Eugene E. Campbell
The Mormon Reformation
[p.181]The Mormon Reformation, an outburst of religious fervor and evangelical activity in response to an emotional call for retrenchment, reached its climax during the fall of 1856, continued through the following winter, and was largely dissipated by June 1857. It was a sudden phenomenon, promoted primarily by Jedediah M. Grant, and began to decline with his untimely death in December 1856. At its peak, it resulted in a large scale program of rebaptism and rededication to religious principles, including personal cleanliness and a concern for orderliness in homes and communities.
At first the Mormon approach to conversion and repentance was intellectual rather than emotional. While there was some emphasis on the gifts of the spirit, including the gift of tongues, healing, and prophecy, such beliefs did not result in widespread emotional outbursts. Most Mormon preaching tried to demonstrate that Mormonism harmonized with the scriptures and fulfilled biblical prophecy.
Mormon leaders had always emphasized obedience to church commandments, and when Brigham Young was about to return to Winter Quarters after bringing the initial pioneer company to the Salt Lake Valley, he counselled followers to rededicate themselves to the gospel and be rebaptized. The pioneers were constantly reminded that their primary purpose was to establish the Kingdom of God and that they were now in the desert because they had failed to usher in the Millennium in Jackson County, Missouri. In April 1852 General Conference, Young complained that the Saints were not dedicating [p.182] their lives to the Lord and that this was the cause of their evil practices, evil speaking, and evil thinking. Such evil, Young felt, must be done away with by people covenanting “to prepare for the coming of the Son of man.” Young further hinted that perhaps the members did not want to be righteous for if they did they would bind the Devil. If they united their hearts in the church and Kingdom of God, they would live to see the Millennium.
At the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple cornerstones, the Saints heard predictions that this temple would provide a place for Christ’s return. Parley P. Pratt explained the vital role of the temple, then called for “a thorough repentance and reformation of life” and promised if the Saints “fail not to keep the commandments in the Church as it is established in peace and security of the mountains, it will never be prevailed against by its enemies and oppressors.” A year later Heber C. Kimball asked whether it was “not high time that there should be a reformation? We must be of one heart and one mind just as though we were one man. Before this people can enter into the celestial world, there must be a great reformation among them.”
Speaking in May 1855, Orson Pratt complained that some of the new immigrants were too complacent, that they needed hardships to make them more dedicated. According to Pratt, earlier Saints had learned to submit when the Lord decided to chastise them. But the newer Saints were careless and called on Jesus only in time of need. When the Saints lived in Jackson County, they felt that the end was near. Now, Pratt lamented, “they have gone to the other extreme.… The people think of everything else but the redemption of Zion … I will give you my opinion so far as the revelations go in speaking of this subject. I think the event is nearer than this people are aware of.”
Such calls to repentance were persistent during the first decade in the Great Basin. However, the rhetoric intensified following the appointment of Jedediah M. Grant as second counselor in the First Presidency on 7 April 1854. Grant, from the moment he joined the church in 1833, was involved in a crusade that consumed him and which, he believed, deserved the same commitment from others. Dull, spiritless preaching, he feared, was the cause of much spiritual sickness among the people. He believed that his abilities as a sermonizer were supernaturally produced and criticized some of his colleagues for their preaching, calling on them to find the fire within themselves. If he could not chastise the corrupt world, he would pillory the Saints for their attachments to it. He was not interested in [p.183] the past but in an immediate future in which the pure dreams of the sacred were real.
Before Grant’s call to the First Presidency, he was mayor of Salt Lake City but not a prominent leader in the church. Indeed, Young’s selection of Grant in the spring of 1854 to fill the vacancy left by Willard Richards must have surprised many. Despite Grant’s personality and proven dedication to Mormonism, other men would have seemed more logical choices for the vacancy. But the affinity between Young and Grant could not be measured. During the succession crisis, Grant’s loyalty to the Twelve had withstood the assaults of such schismatics as Sidney Rigdon, Benjamin Winchester, and even Grant’s brother-in-law, William Smith. In addition, Young appreciated men of practical grit and realized that the tall preacher possessed certain charismatic qualities that would demand the fealty of bishops and seventies, even apostles. This relationship between Grant and Young was crucial during the Mormon Reformation.
Certainly the specific contours of the reformation can be traced to Grant’s psyche despite his deference to Young’s leadership. Young allowed Grant to lead in this matter, from preaching sermons to writing reformation catechisms. Young was not losing control of his vigorous young counselor but rather demonstrating his support and affinity for Grant’s work. But even the most controversial reformation doctrines were a common part of Grant’s pre-1856 dogma, and Grant’s character was stamped indelibly upon the movement.
