on the cover:
The Essential Brigham Young contains twenty-five sermons of Mormonism’s most creative theologian. Suppressed and sometimes officially disavowed, Brigham Young’s speculations continue to inspire controversy. Selections include:
“Election and Reprobation”
“True and False Riches”
“Personality of God”
“The Source of Intelligence”
“The Kingdom of God”
I never pretended to be Joseph Smith. I am not the man who brought forth the Book of Mormon, but I do testify to the truth of it. I am an apostle to bear testimony to the Gentiles of this last dispensation, and also the Jews. I can say the heart of man is always eager for something, just like little children; we often see children when they have been feasted on pumpkin pie and sweet cake, and other good things, eat until they are filled with pain, and cry for more….From the day that I was baptized until this present time, I have felt as if I was in another world, in another existence. I never look back upon the old world, but it is like looking into hell. I have only one desire, and that is to do the will of my God, and that is all the will I ever had. I do chastise my brethren, find fault with them, and give them counsel, but the counsel I give let any one say it is not right; I am at the defiance of any one to say that I have not told them just right. —from “With Joy and Gratitude to My Heavenly Father, I Look Upon this Congregation with Admiration”
on inside flaps:
After converting to Mormonism in 1832, Brigham Young (1801-77) quickly rose to prominence and three years later was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He personally directed the highly successful 1839 proselyting mission to Great Britain and was appointed president of the Twelve the following year. In 1846-47 he oversaw the epic colonization of the intermountain west.
Self-educated and preoccupied with the pressing business of his widespread empire, Young rarely found time to read. But he delivered hundreds of lively extemporaneous sermons blending common sense with theological speculation. His homespun treatises carried an immediacy absent from the philosophically oriented studies of his colleague Orson Pratt. At the same time, Young’s speeches could be unfocused and contradictory.
Several of his more controversial teachings—Adam-as-God, divine omniscience, and blood atonement—have sparked considerable debate since they were first uttered more than one hundred years ago. “Will you love your brothers and sisters likewise,” he once asked, “when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood?”
“There can be no doubt that Brigham Young’s forceful personality dominated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He addressed the Saints almost every Sunday, daily when on tour, often giving practical advice, but on occasion he would lash out using hyperbole, sarcasm, and rough frontier humor. The Saints loved his style, but non-Mormon officials believed he was a dangerous despot and demagogue, if not a fanatic. Young’s rhetoric was so positive and so powerful that no one dared to challenge his pronouncements. If he had only expressed his opinion, some things might have been different. Young became close to a law unto himself, not only in economic affairs and doctrinal pronouncements but in church appointments as well. Even so, many Mormons today would no doubt hope that when the next major threat to their survival arises there would be a strong man like Brigham Young to lead them to a place of refuge and safety. If such an emergency arises and Mormons survive because of a strong leader, they will no doubt be willing to live with his weaknesses because they value his strengths.”
—Eugene E. Campbell, from the foreword. Campbell was past president of the Mormon History Association, professor of history at Brigham Young University, and author of Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869.
The Essential Brigham Young
Foreword by Eugene E. Campbell
Salt Lake City
Cover Design: Randall Smith Associates
© 1992 by Signature Books, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America.
Printed on acid free paper
95 94 93 92 6 5 4 3 2 1
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Young, Brigham, 1801-1877.
The essential Brigham Young / foreword by Eugene E. Campbell.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Doctrines.
2. Mormon church—Doctrines. 3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
-day Saints—Sermons. 4. Mormon Church—Sermons. 5. Sermons,
American. I. Title.
BX8635.Y682 1992 90-39883
Publisher’s Preface [see below]
Foreword by Eugene E. Campbell [see below]
01 – “Election and Reprobation” (with Willard Richards)
02 – “The Remarks of President Young in Behalf of the Claim of the Twelve to Lead the Church in the Absence of the First Presidency”
03 – “Speech Delivered by President B. Young, in the City of Joseph”
04 – “I Remarked Last Sunday that I had not Felt Much Like Preaching to the Brethren”
05 – “With Joy and Gratitude to My Heavenly Father, I Look Upon this Congregation with Admiration”
06 – “The Gospel of Salvation—A Vision—Redemption of the Earth and All that Pertains to It”
07 – “True and False Riches”
08 – “When I Contemplate the Subject of Salvation”
09 – “I Propose to Speak Upon a Subject that does not Immediately Concern Yours or My Welfare”
10 – “To Know God is Eternal Life—God the Father of Our Spirits and Bodies—Things Created SpirituallyFirst—Atonement by the Shedding of Blood”
11 – A Series of Instructions and Remarks by President Brigham Young
12 – “Intelligence, Etc.”
13 – “I Take the Liberty of Preaching to the People, Wishing to do so for the Benefits of the Saints”
14 – “True Character of God—Erroneous Ideas Entertained Towards Him”
15 – “The Kingdom of God”
16 – “For Many Years I have Sought to Instruct My Fellow Beings in the Ways of Life and Salvation”
17 – “Personality of God—His Attributes—Eternal Life, Etc.”
18 – “I have a Few Times in My Life Undertaken to Preach to a Traveling Congregation, but My Sermons have been Very Short, and Far Between”
19 – “We Talk a Great Deal about Our Improvements and Increase in Knowledge”
20 – “The Source of Intelligence, Etc.”
