Establishing Zion
Eugene E. Campbell

Chapter 13.
Church versus State

[p.217]The early years of territorial government in Utah were difficult ones for both Mormon and federal officials. Unfavorable reports by former territorial chief justice Brandebury, former territorial secretary Harris, former associate justice Brocchus, and former Indian subagent Day increased federal worries about granting Utah territorial status. The public announcement of plural marriage in 1852 only exacerbated concerns about the appointment of Brigham Young as governor. United States president Franklin Pierce tried to solve the problem by appointing a new governor, but after spending some months in Utah on an army assignment prior to taking office, his appointee declined. Young continued to serve by default, without a definite term.

Mormonism became a subject of national politics when opponents of popular sovereignty used polygamy to illustrate the dangers involved in permitting local voters to decide moral issues. Further adverse national publicity came to the region when the newly organized Republican party campaigned for the presidency in 1856 with a promise to “rid the nation of the twin relics of barbarism, slavery and polygamy.” Democrats reacted by condemning polygamy but defending slavery. Despite Utah representative John M. Bernhisel’s efforts to stem this adverse tide, misunderstandings, personality conflicts, and unwise actions by federal and Mormon leaders alike led to confrontation. This cold war threatened to erupt into a hot one.

[p.218] The official report of Brandebury, Harris, Brocchus, and Day that the Mormons were immoral, disloyal fanatics led by a despotic priesthood was heard in Congress and publicized throughout the nation. Brocchus claimed that he and his companions had been compelled to leave Utah because of the lawless acts of Governor Young and his followers. He said that the Mormon church controlled territorial affairs, disposing of public land and exacting onerous taxes. Specifically, Brocchus charged that Young had misappropriated $20,000 in federal funds originally appropriated to build a territorial capitol building. Territorial representative John Bernhisel denounced the Brocchus report in the House on 10 January 1852, maintaining that it contained grossly exaggerated, if not false and perverted statements, and challenging the Speaker of the House or the president to appoint a commission to investigate the charges.

President Millard Fillmore invited Bernhisel to visit him in April 1852, telling him that he hoped to do justice to the Mormons while still fulfilling his duty to the government. He did not join in the current prejudice against the Mormons and felt that everyone had a right to worship God according to his conscience. Fillmore asked Bernhisel if he supposed there was any truth to the report that the Mormons had set up a government for themselves. Bernhisel assured him that this was not true. About mid-April, Fillmore, wishing to discuss the matter further, sent a note to Bernhisel, who called again on the president, finding him sympathetic and understanding.

Early in May, Bernhisel had yet a third interview with Fillmore, this time to discuss the appointment of territorial officers to replace those who had left in September 1851. Soon after the interview Bernhisel wrote to Brigham Young that it was “his solemn conviction that the president honestly and sincerely desired to do what is right toward us. He is a noble, high-minded accomplished gentleman. The more intimately I become acquainted with him the more he excites my respect and admiration.”

Young wanted Willard Richards, Heber C. Kimball, and Orson Hyde to replace the “runaways.” Hyde was even nominated to replace Brocchus, but the Senate refused to confirm the Mormon apostle, “not because he was a Mormon, but because he was not a regular-bred lawyer.” Lazarus Reid was named territorial chief justice; Benjamin Ferris, territorial secretary; and Leonidas Shaver, territorial associate justice. Bernhisel seemed pleased with the appointments, assuring Young that although non-Mormons they were different men than their predecessors. He urged the governor to see [p.219] that they were kindly received in the valley, adding that the president did not want “the good people of Utah [to] get into difficulty with these runaway officers.”

On 9 July, Bernhisel wrote from Washington that the runaway officers had been beaten on every point, although the Brocchus affair had prompted the first significant rehearsal in Congress of Mormon peculiarities. Bernhisel worried about Young’s inability to understand how sensitive the Saints’ situation was as well as the president’s attitude that God would take care of them no matter what. Bernhisel wrote to Young that the slightest jar might result in his removal as governor. He said, “If there shall be another flare up we shall be utterly ruined here as regards to obtaining of appropriations or even retaining any offices in our territory.” He then suggested “that no pains nor effort be spared to cultivate the most friendly relation between the new appointees and the authorities and people of Utah. In order to attain and maintain so desirable a state of things, it may frequently become requisite to exercise great patience and forbearance—to ‘stoop to conquer as the play says.'”