A 13 July 1855 sermon in Provo previewed the demands Grant would make on church members. “The Church needs trimming up,” he warned, “and if you will search, you will find in your wards certain branches that had better be cut off. The Kingdom will progress much faster and so will you individually than it will with those branches on, for they are only dead weights to the great wheel … I would like to see the works of reformation commence and continue until every man had to walk the line.” His concluding admonition summarized his basic message: “Purify yourselves, your houses, lots, farms and everything around you on the right and on the left and then the spirit of the Lord can dwell with you.”
Brigham Young in his late 1855 sermons often complained of conditions among the Saints and spoke of the need for reform. He stressed the importance of maintaining “home missionaries” in each of the wards and stakes to root out evil locally. When one of these home missionaries was accused of overzealousness, Young supported him. He said it was more likely that the Saints would confess too [p.184] little than too much. Still nothing in Young’s own teachings or activities foreshadowed the dramatic call for reform the following year.
Another grasshopper attack and drought made the pioneers’ economic situation precarious in 1855-56. Heber C. Kimball reportedly said that this was the tightest time he had known since arriving in the valley. Writing to George Q. Cannon on 3 April 1856, Brigham Young reported that many persons were living almost entirely upon roots and “until we are blessed with another harvest there will be more or less a pinch for provisions. Myself as well as nearly everybody around me have rationed their families to half a pound per day. By frequent fastings we save considerable amounts and this allows us to give to the poor. I pray to heaven that we may have a plentiful harvest. We understand that the prospect is for a large immigration this season.” Still he insisted that the Saints were healthy and that peace prevailed.1
These reports do not reflect a sense of crisis. But a week later Grant accompanied Joseph Young of the First Council of Seventy and four home missionaries to a 13 September 1856 stake conference in Kaysville, Davis County, and began calling for introspection, reform, and rebaptism in earnest, marking the beginning of the Mormon Reformation. In fact, the Deseret News reported the events of this important conference under the heading “Great Reformation.”
In the Saturday evening session, Grant spoke on faith, repentance, and baptism. The following morning he addressed topics that were to become the theme of many sermons during the reformation. Saying that he brought a simple message from Brigham Young, “Saints, live your religion,” he asserted that “the Lord will not hold parents guiltless who neglected to inform the minds of their children.” [p.185] Grant called on members to obey their covenants, observe cleanliness in their persons and dwellings, set their families in order, cultivate their farms and gardens, and keep only that land they could attend to. He concluded by praying that those who did not feel to do right might leave the territory and that “those that did not come forward to do their first works, that is, repent and be baptized, let them be unto you as heathen men and publicans and not numbered among the Saints.” Joseph Young remarked that he supported Grant’s sentiments, observing that the spirit of avarice would only lead the people to apostasy.
During the afternoon meeting, Grant again called on the people to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins and advised the teachers in each ward to report to the bishop at least once a month on the standing of the members. After calling on others to speak, Grant himself discoursed at length on the Saints’ need to purify themselves, their lands, their houses, their persons, and to dedicate themselves and their substances to the Lord. He called for a vote in response to his query whether they were willing to renew their covenants. Their assent was unanimous. The conference adjourned after Grant’s and Young’s Sunday evening addresses but reconvened the next morning for rebaptism. The early morning meeting began with further addresses by Grant and Young, who then called on twelve ward teachers to speak. During the meeting, other home teachers administered to and blessed members in a nearby school room. Grant concluded by calling upon all home missionaries to arise and bless the people.
Speaking of this event six weeks later, Grant reported that when they went to Kaysville to preach, they found a
dark and dull spirit there which was not very congenial to our natures. Brother Joseph Young felt life in him and was full of the spirit and after staying a couple of days he said to me, “Brother Grant, they feel cold and I guess we’d better go to Farmington and preach there and go home.” After awhile I said to him “Do you know how I feel about it? In the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, I will never leave this land until this people surrender. I will hang the flag of the Lord Jesus Christ on their doors, and there shall be a siege of forty days. Then let every man storm the castle and rule against the bulwarks of hell, and let every elder throw the arrows of God Almighty through the sinner and pierce their loins and penetrate their vitals until the banner of Christ shall wave triumphally over Israel. Shall we give up and let the wicked and ungodly overcome us? No in the name and by the power of God we will overcome [p.186] them. We will cleanse the inside of the platter and have Israel saved through the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of his word.”
Later, Grant tried to credit Brigham Young with instituting the reformation. Although Young had sent him to the conference with a typical charge to tell the people to live their religion, Grant said that when he arrived he felt like baptizing them and confirming them anew into the church.
Following Kaysville, Grant and companions traveled five miles southeast to Farmington to hold an evening meeting in the upper room of the courthouse. They called on members to join the reformation and asked if they would be rebaptized. The whole assembly “arose as with a sudden rush.” An estimated six hundred persons were rebaptized and reconfirmed members of the church. During an afternoon sacrament service, while the bread was being broken, Grant asked if all present could fellowship those who had been rebaptized. All hands raised in union. While the sacrament was passed, a number of sick members were administered to.
