. Day, reached Salt Lake on 19 July, accompanied by Mormon representatives Almon W. Babbitt and John M. Bernhisel. Unwilling to wait for Secretary Harris’s arrival, Young instructed his assistants to begin taking the census on 14 March 1851. He felt this was necessary in order to establish legislative and judicial districts and was anxious that an election be held so that territorial representatives could travel to Washington before inclement weather developed. Although the first Monday in August had been designated as election day, Young suggested that the election be held in May in Iron County while he was visiting there. He recommended that Bernhisel be named territorial representative, which recommendation was followed.8
Although Secretary Harris was too late to participate in the census, he and fellow officials arrived in time to witness the 24 July celebration and to hear some vitriolic comments directed toward both the federal government and the late U.S. president, Zachary Taylor. The principal speaker, Daniel H. Wells, reviewing Mormon history, charged that “in the following winter and spring of 1846, the Church, in accordance with the provisions of said treaty, left their homes, and in the most inclement season of the year, amid storms of snow, with their families, crossed the ice of the Mississippi, and pursued their journey westward, not knowing where or when they should find a resting place.” He asserted that the Mormon Battalion had been called to leave their families and make a 2,000-mile journey on foot across deserts, that the country had called them to do this but had not protected them from ruffians who plundered their property, robbed them of their rights, waylaid them, and murdered them “while [p.211] under the safeguards of their pledged faith. That country that could have the barbarity under such peculiar circumstances to make such a requirement could have no other object in view than to finish by utter extermination the work they had so ruthlessly begun.”
Brigham Young followed by suggesting that those who worked against the Saints would die an untimely death and end up in hell, a reference to Zachary Taylor. Other speeches of the day, and in religious services throughout the remainder of the summer, invariably criticized government officials while at the same time professing love for the Constitution and the government.
Associate Justice Perry Brocchus did not arrive until 17 August, accompanied by Apostle Orson Hyde. They had been waylaid by about 300 Pawnee Indians who had robbed them of their supplies, including most of their clothing. Brocchus had expressed his willingness to serve as territorial representative and was disappointed to learn that Bernhisel had already been chosen. Less than three weeks after his arrival, he antagonized the entire community by a speech made at a special conference of the Saints on 8 September 1851. An exact transcription of the judge’s speech is not extant, but the following synopsis of it was included in Brigham Young’s manuscript history. Reportedly, Brocchus
regretted to hear in our midst such expressions as that the United States were a stink in our nostrils. He was pained to hear it said that the government of the United States was going to hell as fast as possible. He said that if the people of Utah could not offer a block [of marble which was being solicited from every state and territory] for the Washington Monument in full fellowship with the United States, it were better to leave it unquarried in the bosom of its native mountain. He directed a portion of his discourse towards the ladies, and libertine as he boasted himself, strongly recommended them to become virtuous.
Brigham Young replied:
Judge Brocchus is either profoundly ignorant, or willfully wicked, one of the two. There are several gentlemen on this platform who would be glad to prove the statements referred to in relation to him, as much more, if I would let them have the stand. His speech is designed to have political bearing. If I permit discussion to arise here, there may be either pulling of hair or a cutting of throats. It is well known to every man in this community, and has become a matter of history throughout the enlightened world, that the government of the United States looked on the scenes of robbing, driving, and murdering of this people and said nothing about the matter, but by silence gave sanction to the lawless proceedings. Hundreds of women and children have been laid in the tomb prematurely in [p.212] consequence thereof, and their blood cries to the Father for vengeance against those who have caused or consented to their death. George Washington was not dandled in the cradle of ease, but schooled to a life of hardship in exploring and surveying the mountains and defending the frontier settlers, even in his early youth, from the tomahawk and the scalping knife. It was God that dictated him and enabled him to assert and maintain the independence of the country. It is the same God that leads this people. I love the government and the Constitution of the United States, but I do not love the damned rascals who administer the government.
I know Zachary Taylor, he is dead and damned, and I cannot help it. I am indignant at such corrupt fellows as Judge Brocchus coming here to lecture us on morality and virtue. I could buy a thousand of such men and put them into a bandbox. Ladies and gentlemen, here we learn principle and good manners. it is an insult to this congregation to throw out such insinuations. I say it is an insult, and I will say no more.