Young seemed unworried and advised Bernhisel to “be of good courage doctor, for all is right. Do not permit anything that may occur discourage you in the least. Go ahead never doubting although the sun and all else may appear dark around you.” Using aides and secretaries, Young compiled a 92-page open response to the accusations of the departed officials, dated 11 June 1852, and sent a copy of it to the president. Entitled “Beating Against the Air,” the document contained specific details to refute the accusation that Young had misappropriated $20,000. The Brocchus report maintained that Young had seized the money to pay church debts. According to his unpublished manuscript history, Young had publicly announced several months earlier, in January:

The $20,000 received from Congress for the erection of public buildings for the territory has been appropriated by the governor and the legislative assembly so far as it will go in the purchase of the State House of Deseret in this city which was built by the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the expense of $45,000. This is to be the seat of the government of territory until suitable buildings can be erected in Fillmore City which is designed as the permanent locality of the capital. Our present state house has two spacious halls for the general assembly and four rooms suitable for public or executive offices.

In a later communication with the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Young explained that the State House of Deseret was the only [p.220] suitable building in the territory and that it was too late in the season to build another capitol. The church might have rented the building to the territory, but Young thought it would be “more economical to purchase a portion of the existing State House conditionally.” Young concluded, “This I did in all good faith and out of the exercise of my judgment and backed up and sanctioned by the assembly.” Territorial officials would proceed with the building of a capitol in Fillmore and would sell the purchased portion of the State House back to the church upon the completion of the Fillmore building.

The remainder of Young’s mammoth letter rehearsed Mormon history. On page 7, Young stated it was well known that polygamy was practiced by the Latter-day Saints. This was three months before the church’s official announcement, but apparently Young realized that the practice could no longer be concealed or denied. Bernhisel was understandably dismayed at this announcement. Willard Richards sent word to Bernhisel that the revelation on polygamy dictated by Joseph Smith to scribe William Clayton in 1843 would soon appear in print. Bernhisel complained to Young, “I shall have to fight the battles of the last session all over again.” Bernhisel felt that statehood, appropriations, and all that he had hoped to accomplish in Washington were now threatened. He was convinced that the Brocchus report would seem more credible and feared that “not one in a thousand will be convinced that the doctrine is at all consistent with chastity or even morality, much less that it is a pure and righteous one. I know and dread the scenes through which I shall have to pass this coming winter and I could fervently pray in the language of our blessed Saviour that this cup might pass from me.”

Bernhisel was further upset that apostles Orson Pratt (in Washington, D.C.), John Taylor (in New York), and Erastus Snow (in St. Louis) were publishing Mormon newspapers defending polygamy. Pratt’s periodical, The Seer, announced in its 21 December 1852 prospectus:

The doctrine of celestial marriage or marriage for all eternity is believed in and practiced by the Saints in Utah territory and will be clearly explained. The views of the Saints, in regard to the ancient patriarchal order of matrimony or the plurality of wives as developed in a revelation given through Joseph Smith the Seer, will be fully published … in the very first number. Also, the celestial origin, pre-existence of spirits and so on. It is hoped the president-elect, honorable members of Congress, the heads of the various departments of national government, the high-minded governors and legislative assemblies of the several states [p.221] and territories, the ministers of every religious denomination, and all inhabitants of the great republic will patronize this periodical.

Although Mormon disclosures of polygamy elicited Congressional denouncements, the issue was overshadowed by a larger controversy. Legislation introduced into Congress in 1854, resulting in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, focussed debate on the principle of popular sovereignty.1 Hoping to solve the problem of the transcontinental railroad route, to increase the value of his own property in and around Chicago, and to placate southern Democrats on slavery, Illinois senator Stephen Douglas championed the creation of two territories that would decide the slavery issue on the basis of popular vote. But Douglas was disturbed by the existence of polygamy in Utah. For if popular sovereignty could license slavery it could also license polygamy, and Utah would certainly vote to legalize plural marriage—an argument against popular sovereignty. Still, as distasteful as polygamy was, slavery was the more burning issue. Thus while debates raged in the nation’s capital, comparative peace and quiet reigned in Utah.

The new officials had only a brief tenure in their offices, but not because of any unfriendliness on the part of the Saints. Both Reid and Shaver became ill and were dead within the year. Ferris chose to move on to California after six months; both he and his wife later wrote books about their experiences in Utah. Their successors, named by Fillmore’s Democratic successor, Franklin Pierce, included Chief Justice John F. Kinney, a friendly non-Mormon, and Associate Justice George P. Stiles and Territorial Secretary Almon W. Babbitt, both apostate Mormons.