The next week, Grant and Joseph Young were in Salt Lake City. Along with members of the First Presidency, they preached the reformation to members at the bowery. According to his unpublished history, Brigham Young delivered two sermons. “I feel to call upon this congregation and know whether any of them or whether all of them wish salvation,” he said. “If they do, I have the gospel of salvation for them and I call on the people to know whether they are friends of God or only of themselves individually.” He then called for all to stand who were willing to have the gospel preached to them. He continued:
When we get the baptismal font prepared that is now being built, I will take you into the waters of baptism if you repent of your sins, if you will covenant to live your religion and be saints of the most high.… We need a reformation in the midst of this people. We need a thorough reform, for I know that very many are in a dozy position with regards to their religion. I know this as well as I should, if you were now to doze and go to sleep before my eyes. Are you losing the spirit of the gospel? Is there any cause for it? No, only that which there is in the world. You have the weakness of human nature to contend with. Will you spend your lives to obtain a seat in the Kingdom of God, or will you lie down to sleep and go down to hell?
Three days later, on 24 September, Grant and Joseph Young were back in Davis County, this time in Centerville. After a day of preaching Grant was not satisfied with the response of the people [p.187] and said that he thought it best to postpone rebaptism so the people could prepare their minds and be benefited by the sacred ordinances. He then instructed the bishop and ward officers to cut off every person who would not keep the commandments and put his house in order. The bishop was required to appoint a fast day for 16 October and to keep a correct account of “all that do and those who do not attend the fellowship meetings which are to be held every Sunday up to the day appointed to hold the fast.” Grant then adjourned the conference until 16 October.
After leaving Centerville, Grant and Young continued south to Bountiful for the next conference. Grant addressed the meeting, claiming that the people were as cold as ice, that they had been in a deep sleep and were still asleep. He reprimanded their slackness in assembling for meetings and surmised that they were in a state of apostasy. Young bore testimony to the truth of Grant’s remarks. Others joined in the same spirit, and Grant “showed the people wherein they had sinned and the necessity of an entire immediate reformation and called upon all to repent and to turn to the Lord their God with broken hearts and contrite spirits.” He then expressed his conviction that over half of the people had never been converted. The following Monday morning after asking the congregation some questions, Grant said that he did not feel free to baptize the people in their present condition but requested the bishop and his counselors to work with ward members and when prepared he would come and baptize them.
While in Bountiful, Grant decided to resume the conference at Centerville and sent several of the home missionaries there to complete the reformation. Special conferences were in session at both Centerville and Bountiful on 28 September. Grant was pleased that the spirit he had experienced the previous Friday was gone and asked the people to come forward on Monday morning to renew their covenants by baptism. Then he returned to Bountiful and after some preaching moved the meeting to the water’s edge. After singing, 231 persons were rebaptized.
At the same time Heber C. Kimball was telling Saints in Salt Lake “there is a reformation proposed and has already commenced in the north. The people there are repenting, that is they say they repent and many have gone forward and been baptized for the remission of their sins. But brethren and sisters you may go forth and be baptized and say you repent and receive the laying on of hands, and if ye do not repent and lay aside your wickedness, you will go to hell.” Reporting on this, Wilford Woodruff, in a letter to Orson Pratt, wrote:
[p.188] The Presidency of the Church have commenced a great reformation among this people in the valleys of the mountains. I have never heard as strong a sermon delivered to the people as have been preached unto them of late. The presidency are weighing the people in the balance and are calling all men to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. President Grant has gone into the northern counties and is preaching and baptizing whole wards and building up churches. I presume the same course will be followed in the wards of this city. The people begin to feel more than ever that they are dealing with the spirit and power of God in the holy priesthood. Yes, the Latter-day Saints begin to feel that they are dealing with a spirit that can reach the hearts, know the thoughts and intents thereof and try the souls of men. The people are called to sanctify themselves before the Lord that we may be prepared for the work of our God.
A baptismal font, which had been completed near the Endowment House, was dedicated on 2 October, and the following Sunday the reformation continued in earnest. Members of the First Presidency and several home missionaries addressed crowded meetings at the bowery during both the morning and afternoon. At 5:30 p.m. the people gathered at the new baptismal font and a great number were rebaptized and afterwards reconfirmed under Grant’s direction.
The semi-annual General Conference of the church convened a few days later on 6 October. The reformation took second place during the opening session to the more pressing matter of arranging relief for the Willie and Martin handcart companies endangered because of early snows near the Sweetwater River, Wyoming. However, Wilford Woodruff said that the Presidency
had called upon us to reform our ways, to renew our covenants, and commence to live the lives of Saints.… You may take the twelve and the seventies and the high priests and all the other quorums except the First Presidency. They have been more or less asleep. I believe the First Presidency have been awake or they would not have known that we were asleep. And they now think it is time for us to awake and arise from our slumbers, and I feel so too.