21 – “I Hope the Brethren and Sisters will Remember What has been Said”
22 – The Resurrection
23 – “Philosophy of Man upon the Earth—The Great and Grand Secret of Salvation—Are We One—Nature of Stewardship—Increase of Temples—Hear Ye, Mothers”
24 – “When I have asked My Counsellors or Any of the Brethren of the Twelve”
25 – “The Wilderness was Kinder to Us than Man”
[p.xi]Brigham Young preached thousands of sermons during his thirty-three-year administration as second leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As church president and territorial governor, he dictated both spiritually and temporally. In his speeches he expounded doctrines from Adam-as-God to Republican Party-as-devil, interspersed with practical advice on baby-bathing and agriculture. The range of Young’s sermons reflects the enormity of his chief concerto: preserving the legacy of Joseph Smith’s life and teachings while forging a theocratic kingdom out of the Great Basin wilderness.
Young’s expansive thought escapes easy definition, for no single wholly consistent theological system emerges from his far-reaching discourses. He adapted his sermons to fit the changing circumstances of his followers. He challenged Mormons who rigidly took counsel of ancient Hebrew prophets. “With regard to the Bible,” he said, “we believe the Bible, but circumstances alter cases, for what is now required for the people may not be required of a people that may live a hundred years hence.” Consequently, Young’s pronouncements do not allow for satisfying prooftexts. The present compilation focuses on some of the larger themes of Young’s thought as they developed.
Young’s ideas arose spontaneously as he spoke. “I will present such views as shall come into my mind,” he said. His style was to rely on extemporaneous inspiration, and to change his mind if he wanted. His addresses began hesitatingly—even awkwardly—and gained momentum as he found a topic and traced it through various permutations. “Our language is deficient, and I do not possess in this particular the natural endowment that some men enjoy,” he admitted. “I am a man of few words, and unlearned.” He referred to the “timidity” he felt “when rising to address a congregation.”
When an idea came to Young’s mind it was because God placed it there. This was the source of his famous self-confidence. But prefacing every seemingly dogmatic statement was an acknowledgment of his own fallibility. “You may go home,” he assured the Saints, “and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother’s arms as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray.” But, he cautioned, “do not come to my office to ask me whether I am mistaken, for I want to tell you now perhaps I am.” “I will acknowledge that all the time,” he elaborated, “but I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray.” Rather, “accord-[p.xii]ing to the best light and intelligence we are in possession of we will tell you what we think the Lord wishes of us and his policy concerning this people.”
Young never referred to himself as prophet. “I have never particularly desired any man to testify publicly that I am a Prophet,” he cautioned his followers, “nevertheless if any man feels joy in doing this, he shall be blest in it.” The title of prophet was reserved exclusively for Joseph Smith. Young was administrator—president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. After Smith’s assassination in 1844, Young asked the Saints if they wanted “a prophet and guardian” to lead them, to which they responded “No!” Young looked forward to the time when Smith’s son David would claim his place as prophet and Young could resume his role as one of the traveling high council, or Twelve. When David chose to align himself with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Young expressed disappointment that unless “he [David] repent of his sins and embrace the Gospel…he never can walk up to possess his right.”
As for education, Young claimed he “went to school eleven days, that was the extent of my schooling.” His boyhood training was in “splitting rails and fencing fields.” He questioned much of science, which he referred to suspiciously as “natural philosophy.” He disputed the idea that matter was composed of common elements; like his colleague Orson Pratt, he rejected Newton’s theory of gravity. As Young aged, however, he became impressed by the accomplishments of science, which, he decided, came from God. Defensive about the lack of technological progress among Mormons, he said, “I know that the Latter-day Saints are looked upon by the world as dupes, as a low, degraded, imbecile race, and that we are so unwise and short-sighted, so vain and foolish, that through the great amount of enthusiasm within us we have embraced an error.” But, he explained, “Joseph Smith was a poet, and poets are not like other men; their gaze is deeper, and reaches the roots of the soul; it is like that of the searching eyes of angels, they catch the swift thought of God and reveal it to us.”
Young’s view of deity was decidedly human. He believed Adam and Eve came to the earth from another world bringing with them plants and animals. Then, through sexual intercourse, they bore the first human children. Adam later also bore Jesus through intercourse with Mary. All this showed that sexuality was good, as was polygamy. When the Millennium came, probably before the Salt Lake Temple was completed, Mormons would be vindicated in these beliefs and practices, according to Young.
Few topics escaped Young’s attention. He favored capital punishment as a blessing to those who would otherwise elude God’s grace. [p.xiii]This is loving our neighbor as ourselves,” he argued. “If he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it.” Those who were worthy of capital punishment included apostates and adulterers. Regarding men who left their wives for younger women, Young bellowed, “I want to cut their damned throats and will if I catch any of them. Hell is full of such creatures, so full that their elbows stick out at the windows.”
One of the great puzzles to antebellum Americans was the origin and meaning of race, and Young wondered why people were “different shades of color—the tawny, and copper-colored, the black and white.” He decided that “if there are any who are not white and delightsome, it is because of their sins and iniquities.” Blacks especially were “cursed” and were “uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable, wild, deprived of intelligence, and pre-ordained to be servants.” Young’s sympathies were with the South during the Civil War.
Other vestiges of Young’s influence remain in contemporary Mormon culture. The work ethic, for example, which was a prerequisite to taming the Great Basin, continues to be preached from the pulpit. When the prospect of easy money lured fortune-seekers to California, Young warned that gold and silver would “rain any nation. Give them iron and coal, good hard work, plenty to eat, good schools and good doctrine, and it will make them a healthy, wealthy, and happy people.”