During the absence of the runaway officials, the territorial legislature in 1851-52 passed a law extending the jurisdiction of local probate courts, thereby lessening the influence of federal district courts. The act stipulated that in probate courts, “by the consent of [p.222] the court and the parties, any person may be selected to act as judge for the trial of any particular cause or question, and while thus acting he shall possess all the powers of the district judge in the case.” This was intended to promote the social custom of settling difficulties by arbitration rather than litigation as well as to expand home rule by local officers.

The judges of the probate courts, one in each county, were elected by the legislative assembly but commissioned by the governor to hold office for a term of four years and until their successors were elected and qualified. In addition to probating wills, administering the estates of deceased persons, and determining the guardianship of minors, and mentally retarded and insane persons, probate courts had power to exercise in their respective counties original jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, in chancery and at common law, when not prohibited by legislative enactments. As a result, the local probate courts, usually with bishops as the presiding judges, were able to handle practically all criminal and civil cases that arose in the territory, leaving district judges and territorial supreme court judges with little to do.

During the summer of 1852, Brigham Young wrote to Bernhisel to begin seeking statehood for Utah. “Whereas we are only a territory,” Young wrote, “we are now a state, a sovereign independent state in our organization. We ask admission into the union upon an equal footing with the original states. The reason for our preferring the state to a territorial government is that we are separated from the appointing power.” Bernhisel, following Stephen Douglas’s advice, did not attempt to present Utah for statehood. It seemed incredible to Bernhisel that Young would push for statehood so soon after the public announcement of polygamy.

Newly elected President Franklin Pierce decided to replace Young as governor. Although he said he wanted to do what was best for Utah, he refused to take the advice of Chief Justice Kinney and Bernhisel to re-appoint Young. Pierce believed that there was too much prejudice against the Mormons to allow Young to continue in office and decided to appoint an army officer, Colonel E. J. Steptoe, who was in Utah on a special assignment.

Steptoe had been sent to Utah in the summer of 1854 and had arrived with his command in Salt Lake City on 31 August with two specific assignments. One was to explore the possibility of a military road to California; the other to investigate the murder of Lieutenant John W. Gunnison and his party. Steptoe commanded about 175 soldiers and 150 employees. He decided to winter his 1,000 head of [p.223] horses and mules in Rush Valley, ten miles south of Tooele, and to locate his troops in the Salt Lake Valley.

After renting several large buildings in Salt Lake City, including Wilford Woodruff’s valley house, Steptoe began to carry out his duties. He apparently had no prior knowledge that he was being considered for an appointment as Utah’s governor and did not receive notification of this until he had been in the territory for several months. The letter notifying him of the appointment was dated 21 December 1854 and informed him that the official commission was on its way. This did not arrive until the following March, and by that time Steptoe had decided to accompany his troops on their road survey assignment to California.

In the meantime Steptoe had joined Judge Kinney and several prominent non-Mormons in signing a petition requesting that Brigham Young be re-appointed. The petition was accompanied by a long list of Mormon signatures as well. After signing this petition, Steptoe concentrated his efforts on the arrest and trial of Gunnison’s murderers. Some historians have wondered why Steptoe turned down the opportunity to be governor. The obvious answer is that he realized it would be very difficult to preside effectively when Young was the overwhelming choice of the inhabitants. However, Steptoe became upset with the way the Gunnison trial was being conducted and considered the possibility of accepting the governorship. In a letter to an unidentified general—possibly his commanding officer or General Franklin Pierce, as he often referred to him—Steptoe wrote:

Your enclosing my appointment as governor of the territory was received a few days ago. It is not possible for me today to choose the proper course for me to pursue but I will endeavor to accept or decline by the next mail. In all events, I propose to take my command over to San Francisco and it has resumed its march today. I have much to write to you about and I will try to give you an insight into Mormon affairs. Judge Kinney authorized me to say that if I shall decline the office he will accept it should it be offered to him.

In another letter, dated 26 March 1855, Steptoe suggested that a government force be established in the southern part of the territory to assume at once entire control of the Indians. Until recently the Indians had been “taught to believe that the Americans were feeble in comparison with the Mormons and learned from me for the first time what position the latter held in our great national family.” By the time of his departure, he would probably have refused [p.224] to sign a petition similar to the one he had earlier supported requesting that Young be retained as governor and superintendent of Indian Affairs.