After other comments, Woodruff concluded: “I believe the majority of the people are ready to wake up.… For the day has now come when we must awake and become the friends of God. We must not allow anything to stand between us and our God or we shall be cut off.”
[p.189] Two weeks earlier Brigham Young had lashed out at women for complaining and offered to release all of them, including his own wives from their marriage vows unless they would “round up their shoulders and accept their lot in life and quit whining and agree to live the gospel.” At the conference, according to his manuscript history, Young again took up the offer, “I wish to fulfill the promise which I made two weeks ago. I then told the people or females that I would release them at this conference. And I will do so on certain conditions, and that is that you will appear forthwith at my office and give good and sufficient reasons and then marry men that will not have but one wife.” He added:
When you go home tonight, we want every man and woman and every child that comes to this meeting to wash themselves with pure water inside and out and come here that the Holy Ghost may dwell with you and your brethren. Then you will hear the words of the Lord. As soon as you are released from this meeting, go home and wash yourselves, and already many of you would do well to have a tub and soak overnight and perhaps by morning you would get the scale off. While that is a rather hard story, it is true. I believe that is all I have to say to this congregation.
Young’s advice echoed a favorite theme of Grant, who was concerned with cleanliness. He insisted on cleanliness of person as well as of home and yard. This refrain became a powerful theme of the reformation. On 7 October, Heber Kimball warned the people not to leave early or talk or make noise and suggested that the police “crack the heads” of the offenders.
In the evening, Woodruff and Grant met with the Quorum of the Seventy. The seven presidents of the Seventy were present, Joseph Young presiding. Young spent the early part of the meeting transacting quorum business. Calling for support for the reformation, he received a weak response. This infuriated Grant, who arose and said, “I feel there are some things that grieve me.” Young asked if it would not be well to send the presidents of the Seventy out. He said:
No, they would preach the people to sleep, then to hell. Now this shows me that the Presidents of the Seventies, the First Seven Presidents are asleep … This body of counselors are guilty of great sins, either of omission or commission. I would advise Joseph Young to cut off his counsel and drop them and appoint men in their stead who are full of the Holy Spirit and who will act with him, assist him now and will take up his counsel. Look at them! Now here is Brother Levi Hancock. Why he will fiddle diddle de fiddle de do, fiddle de dum and tweedle de dee. Now he [p.190] might preach a month and there would be no more spirit of God in it than there would be in a cabbage leaf. Now if you would preach this people to sleep and to hell, you are guilty of some great sins either of omission or commission. You have either committed adultery or some other sins and you ought to be dropped. Here is Brother Harriman. Now if you will preach the people to sleep and to hell you are guilty of some great sins—either of commission or omission.
Grant continued, rebuking and criticizing Albert Rockwood, Zera Pulsipher, and H. L. Eldridge. He stressed that he did not care where the men came from, only that they possessed the Holy Ghost. After he finished, some of those present, including Levi Hancock and Benjamin Clapp, defended themselves. All the presidents of the Seventy, except Joseph Young, offered to resign.
Woodruff wrote in his journal that Grant continued this policy of accusing people to their face of being lethargic. Woodruff seemed to be greatly impressed with Grant. Speaking of a meeting on 16 October 1856, Woodruff wrote in his journal:
Jedediah Grant preached in the power of God. He is a quiver in the hands of the Almighty among the people. He took up Bishop Hoagland, his two counselors, then the teachers, then the ward and all the people in it and took a look at them in the light of truth, the candle of the Lord. The whole body was searched with scrutinizing eye and all sins rebuked by the power of God. He left as soon as we got through speaking and was followed by Elder F. D. Richards who bore testimony to the words which had been spoken.
Other leading men also began to criticize their brethren publicly. For example, on 19 October Brigham Young reported that he had received a letter from Orson Hyde in Carson Valley and accused the apostle of writing things “day after day against God, our religion, and the people, for a few dimes.” Young asserted that Hyde “ought to be cut off from the Quorum of the Twelve and the Church. He is no more fit to stand at the head of the Quorum of the Twelve than a dog. His soul is entirely occupied with a few dimes and it is much more in his eyes than God, heaven and eternal life. He is a stink in my nostrils.”
On 27 October Woodruff met with Grant and all the home missionaries. When asked what course he thought they should pursue, Grant said, “We should do as though there were no missionaries before. I want you to go through this territory and I want you to do as God wants you. Go prepared for battle when it is necessary. Jerk [p.191] men up by their names, wake up their bishops and all presiding officers and then the people.” He continued,
Now we want to know what all men are doing through this territory. The people are dirty and filthy. We want to reform this thing. Many do not treat their children right. They use them roughly. Now if a man has the spirit of God he will use his children well and treat them kind. I can tell you that children are very sensitive and the great men they meet with have a great effect on them and we want you to see that the people are employed. The reason we prosper in this city more than any other is that we labor. I went to Taylorsville with Joseph Young, and the people were so dead, so bad, that Bishop Joseph wanted to go home. And I told him that I would not go until I converted the people, and I stayed until I’d done that. Then I conquered the people in the city of Bountiful. I preached until the spirit stayed with us for a few days. But at first the bishop was asleep. And when you go to a place, treat the people right, and get the spirit of God, you will know all what is going on. And when you go to a place to preach, people don’t get into Noah’s Ark or into the City of Enoch. Just tell the people what you want them to do.