Young’s homilies were compelling to nineteenth-century Utahns because they were filled with down-to-earth metaphors drawn from family life and farm work. Young “would not give the ashes of a rye straw” for those who abandoned an assignment. Those who did not follow counsel were likely to “fall into a ditch.” He compared the church to a cotton mill. Sabbath-breakers were challenged with, “I will draw cuts with any man who would go and plough to-morrow [Sunday] [as to who] grows the most wheat, [the one who, by] staying here to-morrow gets [his] heart warmed, or [those who] go ploughing.” He talked of hauling potatoes, playing cards, dancing. He cursed his enemies with a plague of mildew.
Perhaps Young’s most masterful sermon was his 1858 address at a special gathering in the tabernacle. In the face of approaching federal troops, Young asked the community, which had struggled to survive in barely cultivatable valleys, to burn their houses and follow him to an unspecified desert sanctuary. This would certainly have been a shock to those assembled expecting to hear a call to arms. Like Mark Antony’s monologue in Julius Caesar, people left the meeting prepared to do the inconceivable.
“No doubt some of the brethren will be a little surprised at this move, and think it hard,” Young reasoned. “Who should be the first to [p.xiv]volunteer, in all the settlements of the Saints? You who have never been driven, or those who have been driven twice, thrice, or four or five times? Were I to call for volunteers, generally those who have suffered the most would be soonest on hand…. You may ask whether I am willing to burn up my houses? Yes, and to be the first man that will put the torch to my own dwellings ….
“If we are obliged to remove…and lay waste, it is for our good. He that cannot take…the spoiling of his goods, whenever the Lord requires it…. is not worthy to be a follower of the Lamb; and when the moving is over I will have [a] better house than my present one [and much] better than the old row of log cabins we used to live in…. So also will your buildings be…better than the ones you now occupy[,] as they are better than your old shanties which you first lived in, and the earth will be more productive…. ”
Besides, the fresh air would be good for everyone’s health. “As I have told you often,” asserted Young, “if people lived in their old log houses, in their tents and…wickiups you would not hear one cough where you now hear a hundred…. Send out these women and children, many of whom are not in health, and let them sleep in wagons and they will become healthy.”
In one of his more confident moments, Young roared that “God is the captain of this company, the general of this church, its ruler and dictator. If I am the instrument which he chooses to use in the prosecution of his great work, it is all right. I am as willing as any other man to be used.” At other times, Young let this stern façade drop and his audience caught a glimpse of the humanity underneath—the compassion, humor, commitment, authenticity. He was a complex leader and father, and he discloses more in his sermons than one might expect about his public and private life.
Brigham Young was born 1 June 1801 in Whitingham, Vermont, and his family moved to central New York in 1804. He forsook the family’s farming occupation to learn the carpentry trade. Thereafter, throughout his life, he favored vocational education and distrusted liberal arts.
Like contemporaries Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, and Parley Pratt, Young experienced the New York religious revivals of the 1820s. But unlike the others he did not remain aloof. He became a Methodist first, then, after moving to Oswego, New York, on Lake Ontario, he changed to the Congregational church.
In 1830, Phineas, Young’s brother, purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith’s brother Samuel. “I examined the matter studiously for two years,” commented Young after borrowing Phineas’s copy, “before I made up my mind.” In 1832 he joined Smith’s [p.xv]Church of Christ.
Smith commanded his followers to gather to Kirtland, Ohio, which Young soon did. Young was then called on several short proselytizing missions, culminating in his lifetime appointment to the travelling ministry as member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. When opponents assailed Smith over the economically devastating collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society—a savings and loan institution—Young surfaced as Smith’s staunchest defender, leading excommunication proceedings against the prophet’s adversaries. When dissenters drove Smith from Kirtland in 1837, Young followed him to Missouri.
The Missouri Mormons were already embroiled in their own controversies. Older settlers distrusted Mormons, viewing them as interlopers whose growing numbers and communitarianism made them a potential political force. The Missouri militia attacked Mormon settlements in October 1838, capturing Smith and other Mormon leaders. Young, unknown to Missourians, escaped imprisonment.
With Smith under guard, Young and colleague Heber C. Kimball were left to lead the church. They oversaw the evacuation of Mormons from Missouri to Illinois. When Smith was released, he relieved the apostles of their leadership duties and asked them to resume their ministry. In September 1839, Young and the apostles left Illinois for England to recruit new Mormons.
The apostles converted several thousand British and charged the latter to emigrate to American church settlements. Young’s reputation grew with the success of the British mission and influx of British converts to Mormon towns. When the apostles returned to Illinois in 1841, Smith expanded their calling to include administration of some church business at home.
During the 1840s, Smith introduced the church to new doctrines. He taught Mormons to baptize each other in behalf of dead relatives in 1841 and began introducing polygamy to a loyal few the same year. Smith’s endowment, a ritual ceremony transmitting sacred knowledge required to enter heaven, was administered to apostles in 1842-43. This theological development tried the credulity of some Mormons. Reports of strange practices also incurred the suspicion and antagonism of non-Mormon neighbors. Young and other apostles travelled throughout neighboring communities to counter gossip.
Smith also became politically active in the 1840s. He wanted to redress wrongs committed by Missourians and ensure that similar persecution would not occur in the Saints’ new Illinois home. He decided to run for the presidency of the United States early in 1844. In May, Young and other apostles were called to a campaigning mission in the eastern states.