When it became apparent that Steptoe would not serve as governor, Judge Kinney offered his services, as Steptoe said he would. But President Pierce chose not to take advantage of Kinney’s offer, and when none of his personal candidates would accept the position, Pierce tabled the decision. According to the act that created the territory, Young would remain governor since no one else had been appointed.

Meanwhile, Bernhisel was busy trying to explain some of Young’s less temperate statements. The Baltimore Daily Sun quoted the Utah governor as saying that he would remain in office “until the Lord Almighty says Brigham, you need not be governor any longer.” Bernhisel sent a clipping of this article to Young, gently scolding him for such remarks and urging him to tell reporters and printers not to publish such statements as they were intended for the Saints only. Bernhisel said that such statements can “frequently be twisted or tortured so as to rebound to your injury or the injury of the entire church.” He continued:

I have to meet all of these things here face to face and explain, palliate, contradict, deny, as the case may be and though the battle may be fought ever so successfully and victory perch on our banner, yet they leave a deep black stain behind. If they, that is the rumors, did not prevent us as already intimated from obtaining appropriations and other favors there is no one in our quiet and peaceful valley who would care less what a lout or lost and ruined world thought or said of us than your humble servant.

In reply, Young elaborated his philosophy of life, that God rules the affairs of men. He wrote, “Let small men or large men, officers of state, emperors, kings, or beggars say or do what they please, it is all the same to the Almighty. The king upon his throne, the president in his chair, the judges upon the bench and the beggar in the street are all overruled in their actions by the Almighty God of heaven and earth. Who can successfully fight against him?” Young then responded directly to the issue of the Baltimore Daily Sun article:

President Pierce and all hell could not remove me from office. I will tell you what I did say and what I now say. The Lord reigns and rules in the armies of heaven and he does his pleasure among the inhabitants of the earth. He sets up a kingdom here and pulls down another there at his pleasure. He walks in the midst of people and they know it not. He makes [p.225] kings, presidents, and governors at his pleasure. Hence, I conclude that I shall be governor of Utah territory just as long as he wants me to be and for that time neither the president nor the United States nor any other power can prevent it. Then brethren and sisters do not be worried about my being dismissed from office but when the president appoints another man to be governor of Utah territory you may acknowledge that the Lord had done it for we should acknowledge his hand in all things. All people are in the hands of the Almighty and he governs and controls them though they cannot perceive neither do they acknowledge his handiwork. He exalts the president to be head of the nation and places kings upon their thrones. There is not a man that escapes his cognizance and he brings forth his purposes in the latter day.2

Whether or not Young intended his remarks to be belligerent, they increased the disposition in Washington to ridicule Young and his followers. For example, Connecticut senator Truman Smith pointed out how difficult it would be to welcome Young as a fellow congressman and assist his forty wives to seats in the chambers. Later, during the campaign of 1856, parades preceding the election sometimes featured Young as an object of disdain. Edward Tullidge, a nineteenth-century Mormon historian, exaggerated only a little when he wrote that “in every campaign [parade] … Brigham Young with six wives, most fashionably dressed, hooped skirts and all, each with a little Brigham in her arms, occupied one wagon drawn by oxen.”

Before debate over the Kansas-Nebraska bill concluded, the Mormon question was raised again with the proposal to extend the federal land system to the new territories, New Mexico and Utah, subject to such modifications as their peculiarities required. One modification suggested that the act should not benefit any person [p.226] having more than one wife. While some questioned the constitutionality of such an act, Hyrum Waldridge, a New York Democrat, made a reply which would be echoed by reform-minded congressmen for decades: “I do not propose to say whether it is constitutional or not, I am viewing this as a great moral question.” Although Young had asserted in a celebrated 1859 interview with Horace Greeley that slavery was a divinely sanctioned institution, both census reports for 1850 and 1860 found only forty to fifty slaves in the region. Polygamy, not slavery, would become a moral issue for Utah.

In the 1856 presidential contest, the Mormon question was a convenient red herring. The Democratic platform, adopted on 2 June, endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Act’s “non-interference by Congress with slavery in state and territory.” About two weeks later the Republican party, meeting in Philadelphia, nominated John C. Fremont and William L. Dayton. One of the platform’s planks, which was greeted with tremendous applause, read: “Resolved that the constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the territories of the United States for their government and that in the exercise of this power it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.”