Following the conference, home missionaries continued to call people to repentance and to renew their covenants by rebaptism. Some went to West Jordan, some to American Fork and Pleasant Grove in Utah Valley. Presidents Young and Kimball continued to give sermons in the bowery on the reformation. For example, on 2 November, Young said:
If the people in their present situation and mode of dealing in this city, say nothing of those out of the city, all go to work now and have meetings and call upon God to get the spirit of the reformation, but to sing and pray about doing right without doing it, instead of singing themselves to hell, and at the same time make people feel enough on the subject to put away their filth and be clean. if you want me to speak smoother, do better and keep cleaner. Were I to talk about God, heaven and angels, or anything good, I could talk in a more refined style. But I have to talk about things as they do exist among us.
A climax to the early stages of the reformation was reached on 3 November 1856 when the First Presidency called for a priesthood meeting at the Social Hall. Presidents Young, Kimball, and Grant were on the stand, as well as several of the apostles and Joseph Young, senior president of the Seventy. During this assembly a catechism was introduced, which was to become an integral part of the reformation. The following description of the meeting is from John Powell, one of the participants. He wrote:
[p.192] After singing and prayer, Brigham Young had the doors locked. He then said, “I am about to question the brethren and I charge them in the name of Jesus Christ to answer the truth. Those who cover up their sins, the curse of God shall be upon them.” He then drew from the breastpocket of his coat a long slip of white paper and read the following questions, calling upon the brethren to answer them as they were put. 1. Have you shed innocent blood, or assented thereunto? 2. Have you committed adultery? 3. Have you betrayed your brother? 4. Have you borne false witness against your neighbor? 5. Do you get drunk? 6. Have you stolen? 7. Have you lied? 8. Have you contracted debts without the prospect of paying? 9. Have you labored faithfully for your wages? 10. Have you coveted that which belongs to another? 11. Have you taken the name of the Lord in vain? 12. Do you preside in your family as a servant of God? 13. Have you paid your tithing in all things?
To all of these questions, the brethren answered. Then Brigham Young commented, “There are some brethren who have confessed sins they have not done. I am happy to say that there is not as much sin as I expected.” He said that if the brethren repented and sinned no more, they would start with a clean page, but if they sinned again, their former sins would be accounted unto them. “At this meeting,” Powell concluded, “I saw the power of the Priesthood and felt the same as I had never saw or felt before.”
As the reformation progressed, the catechism grew longer until some versions contained as many as twenty-six questions, including a question about bathing regularly. This catechism and later editions were copied and sent throughout the church. Visiting home teachers were instructed to gather the family together and catechize each member. Sometimes they did this in front of the others, sometimes privately. At Fort Supply, the men were divided into four groups and catechized individually by four leaders. If members answered the questions honestly and agreed to repent of their sins and to be rebaptized, they were promised that they would start with a clean slate. Many people felt relief from the guilt of past sins. But, for others, the catechism was an invasion of privacy and greatly resented.
Grant continued to call the people to repentance and spent hours in the baptismal font rebaptizing people, often in very cold weather. Tragically, on 19 November, Grant took sick, apparently from pneumonia. Four days later, Woodruff, Kimball, Franklin D. Richards, Daniel H. Wells, and others went to his home, laid hands on him to bless him, and rebuked the sickness. On the next day the First Presidency laid hands on him. Two days later, on the 26th, Woodruff [p.193] recorded that he called on Grant and found him very sick. “I laid hands on him and prayed on him and rebuked his disease.” Woodruff continued to call on him, and on 29 November Grant said that he had spent the worst night yet. He reported that the
devil had worked hard all night to kill his body but the brethren laid hands on him many times and rebuked the devil, but the devil would lay upon him a strong hand from his feet to his head and all through his stomach and rib cage and at the time, it seemed as though he would crush his body. Brother Grant, though very weak, would rebuke him for an hour at a time from limb to limb and rib to rib. It was perfect warfare all night, but he is easier this morning.