[p.xvi]With the apostles away, Smith confronted opposition at home virtually alone. Disaffected Mormons began printing a newspaper to publicize polygamy and other scandals. Smith was arrested after authorizing the destruction of the newspaper. While he was awaiting trial, a vigilante group broke into the jail and killed him and his brother Hyrum.
Receiving the news, the apostles returned quickly home. Young, as president of the quorum, competed against claims of other prominent Mormons for leadership of the church. The apostles swayed a majority of Mormons, many of whom originally converted through the apostles’ missionary efforts. Young, now in control, abated further mob action by promising to lead Mormons from Illinois.
In February 1846 Mormons crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa. After a haphazard, mostly leaderless trek across Iowa to Nebraska, Young secured control and thereafter directed minute details in preparing for the exodus to the Rocky Mountains. Early the next year, Young and 143 Mormon pioneers began their vanguard expedition, travelling along the Platte River through present-day Nebraska and Wyoming to the frontier outpost of Fort Bridger. On the trail beyond the fort, Young contracted mountain fever. He entered the Salt Lake Valley two days after the first pioneers, lying sick and delirious in a wagon.
At the end of the Saints’ first year in the Salt Lake Valley, Young returned to Iowa to direct emigration of the remaining Mormons. Since Smith’s death, Young was de facto leader of the church, but in December 1847, at an Iowa church conference, he officially assumed Smith’s role as president. He returned to the Salt Lake Valley in September 1848 and never again left the Great Basin.
From 1848 until his death in August 1877, Young directed extensive Mormon colonization and development of the Utah territory. As part of a Mormon elite, holding political and economic power, Young gained national notoriety while he tried to maintain an uneasy truce with the federal government. This eroded during the 1856-57 “Utah War.” Later western gentile expansion, particularly the coming of the transcontinental railroad, undermined the control that Mormon leaders had enjoyed during Young’s administration.
Of the twenty-five selections in the present compilation, Young delivered twenty-two in connection with the emigration, economic development, and colonization of the West. He gave the other three while in the eastern Utah States or in England. Approximately eight hundred of Young’s sermons remain. Almost half were published in the Journal of Discourses. Twenty-five of Young’s most frequently cited sermons are presented here as they were first published or recorded. Only obvious, unintentional typesetting mistakes such as letter transpositions [p.xvii]have been corrected. Archaic constructions of usage and variant spellings remain. We remind readers that the earliest publication of these sermons was based on stenographers’ notes.
by Eugene E. Campbell
[p.xix]Writing one of the first biographies of Andrew Jackson, American historian James Parton made a despairing admission. From the evidence he had gathered Parton noted that Jackson could be termed both a “patriot” and a “traitor.” “He was,” Parton explained, “one of the greatest of Generals and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer, brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence or spell words of four syllables…. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-abiding, law-defying citizen…. A democratic autocrat, an urbane savage, an atrocious Saint…. At home and among dependents, all tenderness and generosity: to opponents, violent, ungenerous, prone to believe the very worst of them.”1
Perhaps such a description can help explain Brigham Young (1801-77). There can be no doubt that his forceful personality dominated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the years 1845 to 1877, the tenure of his presidency. Non-Mormons as well as Mormons have acknowledged his powerful influence. Historian Allen Nevins regarded him as “the most commanding single figure of the West,” while Herbert E. Bolton concluded that no one “so completely molded his people and their institutions as Brigham Young molded the Mormons.2
A great deal has been written about Brigham Young. Limitations of space preclude touching upon every aspect of his career, but I will consider aspects of colonization; relations with the federal government; Indian policy; business practices; attitudes towards women, blacks, and co-workers; and finally I will try to come to terms with the paradoxical aspects of the life and influence of this exceptional American.
Perhaps Brigham Young’s greatest claim to fame resulted from his leadership in the Mormon colonization of the Great Basin and contiguous areas. This achievement included not only the founding of over three hundred towns and cities in a desert wilderness but the organization of an immigration system that transported over 80,000 people from various parts of the world to the Great Basin, welding them into a cohesive society. Young certainly deserves to be listed among the greatest American colonizers, yet he may have been given more credit than he deserves. I believe that he did not plan or carry out a successful program [p.xx]of encircling the Great Basin with a chain of control colonies as has been suggested by other historians. And there are additional aspects of his colonizing policies that require a closer look. One was the calling of people to colonize areas during the winter season, resulting in unnecessary suffering and family separation without justifiable reason. Two cases in point are the Manti and Fort Supply colonies.
The Manti colonists, consisting of approximately thirty-five families (100 male and 124 female), were called to settle near Chief Walker’s band of Utes for the purpose of teaching them to become farmers (hopefully Mormon, as well). Leaving Salt Lake on 28 October 1849, they moved slowly, consuming almost an entire month before settling in present-day Manti. Dissension over the choice of location was increased by the advent of a very cold and snowy winter. Although the leader, Isaac Morley, proclaimed that God had chosen the spot, his counselor, Seth Taft, insisted that “not even a jack rabbit could exist on its desert soil,” and Jacob Butterfield declared “that neither God, angels [n]or Brigham Young had anything to do with locating this place.”3 (Taft was subsequently excommunicated and fined twenty-five dollars for voicing such criticism.4 Three nights after their arrival, it snowed heavily, and by 10 December the temperature had plummeted to twenty-one degrees below zero and more snow fell. By Christmas the snow was so deep that the cattle could not reach winter grass for grazing. Some colonists labored for weeks shoveling snow from the grass, while others left it in the hands of the Lord, saying, “If the Lord was of a mind to send deep snows and cold weather to destroy the cattle, all right.