After some reflection, a mellowed Young sent the judge a conciliatory letter suggesting an exchange of apologies:
B. Young to P. E. Brocchus Great Salt Lake City, September 19, 1851.
Dear Sir, —Ever wishing to promote the peace, love, and harmony of the people, and to cultivate the spirit of charity and benevolence to all, and especially towards strangers, I propose, and respectfully invite your honour, to meet our public assembly at the Bowery, on Sunday evening next, at 10 A.M., and address the same people from the stand that you addressed on the 8th inst., at our General Conference; and if your honour shall then and there explain, satisfy, or apologize to the satisfaction of the ladies who heard your address on the 8th, so that those feelings of kindness which you so dearly prized in your address can be reciprocated by them, I shall esteem it a duty and a pleasure to make every apology and satisfaction for my observation which you as a gentleman can claim or desire at my hands.
Should your honour please to accept of this kind and benevolent invitation, please answer by the bearer, that public notice may be given, and widely extended, that the house may be full. And believe me, sir, most sincerely and respectfully, your friend and servant,
Brigham Young. Hon. P. E. Brocchus, Asste. Justice.
P.S.—Be assured that no gentleman will be permitted to make any reply to your address on that occasion.
Brocchus refused the invitation, asserting that his speech “in all its parts were the result of deliberation and care” and that he did not feel he had said “anything deserving the censure of a justminded person.”
[p.213] Rebuffed, Young gave vent to his anger in two letters sent a day apart in which he emphasized Brocchus’s insults to the ladies. Brocchus decided to vacate the territory but before leaving told the governor that he wanted to “bury the hatchet, shake hands and forget the past.” He also asked Young to apologize to those whom he might have offended. Young announced the apology in a meeting the following day, 28 September, and two days later informed Brocchus by letter that his apology would be accepted if he agreed to control his tongue and cease to vilify “those who must everlastingly be your superiors.”
Other difficulties involved Young and Secretary Harris. The secretary was ruffled over the action of the governor before and after the officers arrived in the valley. Specifically, he was not satisfied with the census, the apportionment of counselors and representatives to the territorial legislature, and the way the election was handled. Young, ever the pragmatist, justified the alleged irregularities on the basis of practical necessity.
Young waited upon the disgruntled officers and was told they were determined to return to the states. Harris wanted to take the $24,000 entrusted to him for legislative expenses and also the territory’s seal and legal documents. Young immediately tried to block Harris’s intended actions. The legislature was hastily called to meet on 22 September. With only five days notice, every legislator except a representative from Iron County was present. Two days after the legislative session opened, a joint resolution authorized the territorial marshal to take into his custody the public properties and all monies the secretary had in his possession.
To counter this move the non-Mormon officials turned to the branch of government under their control, the territorial supreme court. The secretary sought an injunction from the court to block the marshal from obtaining the public properties and monies. This injunction was granted. Upon learning the court was in session, Young prepared a request for an advisory opinion on his duties and those of the secretary, and instructed Attorney Seth Blair to file a petition to force an opinion on the matter. On that same day, 28 September, Brocchus and Brandebury, along with Harris and Indian Agent Day, left for the states.
Young recognized the danger a negative report from these officials represented and immediately dispatched a letter of explanation and defense to U.S. president Millard Fillmore. Dated 29 September 1851, Young’s report detailed his activities since receiving his appointment as territorial governor, with supporting documents. [p.214] He defended his census and call for a territorial election before the arrival of Secretary Harris. Although Harris had been appointed in the fall of 1850, Young pointed out, he had not arrived in the territory until August 1851.
Young also reported that when he learned the federal officials were unhappy and that Harris was planning to return east with the $24,000 set aside to pay territorial legislators, he had hastily convened the territorial legislature. The legislature had voted to take into custody all of the funds and property belonging to the territory and authorized the marshal to obtain those funds and properties from the secretary. However, Harris, working through the territory’s supreme court, succeeded in nullifying the legislature’s actions.
After criticizing the “runaway officials” for this action and for failing to make an honest attempt to carry out their duties, Young suggested that the president use better judgment in future appointments. He asserted his intention to discharge every duty pertaining to his office and declared himself grateful for any instructions from President Fillmore. He also took the opportunity to assert his loyalty and that of the Mormon people to the basic principles of their country:
It has been and is said of myself and the people over whom I have the honor to preside, that they frequently indulge in strictures upon the acts of men who are intrusted with governmental affairs, and the Government itself sometimes does not wholly escape. Now, sir, I will simply state what I know to be true, that no people exists who are more friendly to the Government of the United States than the people of this Territory.