On 1 December, Woodruff reported that Grant’s “lungs appeared to fill and no power to raise anything from them. It appeared that he could not live, but a short time.” Brigham Young sent him some food and he seemed to relish it, but Woodruff reported that this was a death appetite. When informed by the doctor that Grant had finally passed away, Woodruff wrote:
We immediately went into the house and found his wives and children weeping bitterly. As I gazed upon his clay tabernacle without his spirit I felt to exclaim, “A mighty man of Zion is laid low. A valiant man in Israel has fallen.” I felt that a great champion in the kingdom of God was taken from us. We felt his loss deeply. For two months it seemed as though he had been hurried to close up his work. He had been preaching for several months, calling on the people to repent. His voice had been like a trump of an angel of God and he had labored night and day until he was laid prostrate with sickness. He has shot the arrows of the almighty with great power.
The funeral was held on 4 December to praise the man who had spearheaded the reformation.
Two days later, Woodruff continued what Grant had begun by disagreeing publicly with his home ward bishop, Abraham Hoagland. Hoagland had called upon some of the home missionaries to preach to the Gentiles, but Woodruff felt this was unwise. Hoagland responded that he presided over the Fourteenth Ward and was sending the teachers to preach to the Gentiles. When he sat down a confused teacher asked, “What shall I do?” Woodruff answered that he should not go to the Gentiles. However, Hoagland insisted, “Go!” Woodruff then told the teachers to “obey your Bishop for he says he will take the responsibility upon himself.” After the meeting Woodruff went to Brigham Young and related what had happened. Young [p.194] immediately sent for Hoagland. Both men talked the incident over and Young told him the Twelve held the keys of the Kingdom of God and all the world. No bishop presided over any of the Twelve. Hoagland confessed his error and went home.
The following day, 7 December, Young received a letter from Orson Hyde who wanted a hundred men sent to Carson Valley because he anticipated a fight with the Californians. Young said he wished all the men, including Hyde, were at home and would not send him on another mission again because he had lost the spirit of his office. According to Woodruff’s journal, Young was sorry that members of the Twelve and others did not feel the spirit of their office.
By 29 December, Hyde had returned from Carson Valley, and at a meeting Young, after complementing two apostles, said, “But as for you, Brother Hyde, I will say that if you do not magnify your calling better than you have done, I shall object to your standing where you do if nobody else does, for you have not had the spirit of your calling upon you. You have been trying to build yourself up and not the kingdom of God.” Woodruff added, “Yes, Brother Hyde, the Quorum of the Twelve feels this and has felt it for a good while and we want you to take hold and lead, as you are our president. We want a leader and if you will magnify your calling, we will be with you.”2 These accusations must have pained Hyde, but he seemed to accept them and was soon promoting the reformation.
Woodruff’s journal after December 1856 gives the impression that the reformation was on the wane in the Salt Lake area. People were catechized and confessed, and soon most were rebaptized, apparently believing that their past sins had been forgiven.3 On 8 March, Woodruff attended a meeting during which Young alluded to the city of Enoch and its inhabitants, which Mormons believe was physically removed from the earth because of righteousness. Young suggested that within 125 years the Saints along with the portion of the earth they occupied would be separated from the wicked.
[p.195] Although the reformation declined in the Salt Lake and central Utah regions after the death of Jedediah Grant, it spread to outlying regions of the church for a time. One development involved the territorial legislative assembly meeting in Salt Lake City. After the Christmas recess, the House went into the Council Chamber where Heber C. Kimball preached to them. One participant remembered, “Nearly all the members spoke, all being filled with a testimony. The meeting lasted until dark. The power and testimony of the Elders of Israel exceeded anything I have seen in many a day. It was truly a pentecost.” Four days later, both houses of the legislature met and Kimball required every member to repent of his sins and be rebaptized before transacting any business. They then passed a resolution that they would all repent and forsake their sins and be rebaptized. Preparations followed and all members repaired to the Endowment House, where they were rebaptized and reconfirmed under the hands of the Twelve and the Seventy.
Word of the reformation spread also to the church’s missions. Brigham Young wrote to Silas Smith in Hawaii, “Quite a reformation is springing up among the Saints in many parts of the territory, and we hope and trust that it will extend to all the settlements. A general awakening to the interests of Zion and their own condition is much needed. And we are happy that it has commenced and is rapidly extending. Many have renewed their covenants in the waters of baptism.”
On 30 October 1856, the First Presidency sent a letter to John Taylor in New York criticizing him for his financial activities and calling on him to start a reformation there:
Arouse yourself first, get the Holy Ghost, and be filled with it and pour it out on the people. Preach evenings, make appointments in various branches and fill them, make the elders feel the fire in you and make them labor. Ordain elders and send them out to every ward of the city, to every nook and corner thereof. Humble yourself before the Lord and cause all the saints to do likewise. Preach life and salvation unto the elders and unto the people and then make them do the same. Be lively in things of God and make all the elders do the same.