One of the most violent denunciations of polygamy came in the summer months of 1856 when John U. Pettit of Indiana denounced popular sovereignty “which admits the patriarchal institution of slavery into Utah and makes it the political twin of that other patriarchal institution, Governor Young’s multiplicity of wives. It brings together there for the first time in Christian lands, the Turkish slave bazaar and the Turkish harem and bids them live in love together under the sanction of our laws.”

Stephen Douglas maintained in 1857 that nine-tenths of Utahns were aliens by birth and did not have any allegiance to the United States, that they were bound by horrid oaths and terrible penalties to recognize and maintain the authority of Brigham Young, and that the government of which Young was head was more powerful than the United States in civil and religious affairs. It was also reported that the Mormons were forming alliances with Indians in Utah and adjoining territories, were encouraging the Indians to be hostile, and were organizing bands of followers under the name of “Danites” or “destroying angels.” Douglas concluded:

Let us have these facts in an official shape before the president and Congress, and the country will soon learn that in the performance of the [p.227] high and solemn duty devolving upon the executive, and Congress, there will be no vacillating or hesitating policy. Should such a state of things actually exist as we are led to infer from the reports and such information comes in an official shape, the knife must be applied to this pestiferous disgusting cancer which is gnawing into the very vitals of the body politic. It must be cut out by the roots and seared over by the red hot iron of stern and unflinching law.

Such publicity in Washington forced U.S. president James Buchanan, Pierce’s successor, to replace Young as governor.

While both Democrats and Republicans were condemning polygamy, confrontations took place in Utah between federal officials and church leaders that led to further negative reports in Washington. President Buchanan became convinced that the Mormons were in a state of rebellion and that a sizable portion of the United States Army should accompany the new, non-Mormon governor to control any opposition.

One of the first federal appointees to become involved in controversy was David H. Burr, newly appointed surveyor general of the territory. Many Mormons looked upon Burr’s survey as a potential threat, knowing that title to the lands they had occupied was tenuous in the absence of Mexican grant, Indian treaty, or congressional enactment. Some tried to impede the surveyor’s work, and Burr reported to superiors that he had been threatened with violence and that Mormons were encouraging Indians to resist the surveying parties. By the spring of 1857, Burr gave up his work in Utah, claiming that he had been denounced from the pulpit and that his life was in danger. He asserted that his associates had been beaten and threatened with death. Mormon leaders denied Burr’s claims and accused Burr of conspiracy to defraud the public.

The organization of the Brigham Young Express and Carrying Company (see chap. 8), was another development leading to confrontations and damaging reports. This large scale enterprise was designed to aid immigration to Utah, to improve mail service, and to facilitate the movement of passengers and freight between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City.

The plan involved establishing way stations and supply depots approximately fifty miles apart from Omaha to Salt Lake City. Each station would be supported by a mile-square village equipped with mills, shops and storehouses, and other necessities. In order to finance the mammoth project, Young felt it was necessary to obtain the government mail contract, which at that time was held by W. M. F. Magraw. Magraw’s service was unsatisfactory, and his contract had [p.228] been cancelled in October 1856, giving the Mormons an opportunity to bid on the new contract. Believing that the church would not be given the contract, Young used Hiram Kimball as a front to bid for the award. The prospect of using the BYX Co.’s facilities to carry the mail made it possible for Kimball to underbid all others; he was awarded a four-year contract for monthly mail service between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City on 9 October 1856.

This contract allowed Young to proceed with his colonizing plan, and soon Mormon “work” missionaries were called to build the villages. By April 1857, three companies of 100 men each had been dispatched east with necessary equipment and supplies to build the needed way stations. Unfortunately for the Mormons, several of these villages were to be built on Indian lands, and they had not sought or received approval for such establishments. Thus Thomas S. Twiss, Indian agent on the upper Platte, criticized the plan and called for government action. In one letter, addressed to the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, J. W. Denver, Twiss reported:

In a communication addressed to the Indian office dated April last, I called attention of the department to the settlements being made within the boundaries of this agency by the Mormon church clearly in violation of the law, although the pretext or pretense under which these settlements are made is under the cover of a contract of the Mormon church to carry the mail from Independence Missouri to Salt lake City. On the 25th of May, a large Mormon colony took possession of the valley of Deer Creek 100 miles west of Fort Laramie and drove away a band of Sioux whom I had settled there in April and whom I had induced to plant corn. I left the Indian band on the 23rd of May to attend to matters connected with the Cheyenne band in the lower part of the agency. I have information from a reliable source that these Mormons were about 300 in number and have plowed and planted 200 acres of prairie and are building houses sufficient for the accommodation of 500 persons and have a large herd of cattle, horses and mules. I am persuaded that the Mormon church intends by this plan, thus partially developed, to monopolize all the trade with the Indians and whites within [and] passing through the Indian territory. I respectfully and earnestly call the attention of the department to the invasion and enter my protest against its occupation of Indian country in force and the forced ejection of the Indians from the place where I had settled them. I am powerless to control this matter for the Mormons obey no law enacted by Congress. I would respectfully request the president … to issue such order as in his wisdom and judgment may seem best to correct the evil complained of.

[p.229] In response to Twiss’s objection, Hiram Kimball learned that his contract had been cancelled, ostensibly for failure to deliver the mail before a set deadline. The letter describing the expiration time did not arrive until after the time had expired, and it seems likely that officials in Washington were aware of this and used it as an excuse to cancel the contract.

Another complaint regarding the Mormon handling of Indian affairs came from Garland Hurt, the Indian agent who came to the territory in 1855. An educated gentleman from Kentucky, Hurt established amiable relations with the Mormons at first. He helped to create three Indian farms with Brigham Young’s approval. However, news of the approach of a U.S. Army contingent to seat the new governor caused the Mormons to become wary of “Gentiles in their midst,” and by mid-August, when Bishop Aaron Johnson reported that the Indians on the Spanish Fork farm had become hostile to the church and sympathetic to the Americans, Hurt was treated with suspect.

There is some confusion as to the events that caused Hurt to leave the territory, but he claimed that on 27 September 1857 he was warned by Indian friends that a large body of Mormon Dragoons was only a mile away threatening him with arrest or bodily harm. He was able to elude them and, with a large body of Indians, made his way to South Pass where he sought the protection of the army. While wintering near Fort Bridger, he wrote a letter to the newly appointed governor, describing his ordeal and adding a list of Mormon atrocities and anti-American attitudes.

At the time the BYX Co. was engaged in its colonizing program, the federally appointed judges in Utah were engaged in quite a different program. Chief Justice Kinney, who pretended to be friendly to the Mormons, sent a number of angry dispatches to the government. He condemned Utah’s probate courts and spoke of his fear of personal violence at the hands of Mormon assassins. In the critical months before Buchanan’s decision to send troops to the territory, Kinney informed U.S. attorney general Jeremiah Black that the Mormons were “inimical to the Government of the United States and to all its officers who are not of their particular faith.”

Territorial associate justice George P. Stiles had been a prominent Mormon in Nauvoo but had recently been excommunicated from the church. He had antagonized some Mormons by trying to limit the Mormon court system. A number of Mormon lawyers, led by James Ferguson, challenged his authority and intimidated him in [p.230] his court. He appealed to Young for protection, but the governor claimed he could not enforce U.S. laws.

A short time later, some rowdies invaded Stiles’s office, seized some of his books and records, and made a bonfire of them in a nearby outhouse. Fortunately, the district court records were not among those burned, but this incident gave credence to the report that the Mormons were in a state of rebellion, having seized and destroyed the territorial supreme court records and intimidated a federal judge. Stiles went to Washington to confirm many of the accusations made by other Mormon opponents.

Although both Kinney and Stiles were responsible for some anti-Mormon feelings in the east, it remained for their fellow judge, Associate Justice W. W. Drummond, to prompt Buchanan to send an army to Utah. Ironically, Drummond’s character and record were such that his accusations should have had little influence, but apparently the authorities in Washington were unaware of his immorality and incompetency. When Drummond added his condemnations to the others and recommended that a non-Mormon be appointed governor and be supported “with sufficient military aid,” Buchanan was ready to act.