Of course, Brigham Young was not responsible for the cold winter, but having endured the bitter winter of 1848-49, he could have realized the difficulty colonists might experience when called to settle such an area in winter. All these first settlers could do was struggle to survive.
The call to colonize the Green River Valley in November 1853 is another example. In this case only 92 men were sent into the high-country wilderness near Fort Bridger. They finally decided on a location twelve miles south of Bridger, but nearer the Uinta Mountains, and began building Forty Supply on 27 November, completing the A block house in two weeks—”not an hour too soon for the weather was very cold and threatening.”5 By 23 December eight men had risked their lives to get additional supplies from Salt Lake City, but the winter was so severe that they were unable to return until spring. The men who remained at Fort Supply spent the winter trying to survive and to keep their cattle alive. Fear of the Indians forced them to accept guard duty in below-zero weather. By February 1854 some of the cabins were buried by snow blown by high winds; by spring many of the men had deserted their mission. When, on 30 May, the thermom-[p.xxi]eter registered only ten degrees above zero, others finally gave up. Such examples could be multiplied, but the point is that much unnecessary inconvenience, sacrifice, and physical suffering were endured by faithful Saints because of Brigham Young’s apparent lack of foresight.
Then, too, the calls to colonize were not nearly as well planned as Mormons today might believe. The idea that Young chose people carefully based on their talents and occupations does not hold up under scrutiny, especially during the early years.
There can be no doubt as to the importance of the “call” from Brigham Young in promoting the settlement of many communities in the territory, but Davis County settlers called themselves. Young later appointed leaders and called families to strengthen the Davis settlements after they were established. The Ogden area was settled by James Brown under the direction of the Salt Lake stake presidency while Young was still in Winter Quarters. Brown’s call probably came as a result of his interest in purchasing Fort Buenaventure from Miles Goodyear. The Tooele colony was organized by one of the twelve apostles who had an assignment to build mills and herd livestock. Isaac Morley was assigned to select a group to settle Sanpete County, and he enlarged his group as he passed through communities in Salt Lake and Utah valleys. During the fall general conference of 1850, Morley was given the right to choose one hundred additional men and to call them to bring their families to his settlement.
Two years later “Father” James Allred was assigned to go to Sanpete and choose a location for his “numerous posterity,” resulting in the founding of Spring City. Joseph Heywood was told to “pick up volunteers” to settle Nephi, and Anson Call was assigned to “raise fifty families” to settle Fillmore. Brigham City was settled by volunteers, although President Young soon began directing Scandinavian groups to settle there, Wellsville was founded by Peter Maughn, who received permission to leave Tooele and look for a new location; any of the Tooele settlers who wished to follow Maughn were given permission to do so.
The calls to the “outer colonies” were much more specific. For example, men called on Indian missions heard their names read aloud from the pulpit at general conference. A notable exception was when apostles Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich had so many volunteers to go to the San Bernardino region that they had to limit the group to a quota.
Brigham Young’s attitude towards the federal government may be described as ambivalent to paranoid, resulting in almost constant difficulties with federal officials. He succeeded in antagonizing every president from Zachary Taylor to Ulysses S. Grant and in alienating almost every territorial officer who came to Utah between 1850 and 1877. Of course [p.xxii]it can be argued that federal officials were incompetent, self-seeking politicians and that Mormons had good reason to fear the federal government. But many federal appointees came expressing good will toward Mormons, only to be disillusioned by the anti-government sentiment pronounced in public gatherings. Young seemed convinced that federal officials were in a conspiracy to destroy the community.6
Part of the problem was Brigham Young’s rhetoric. The president addressed the Saints almost every Sunday, almost daily when on tour, often giving practical advice, but on occasion he would lash out at the federal government using hyperbole, sarcasm, and rough frontier humor. The Saints loved his style, but non-Mormon officials believed he was a dangerous despot and demagogue, if not a fanatic. John M. Bernhisel, Utah’s representative in Congress, begged Young to “tone down” his public utterances, but without success. When the Baltimore Daily Sun reported that Young had said that he would remain territorial governor “until the Lord Almighty says, ‘Brigham, you need not be governor longer,'” Bernhisel asked Young to tell reporters that such statements were intended for the Saints only. “I have to meet all of these things here face-to-face and explain, palliate, contradict, deny as the case may be,” wrote Bernhisel. Even when successful, Bernhisel felt that such remarks left a “deep black stain behind.”7
Young’s preaching set the tone, and he was emulated by Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Jedediah M. Grant, and Daniel Wells among others. During the Civil War Governor Stephen Harding reported that Brigham Young and other preachers “are constantly asserting every Sabbath that the United States was being destroyed in fulfillment of prophecy, and that all governments of the earth are false and ought to be overthrown.”8 There can be little doubt that Brigham Young’s rhetoric helped set an attitude which convinced federal officials that Mormons were disloyal and federal officers sent to govern them required the support of military units.