On the same day, Orson Pratt in England was called to inaugurate a similar reformation: “Listen, there is a great reformation needed in England, Scotland and Wales. The Saints are dead and we do not drink at the living fountain. The fire of the Almighty is not in them. And we make the same observation regarding the elders who [p.196] are sent to preach.”4 Erastus Snow, head of the church in St. Louis, received a letter dated 31 October, calling for a reformation there. Charles C. Rich and Amasa Lyman, in San Bernardino, received a similar letter on 4 November:
We have stirred up quite a reformation in these valleys among the Saints. They had measurably gone to sleep, and strange as it may appear, we found that a reformation was essential to the happiness and salvation of the people. They do not live their religion. Brethren, let the reformation extend to your places well and see if you can get the fire of the Almighty kindled in your midst.
Chester Loveland, who replaced Orson Hyde as leader in Carson Valley, received a letter on 3 January 1857, urging him to remain in the valley unless things carne to a point that they could not live there in peace without contention: “The reformation continues its influence among the people; meetings are frequent and well attended; people seem determined to sanctify themselves before the Lord and, henceforth, live their Holy religion.”
Andrew Dunningham, branch president in Florence, Nebraska, reported that by the early part of February 1857 they had appointed horne missionaries for each ward in the city,
who have been visiting the saints in their homes and have been putting a list of questions to them which we had drawn up for this purpose and the great reformation as a result. Self-examination, confession, restitution, repentance are effective for good here.… We desire sincerely a similar operation in the Spirits among the Saints abroad. We have had no dancing, no theatrical presentations this spring; yet the Saints enjoy themselves more in their religious assemblies which are numerously attended. A number of local leaders made similar reports, that they had withheld the sacrament, cancelled dancing, cancelled theatricals and spent their energy in meetings in which there was a good deal of self-examination and confessions.
Repentance was the key theme, but cleanliness was also emphasized. Meeting at the Seventeenth Ward in October 1856, Brigham Young said:
It is your duty to keep clean. I’ve given the teachers a new set of questions to ask the people. I say to them, “Ask the people if they keep clean. [p.197] Do you wash your bodies once a week, when circumstances will permit? Do you keep your dwellings and outhouses and dooryards clean? The first work of the reformation with some should be the cleaning of filth away about their premises. How would you like President Young to visit them and go through their buildings and examine their rooms, etc.?” Many houses stink so bad that a clean man cannot live in them nor hardly breathe in them. Some men were raised in stink and so were their fathers before them. I would not attempt to bless anybody in such places.
Taking the sacrament also became more significant. On 9 November 1856, Young said:
I forbid all unworthy persons from partaking of the sacrament. If such do partake of it, they shall do it on their own responsibility and not on mine. In partaking unworthily a person is corroding and destroying himself, not me. This ordinance is administered on conditions of your living in righteousness and your hearts being true to your God and to your brethren.
He continued, “Do I feel as though I wanted to dance? No, I never want to go forth in the dance until the spirit of the Reformation is right among the people. Neither do I want to see any man or woman partake of the sacrament when they are living in open rebellion against God, against his governments, and his servants.”
Another doctrine emphasized during this period was plural marriage. Many Saints were urged to live polygamy, and this push resulted in considerable competition for wives. The competition became so intense in some places that men volunteered to go on missions to find new wives. On 5 March 1857, one man writing from Fillmore reported that in that town “there were 56 single men besides all the married ones that were anxious to get more wives, and only four single women. Now, sir, would it not be a good policy for me to go on a mission to the states or England if you thought best. I know of some good women in the states of my own baptizing that might be got, besides many more.” Brigham Young’s correspondence files are filled with requests for permission to marry more wives. Philo T. Farnsworth, writing from Beaver on 26 March 1857, inquired, “Is it my privilege to take a couple more wives if I can find some free girls? If so, I thought I’d come up this summer when you get home from your trip north.” One of the more unusual requests involved a woman whose husband was unable to father a child. Young instructed her to council with her husband to see if he would permit some good brother to take his place so that she might conceive, adding that if [p.198] she, her husband, and the bishop all agreed and kept the affair secret, there would be no sin in it.5
The most extreme teaching to emerge during the reformation was that of blood atonement. Jedediah Grant, after talking about unrepentant sinners, asserted in the Deseret News for 1 October 1856:
There are men and women that I would advise to go to the President immediately and ask him to appoint a committee to attend to their case. And then let a place be selected and let that committee shed their blood. We have those amongst us that are full of all manner of abomination. Those who need to have their blood shed where water will not do, their sins are of too deep a dye. You may think that I am not teaching Bible doctrine, but what says the Apostle Paul. I would ask how many covenant breakers there are in this city and in this Kingdom? I believe that there are a great many and if they are covenant breakers we need a place designated where we could shed their blood.
He continued, “Brethren and sisters, we want you to repent and forsake your sins. And you who have committed sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed. Let the smoke ascend that the incense thereof may come up to God as an atonement for your sins.”