Drummond had brought a courtesan with him to Salt Lake City and passed her off as his wife. As reported in the Deseret News, he had deserted his wife and family in Illinois. Yet Drummond took it upon himself to lecture the Mormons on the evils of polygamy. By the spring of 1857, he went to Carson Valley, ostensibly to hold court for Judge Stiles, but continued on his way to San Francisco, where he created a sensation with his newspaper accounts of developments in Utah. On arriving in New Orleans, he sent a letter of resignation to Attorney General Black, dated 30 March 1857. His reasons for resigning were:

(1) That Brigham Young is the head of the “Mormon church”; and, as such head, the “Mormons” look to him, and to him alone, for the law by which they are to be governed; therefore no law of Congress is by them considered binding in any matter;

(2) That he [Drummond] knew that a secret, oathbound organization existed among all the male members of the church to resist the laws of the country, and to acknowledge no law save the law of the priesthood, which came to the people through Brigham Young.

(3) That there were a number of men “set apart by special order of the church, to take both the lives and property of any person who may question the authority of the church.” The judge also alleges—”That the records, papers, etc. of the supreme court have been destroyed by order [p.231] of the church, with the direct knowledge and approbation of Governor B. Young, and the federal officers grossly insulted for presuming to raise a single question about the ‘treasonable act.’

(4) “That the federal officers of the territory are constantly insulted, harassed, and annoyed by the Mormons, and for these insults there is no redress.

(5) “That the federal officers are daily compelled to hear the form of the American government traduced, the chief executives of the nation, both living and dead, slandered and abused from the masses as well as from all the leading members of the church.”

(6) The judge also charged discrimination in the administration of the laws as against “Mormon” and Gentile; that Captain John W. Gunnison and his party were murdered by Indians; but “under the orders, advice and direction of the Mormons”; that the “Mormons” poisoned Judge Leonidas Shaver, Drummond’s predecessor; that Almon W. Babbitt, secretary of the territory had been killed on the plains by a band of “Mormon” marauders, who were “sent from Salt Lake City for that purpose, and that only,” under direct orders of the presidency of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and that Babbitt was not killed by Indians as reported from Utah.

Drummond further explained to the attorney general that he was making his resignation public because the Democratic party was in power “and therefore, is the party that should now be held responsible for the treasonable and disgraceful state of affairs” existing in Utah territory. Admitting that he had “accomplished little good while there,” he expressed his belief that “if there was a man put in office as governor of that territory, who is not a member of the church (i.e. Mormon), and he be supported with a sufficient military aid, much good would result from such a course.” “But,” he continued, “as the territory is now governed … it is noonday madness and folly to attempt to administer the law in that territory. The officers are insulted, harassed, and murdered for doing their duty, and not recognizing Brigham Young as the only lawgiver and lawmaker on earth.”

President Buchanan, barely in office two months, decided to follow Drummond’s advice to appoint a non-Mormon governor for Utah and support him with sufficient military force. A combination of politics, prejudice, greed, fanaticism, persecution psychology, deliberate lying, great distances, and a lack of communication all contributed to the tragic military maneuver historians would later label “Buchanan’s Blunder.” [p.233]


1. Popular sovereignty, or squatter sovereignty as it was sometimes called, was particularly the property of northwestern Democrats and was advocated by the man who would emerge as their leader, Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas. An unusually adroit manipulator, Douglas and other western politicians faced a problem that challenged their best talents. Their constituents wanted to keep slavery out of the territories, and party chiefs had to assure that it would be banned, but they also desired to win national elections. Douglas in particular hoped to be president, and this meant that the party had to be held together as a national organization, that the southern wing not be goaded into withdrawing. Popular sovereignty was a subtle doctrine conceived to satisfy both sections. it proposed that Congress should neither exclude slavery nor encourage its expansion. Instead, its status would be decided by the people of each territory through their territorial legislature.

2. Young expressed this philosophy many times, especially when things were not going the way he hoped. Still, it is difficult to reconcile this fatalism with many of the activities Young otherwise pursued—as when he lashed out at people who did not do the things he wanted or expected. A case in point is Young’s letter to Bernhisel when it became apparent that he would not be re-appointed governor:

Tell Mr. Franklin Pierce that the people of the territory have a way—it may be a very peculiar way but an honest one of sending their infernal, dirty, sneaking, rotten-hearted, pot-house politicians out of the territory and if he should come himself it would be all the same. Talk about democracy or republicanism, how did our fathers of 1776 do when the government of England sent judges upon the country. Were they right in doing as they did? And shall we submit to their cussed tyranny and not resist? No, by the means of our defeated fathers who bled for liberty, no. Tell Mr. Pierce this, that we ask no odds of him nor the factious blood-stained rabble which seems to him such a high and mighty honor to preside over. When we have a president of the people and not of a party, I shall feel that a representation has taken place in our country.