Young’s Indian policy is usually expressed in the pragmatic statement, “It is cheaper to feed them than to fight them.” But this is misleading in many ways. First, it does not actually reveal any humanitarian concern, only an economic motive “cheaper.” Second, anyone who has studied Brigham Young’s attitudes on eating and working recognizes that such a policy could only be a temporary expedient. The Saints could barely feed themselves during those early years. It might be cheaper to feed the Indians than fight them, but it would be cheaper still if they were left to feed themselves. This was Brigham Young’s real policy. Third, there is no evidence that Young made such a statement until after his people had first fought the Indians.
There can be no doubt that Young sympathized with the plight of [p.xxiii]native Americans and wanted to help them. He generally advocated fairness in dealing with them and tried to teach them to farm and to develop other rudiments of civilization. He also sent letters to the chiefs accompanied by gifts and advice. However, he was a realist and most consistently advocated a policy of segregation. During the first three years in the Great Basin, the plan was land occupation without recompense, extermination of non-cooperatives, and removal of all of Utah tribes to distant locations. Later Young reflected that Mormons “were prepared to meet all the Indians in these mountains and kill every soul of them if we had been obliged to.”9 He also said, “I shall live a long time before I will believe that an Indian is my friend when it is to his advantage to be my enemy.”10 Despite such attitudes and policies, Young tried to help the Indians and was successful in establishing some farms and in ending the slave trade. He encouraged the adoption of Indian children and sent sizable contingents of missionaries to work with various tribes. Unfortunately, while serving as territorial superintendent of Indian affairs, Young also antagonized both his superiors and subordinates in the Federal Indian Program, resulting in suspicion, a lack of cooperation, and withholding of government aid to the Indians of Utah territory.
By the end of the 1860s, despite Young’s genuine concern, the Indian population had been greatly reduced, and the survivors were either forced to live on unattractive reservations or to remain on the outskirts of Mormon villages, dependent on charity for the necessities of life.
Young prided himself on being an astute businessman, and he had good reason for such pride. As he once said in a general conference address, “I am as good a financier as can be found—money and property do multiply in my hands.”11 By 1855, when he deeded his property to the trustee-in-trust of the church as an act of consecration, he listed his assets as almost $200,000.12 Four years later he told the New York Daily Tribune that he considered himself to be “worth $250,000.”13 But in 1862, while discussing love of property with some of his friends, Young asserted “that he didn’t think that there was a prophet on earth, Jesus excepted, that cared less for the things of this world than he did.”14
Historian Leonard J. Arrington has given a broad overview of Young’s business activities both in private ventures and as leader of the church and has summarized his holdings at the time of his death. Arrington indicated that “it came as a great surprise to many, including his close associates, that the obligations of Brigham Young to the Church at the time of his death totalled $999,632.90.”15 Part of this enormous debt had come as a result of Young’s mixing private affairs with those of the church and drawing on church funds whenever necessary to further his private interests, which he invariably saw as benefitting the church. According to David James Croft, it is doubtful that the “other General [p.xxiv]Authorities…could draw a distinction between Brigham Young as trustee-in-trust, and Brigham Young as a private enterpriser. It appears that Young was not always conscious of the distinction. Although he kept separate accounts, and knew the difference between Church funds and his own, it is likely that he viewed many Church projects as his.”16
While both Arrington and Croft are generous in their interpretations of Young’s financial dealings, some of his own brethren were not so kind. George Q. Cannon wrote in his diary, “Some of my brethren, as I have learned since the death of President Brigham Young, did have feelings concerning his course. They did not approve of it, and felt opposed, and yet they dare not exhibit their feelings to him, he ruled with so strong and stiff a hand, and they felt that it would be of no use. In a few words, the feeling seems to be that he transcended the bounds of the authority which he legitimately held. I have been greatly surprised to find so much dissatisfaction in such quarters. It is felt that the funds of the Church have been used with a freedom not warranted by the authority which he held.”17 That feeling resulted in a decision by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to establish a fixed salary for themselves because they did not want to allow “any man in the Church President or Apostle to draw funds from the Church without limit for their own use or any other purpose.”
Brigham Young’s attitude toward women is filled with paradox. Married to at least twenty-seven wives and father of fifty-seven children by sixteen different women, he once remarked that there were few men who enjoyed the company of women less. He seemed to command the respect and love of most of his wives; and his daughters, two of whom described their family life as idyllic, seemed to adore him. However, there were some marriage failures, including five separations, five divorces, and one annulment; and there must have been a great deal of heartache and jealousy, especially when at the age of sixty-two he married Amelia Folsom, thirty-seven years his junior, who demanded a special home and social position. The possibility of family dissatisfaction increased two years later when Young married Mary Van Cott, forty-three years younger than he, and finally when at the age of sixty-seven, he married Ann Eliza Webb, who was twenty-eight. Lucy Bigelow Young, his wife since 1846, had been sent to live in St. George and must have had mixed feelings when Young decided to relieve her of the burden of serving and entertaining his clerks, drivers, friends, and visitors. Young built a larger house and office in St. George “with an extra large barn, vineyard and garden” and brought “Aunt Amelia with some good help with her, to care for him in the new house when he came, and there to entertain his many guests.” Lucy’s daughter Susa wrote that “it would be impossible to deny that mother’s heart twisted with sorrow at the thought of her [p.xxv]dear husband coming down to spend the winters in another wife’s home.”18
Young was generous in granting divorces to women who found it difficult to live plural marriage. Many of the almost 2,000 divorces he granted were to unhappy wives. But on occasion he lashed out at wives for requesting divorce. During October conference in 1861, after scolding the people for requesting divorces, Young said, “I now inform every one of my sisters that when they come to get a divorce, paying me ten dollars for it, you may just as well tare off a piece of your shirt tail and lay it by and call it a divorce, so far as any good that piece of paper called a divorce will do…a bill of divorce from me does not free her…. How can a woman be made free from a man to whom she has been sealed for time and all eternity? There are two ways.” He then explained that if a man does not magnify his priesthood callings, he will find in the hereafter that his wives will be given to those who are more worthy, but that if a man magnifies his priesthood, observing faithfully his covenants to the end of life, all the wives and children sealed to him, all the blessings, are immutably and eternally fixed.