Brigham Young repeated the doctrine and approved of it:
I know when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off from the earth that you consider it as strong doctrine, but it is to save them, not to destroy them. And after talking about the children of Israel in the wilderness, I do know that there are sins committed of such a nature that if the people did understand the doctrine of salvation they would tremble because of their situation. And furthermore I know that there are transgressors who, if they knew themselves and the only condition [p.199] upon which they can obtain forgiveness, would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering to appease the wrath that is kindled against them and that the law might have its course. I say further, I’ve had men come to me and offer their lives to atone for their sins. It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men. Yet men can commit sins which it can never remit. As it was in the ancient days, so it is in our day. And though the principles are taught publicly from the stands, still the people do not understand them. Yet the law is precisely the same. There are sins that can be atoned for by an offering upon the altar as in ancient days. And there are sins that the blood of a lamb, or a calf or turtledoves cannot remit, but they must be atoned for by the blood of the man.
Although Young, Kimball, and Grant all preached blood atonement in theory, no presently reliable evidence demonstrates that it was practiced officially. Still, the blood rhetoric fueled anti-Mormon exposes for decades.
As might be imagined, this type of introspection and enthusiastic preaching put the fear of God into the hearts of many. As the Saints began to repent of their sins Young had to shoulder an additional burden by personally listening to many confessions and responding to bishops for his advice. Despite his rhetoric, he could be remarkably generous. Grant himself noted, “Brigham Young is more forgiving and generous [than I]. I would cut you off whereas Brigham Young is willing to forgive you this type of thing.” An example is the case of a Fillmore bishop who wrote on 10 December 1856 that he had been in hell for eight years because of his transgression—”unlawful communication with the opposite sex”—and said that he would do anything—even die—to atone for his sins. Similarly, Isaac Haight, a stake president in Cedar City, wanted to know how to advise a man who had confessed to adultery in Winter Quarters. He had married the woman, but, Haight said, “I think he has deeply repented of his sin and says that if the law of God requires his blood to be spilt, he will.” Then Haight asked, “Will you tell me what to say to him, because in answering this it will answer many of like nature.” Clearly, the reformation was working among many who were searching their hearts and confessing their sins.
In all, however, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of the reformation upon the Mormon church as a whole. While there seems to have been some excesses, such as withholding the sacrament for long periods, preaching blood atonement, taking very young girls into plural marriage, and the fervor of trying to get extra wives, the [p.200] positive results are not as easily identified. Whether the houses were cleaner, and the people bathed more regularly, or were more industrious, honest, and devout, is difficult to judge. Certainly the pioneers committed themselves to be better Saints, but just how effectively these resolutions were carried out remains unclear. [p.201]
1. Young’s letters during this period mention drought and worms on the corn and potatoes. Writing to John Taylor in June, he said, “To tell you the truth, it is with great difficulty that things seem to grow.” But in a July letter, Young simply said, “Times are dull, money is scarce, but we have peace and quietness, health and joy.” Writing on 30 August, he noted:
Notwithstanding the drought and consequent low water, the wheat in most places throughout the territory has yielded beyond expectation and for the year we should have ample. Potatoes, for some reason, will probably make light crop, but beets, carrots, and other edible roots together with squashes are promising a plentiful yield and also the fruit trees in bearing near the benchland. You are aware that this community is mostly so peaceful, orderly and industrious it affords but few items of what the world calls of thrilling interest.
He added the following 4 September 1856, “The wheat has turned out pretty fair and other crops are flattering … There will be none, however, to spare, but peace prevails with all the natives and we have a general time of health.”
3. Some outbursts still occurred. On 18 February, for example, Woodruff quoted Kimball saying, “I don’t want to see the President of the Seventies on the stands until they get more in the spirit of God for they are dead and the Seventies have to receive their food through them.” (Kimball sounded as Grant had a few months before.)
4. Ezra T. Benson, in England, estimated that not more than half of the Saints in Great Britain were willing to renew their covenants and be rebaptized. The sacrament was withheld from the Saints for several months “to afford them time and space for repentance and restitution.”
5. One of the more distressing developments was the number of men asking Young for permission to marry girls too young to bear children. To one man at Fort Supply, Young explained, “I don’t object to your taking sisters named in your letter to wife if they are not too young and their parents and your president and all connected are satisfied, but I do not want children to be married to men before an age which their mothers can generally best determine.” Writing to another man in Spanish Fork, he said, “Go ahead and marry them, but leave the children to grow.” A third man in Alpine City was instructed, “It is your privilege to take more wives, but set a good example to the people, and leave the children long enough with their parents to get their growth, strength and maturity.” To Louis Robinson, head of the church at Fort Bridger, Young advised, “Take good women, but let the children grow, then they will be able to bear children after a few years without injury.” Another man in Santa Clara was told that it would be wise to marry an Indian girl but only if she were mature. Still another man wanted Young to counsel him concerning a sister who proposed to give him her twelve-year-old daughter.