The Constitution they revere, the laws they seek to honor. But the non-execution of those laws in times past, for our protection, and the abuse of power in the hands of those intrusted therewith, even in the hands of those whom we have supported for office, even betraying us in the hour of our greatest peril and extremity, but withholding the due execution of laws designed for the protection of all the citizens of the United States: it is for this we have cause of complaint, not the want of good and wholesome laws, but the execution of the same, in the true meaning and spirit of the constitution.
Young concluded by reporting that it was rumored that the “runaway officers” had been sent to Utah with “private instructions” to spy on the Mormons and misrepresent them in order to prejudice the minds of the people against them. If this is true, Young wrote,
better, far better would it be for us, to live under the organization of our Provisional Government, and entirely depending upon our own resources, as we have hitherto done, until such time as we can be admitted as a [p.215] State than thus to be tantalized with the expectation of having a legal government which will extend her fostering care over all her offspring. In fancy, if ever, it is necessary to assist the rising state.
Young added a bit of advice on the appointment of new territorial officers, suggesting that Fillmore choose men who reside within the territory and have an “extended knowledge of things as well as of the elementary and fundamental principles of law and legislation.”
Young’s letter was an able defense of his actions and a bold statement of the church’s position in its relations with the federal government. That such a defense was needed is demonstrated by the antagonism that was created against the Mormons following the report of the returning officials and the subsequent public announcement by church leaders of the practice of plural marriage. [p.217]
1. On 11 March 1844, three and one half months before his death, Joseph Smith organized a group of men to help establish the political Kingdom of God on earth. Based on a revelation which Smith claimed to have received as early as 7 April 1842, this group was designated formally as “The Kingdom of God and His Laws and the keys and powers thereof the judgment in the hands of his servants” but was generally referred to as the Council of Fifty. In simple terms, the council was to be a political organization that would rule the world at the Second Coming. It was to work in close cooperation with God’s church on earth but would not be identical with it. Most of the council’s members held high church positions, but non-Mormons, at least at the beginning, served on the council as well.
The most difficult aspect of the Council of Fifty was its secrecy. Since the LDS church does not presently make any of the council’s official records accessible, scholars have to piece together evidence from journals, letters, sermons, etc., and cannot always be certain when men were acting as members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles or Council of Fifty. Still, the evidence seems clear that the Council of Fifty played an important role in colonizing Utah and that by 1849 council members spearheaded an attempt to set up a state government to maintain their political independence within the confines of the United States.
2. Such perceptions are best interpreted in light of the Mormon belief that Jesus Christ would return to earth and usher in his millennial reign soon and that he would recognize the Mormon church as the nucleus of his earthly kingdom.
4. Some of the main claims of unfairness were made by emigrants charged with damaging the property they were passing over on their way through the different communities. In discussing this problem, Gunnison wrote, “Again, the fields in the valleys are imperfectly fenced, and the emigrants often trespassed on the crops. For this, a good remuneration was demanded, and the value being so enormously greater than in the States, it looked to the stranger as an imposition and an injustice to ask so large a price.” The difficulty of raising crops may account for the difference in value placed upon the damaged gardens.
5. Church leaders were particularly fortunate in their choice of Bernhisel as their representative in Washington. He had been able to counteract the negative influence of Almon W. Babbitt who had alienated members of both parties during statehood negotiations.
6. Bernhisel also noted that two of the church’s old enemies, Missouri senators Thomas Benton and David Atchison, offered no opposition. Benton showed a kind disposition and favored a Utah territorial bill, and Atchison remarked that he was impressed that Utah had “asked for a government and was willing to take what we chose to give her.”
7. There is evidence that the delegates were chosen to match the political majority in Washington and that they sometimes changed their party when that majority changed. At the local level, competition for city or county offices occasionally occurred, but partisan elections did not characterize Utah politics until the Liberal and People’s parties were organized in 1870. Church leaders regularly selected candidates for mayor and city councilmen in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Provo, and no candidate without their approval was elected to any of these offices until 1889.
8. Other irregularities upset the new Secretary of the Territory. When Joseph L. Heywood received his commission as U.S. Marshal in April, he immediately filed his bond with the Secretary of State of Deseret with instructions that it be delivered to the Secretary of the Territory “when he arrived.” Apparently this never happened.