You may inquire,” he continued, “in the case a wife becomes dissatisfied with her husband, her affections lost, she becomes alienated from him, and wishes to be the wife of another can she not leave him? I know of no law in heaven or on earth by which she can be made free while her husband remains faithful and magnifies his priesthood before God, and he is not disposed to put her away, she having done nothing worthy of being put away. If that dissatisfied wife could behold the transcendent beauty of person, the Godlike qualities of the resurrected husband she now despises, her love for him would be unbounded and unutterable. Instead of despising him she would feel like worshiping him he is so holy, so pure, so perfect, and so filled with God in his resurrected body…. The second way in which a wife can be separated from her husband, while he continues to be faithful to his God and his priesthood, I have not revealed, except to a few persons in this Church, and few have received it from Joseph the prophet as well as myself. If a woman can find a man holding the keys of the priesthood with higher power and authority than her husband, and he is disposed to take her, he can do so, otherwise she has got to remain where she is. In either of these ways of separation, you can discover, there is no need for a bill of divorcement.” He then asserted that women were not accountable for the sins that are in the world. God requires obedience from man, he is the Lord of creation, but women will not be held responsible. “The woman is the glory of man; what is the glory of the woman? It is her virginity until she gives it into the hands of the man who will be her Lord and Master to all eternity.”19
Certainly a case can be made to show Brigham Young’s respect for [p.xxvi]women. But I doubt that he ever regarded them as equal to men—especially those who held the priesthood. Some have admired Young’s self-confidence. American traveler and writer Fritz Hugh Ludlow found that Young had “absolute certainty of himself and his own opinion”20 and saw this quality as a key factor in his ability to motivate his people• Certainly an effective leader needs to be resolute, but Young had developed self-confidence to such a degree that few dared to challenge his statements. Apostle Orson Pratt questioned his teachings concerning the nature of God and was threatened with excommunication from the Quorum of the Twelve. Young’s pronouncement of withholding priesthood ordination from blacks were so definite that the concept was accepted as doctrine by the church for over a century.21
Too, I wonder if Elder Orson Hyde understood that Young was probably indulging in simple hyperbole when he said that Hyde “ought to be Cut off from the Quorum of the Twelve & the Church. He is no more fit to stand at the Head of the Quorum of the Twelve than a dog!…He is a stink in my norstrels.”22 Or how the Saints felt during the difficult winter of 1848-49 when Young lashed out at those who were hoarding food: “If those that have do not sell to those who have not, we will just take it and distribute among the poor and those that have and will not divide willingly may be thankful that their heads are not found wallowing in the snow. There is some of the meanest spirits here among the Saints that ever graced this footstool. They are too mean to live among the gentiles. The gentiles would be ashamed of them.”23 Or later, when Young found that Mormon immigrants owed $56,000 to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund and said, “I want you to understand fully that I intend to put the screws on you, and you who have owed for years, if you do not pay up now and help us, we will levy on your property and take every farthing you have on earth.”24
One of the more extreme examples of this occurred in November 1856 when Young learned that members were blaming him for the plight of the Willie and Martin Handcart companies. He in turn put the blame squarely on Franklin D. Richards, insisting that “if any person on this earth or even a bird had chirped in Brother Franklin’s ears in Florence, and the brethren had held a council, they would have known better than to rush men, women and children onto the prairie in the autumn months.” After publicly castigating Richards, Young declared, “If any man or woman complains of me or my Counselors, in regards to the lateness of some of this season’s immigration, let the curse of God be on them and blast their substance with mildew and destruction, until their names are forgotten from the earth.”25
Earlier he had lashed out at the courts and lawyers, exclaiming, “Men [p.xxvii]who love competition, contention…I curse you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I curse you, and the fruits of your land shall be smitten with mildew, your children shall sicken and die, your cattle shall waste away, and I pray God to root you out from the Society of the Saints.”26
My point is simply that Brigham Young’s rhetoric was so positive and so powerful that no one dared to challenge his pronouncements. If he had only expressed his opinion, some things might have been different. Brigham Young became close to a law unto himself, not only in economic affairs and doctrinal pronouncements but in church appointments as well. For example, on 17 April 1864 he casually told John Taylor and George A. Smith, “I have ordained my sons, Joseph A., Brigham, and John W., apostles and my counselors, have you any objections?” Taylor and Smith replied that they had not, that it was his own affair, and that they considered it to be under his own direction.27
Despite such actions and scoldings, Young was “Brother Brigham” to thousands of people. They recognized his leadership, sought his judgment, and believed him to be God’s representative on earth. What was the source of his power? Of course the obvious answer to faithful members is that Brigham Young was God’s representative on earth. But for those seeking other explanations, the experience of Elizabeth Wood Kane might help.
Invited to come to Utah with her husband, Thomas L. Kane, in 1874, Elizabeth met Brigham Young for the first time in Lehi as the caravan prepared to travel to St. George. Later in her book, Twelve Mormon Homes, she gave a detailed account of that first meeting and her subsequent observations of his effective leadership. She wrote:
“I strolled out on the platform afterwards, to find President Young preparing for our journey—as he did every morning afterwards—by a personal inspection of the condition of every wheel, axle, horse and mule, and suit of harness belonging to the party. He was peering like a well-intentioned wizard into every nook and cranny, pointing out a defect here and there with his odd, six-sided staff engraved with the hieroglyphs of many measure; more useful though less romantic, than a Runic wand. He wore a great surtout, reaching almost to his feet, of dark-green cloth (Mahomet color?) lined with fur, a fur collar, cap, and pair of sealskin boots with the undyed fur outward. I was amused at his odd appearance; but as he turned to address me, he removed a hideous pair of green goggles, and his keen, blue-gray eyes met mine with their characteristic look of shrewd and cunning insight. I felt no further inclination to laugh. His photographs, accurate enough in other respects, altogether fail to give the expression of his eyes.”28
At Parowan she continued: “When we reached the end of a day’s journey, after taking off our outer garments and washing off the dust, it [p.xxviii]was the custom of our party to assemble before the fire in the sitting room, and the leading ‘brothers and sisters’ of the settlement would come in to pay their respects. The front door generally opened directly from the piazza into the parlor, and was always on the latch, and the circle ’round the fire varied constantly as the neighbors dropped in or went away. At these informal audiences, reports, complaints, and petitions were made; and I think I gathered more of the actual working of Mormonism by listening to them than from any other source. They talked away to Brigham Young about every conceivable mater, from the fiuxing of an ore to the advantages of a Navajo bit, and expected him to remember every child in every cotter’s family. And he really seemed to do so, and to be at home, and be rightfully deemed infallible on every subject. I think he must make fewer mistakes than most popes, from his being in such constant intercourse with his people. I noticed that he never seemed uninterested, but gave an unforced attention to the person addressing him, which suggested a mind free from care. I used to fancy that he wasted a great deal of power in this way; but I soon saw that he was accumulating it. Power, I mean, at least as the driving-wheel of his people’s industry.”29
Surely this partially explains the paradox of Brigham Young, for although Young criticized, scolded, and threatened his people, he also stayed close to them, remembered their names, listened to their problems, and from his own experience, his powers of observation, and his reservoir of common sense, gave them counsel and advice. And because he was so sure of himself and so sincere in his devotion to the building up of the Mormon kingdom, his followers took the scoldings and threats as part of the package, following him as their divinely inspired leader even if it meant taking another wife, moving to an uninhabited wilderness, or simply staying home and trying to live with a difficult situation.
As I reflect on the life of Brigham Young and his influence on the Mormon church and Utah’s history, I find that I have mixed feelings. Perhaps Allen Nevins was right when he asserted that “no man of less strength could have succeeded; he had taken a heterogenous people, foreign and native, skilled and unskilled, and molded them into an industrious, orderly, devoted, and homogenous community.”30 Certainly Young was a great leader and was especially effective as a colonizer and in dealing with practical things. So, in a very real sense, he saved the church by leading his followers into the Great Basin where they could be the first settlers and become strong enough to establish their concept of God’s kingdom without serious opposition during the first decade.
But Young also left his people with another heritage. He was responsible for expanding the practice of plural marriage in the face of federal law declaring it illegal. He fostered an attitude of antagonism [p.xxix]toward the federal government which led to hardship and almost resulted in the destruction of the church. His strong statements concerning blacks and the priesthood fastened an unfortunate concept on the church. His antagonism toward precious-metal mining resulted in the great mineral wealth of the Mormon country being exploited by non-Mormons—many of whom became wealthy and powerful opponents of the church. His criticism of Orson Pratt caused other quorum members to assert that a living prophet is to be followed, even though he should be out of harmony with both scripture and the teachings of Joseph Smith.
But just as James Parton wrote of Andrew Jackson, after criticizing some of his actions, “I think most citizens of the United States will concur in the wish, that when next a European Army lands upon American soil, may there be a Jackson to meet them at the landing place,” so many Mormons today would no doubt hope that when the next major threat to their survival arises, may there be a strong man like Brigham Young to lead them to a place of refuge and safety. If such an emergency arises and Mormons survive because of a strong leader, they will no doubt be willing to live with his weaknesses because they value his strengths.
6. John Pulsipher, who attended a council meeting in December 1848, claimed that Young said he planned to “petition for a territorial government each year until the honest in heart had been gathered out of the nations and the armies of Israel had become very great, and then we will say ‘We don’t care whether you grant it [the territorial recognition] or not. Damn you, we are here and we ask no odds of you'” (John Pulsipher Journal, Dec. 1848, LDS archives).
12. Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of Zion: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 374-75. Also David James Croft, “The Private Business Activities of Brigham Young, 1847-1877,” Journal of the West (Oct. 1977): 49.
21. Ronald Esplin has defended Brigham Young’s role in establishing and promoting this doctrine. But even if we accept Esplin’s assertion that “his audience” understood Young’s use of hyperbole, Esplin does not deny that it was Young who said that the curse was from God, could only be removed by God, and that only when all of Abel’s descendants “were assured their birthright” would blacks be given the priesthood. Such a concept suggested a time in the far-distant future—perhaps the Millennium. See Ronald K. Esplin, “Brigham Young and the Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View,” Brigham Young University Studies 19 (Spring 1979): 401.