Eugene E. Campbell
Religious Doctrines and Practices
[p.163]When its members entered the Great Basin in mid-1847, the Mormon church had existed only seventeen years—hardly enough time to establish uniform religious doctrines and practices. Plural marriage, which emerged in Nauvoo, Illinois, was practiced openly in the Rocky Mountains and in 1852 was publicly announced and defended. The closely allied doctrine of celestial or eternal marriage continued to develop, as did the temple ordinances for the living and dead, including the endowment.1 The extending of family ties through adoption back to Adam survived the trek west, as did rebaptism, which was also practiced in Nauvoo. Observance of the Word of Wisdom both increased and declined during these early years, depending upon the time and situation. And because of the injunction to preach the gospel to all the world before the Second Coming, missionary work expanded to include the Middle East and Orient.
Plural marriage was an important practice during the Saints’ first twenty years in the West. Joseph Smith had initiated this complex marriage system in Nauvoo and perhaps even earlier in Kirtland, Ohio, but only a few trusted church leaders had been allowed to practice it before 1847. When Smith secretly introduced the [p.164] practice to the Twelve Apostles and others in 1841, he told them to take extra wives or be damned. According to Mormon genealogist Richard Horsley, less than 100 men took plural wives during the Nauvoo period, and in almost every case they were “veterans” of the church, having been members for more than five years.
Fearing public exposure, Mormons who entered into plural marriage were told to keep the practice secret and to deny it publicly. This policy continued after the Saints left Nauvoo in 1846. In England, church leaders denied rumors that the church sanctioned polygamy as late as 1851. However, keeping plural marriage secret was difficult in Winter Quarters and during the exodus west, and little reason for secrecy existed once the pioneers had settled in the Great Basin. Captain John W. Gunnison, who had been in the Salt Lake Valley since 1849, wrote in his account of the Mormons in 1850 that “many have a large number of wives in Deseret is perfectly manifest to anyone residing among them and indeed the subject begins to be more openly discussed informally and it is announced that a treatise is in preparation to prove by the scriptures the right of plurality by all Christians if not to declare their own practice of the same.”
With the influx of non-Mormons into the valley during the California gold rush and the appointment of territorial officials, church leaders realized they could no longer keep the practice secret. The federal officials who returned to Washington, D.C., claiming that they could not work with the Mormons, were among those who first reported that the Mormons were practicing plural marriage, leading Brigham Young and other leaders to publicly announce and defend the practice. A special conference of the church was called on 28 and 29 August 1852, ostensibly because a large number of missionaries were being called to various parts of the world and leaving in August was more convenient than leaving in October. However, on the forenoon of the second day, Elder Orson Pratt2 stated that he had been called upon to address the people on the “Plurality of Wives.”
Pratt argued that over four-fifths of the world accepted plural marriage and gave evidence from both the Old and New Testaments [p.165] that the biblical prophets accepted and practiced polygamy. Pratt even asserted that Jesus may have been a polygamist, pointing to the relationship he seemed to have with Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene. In addition, Pratt pointed out the sociological advantages of polygamy—that it gave every woman the right to be a wife and mother and that there was therefore no place for prostitution in the Mormon scheme of things. He concluded by saying that he believed the United States would not, under the present form of government, condemn the Mormons for their religious teachings: “The Constitution gives privileges to all the inhabitants of this country—the free exercise of their religious notions and the freedom of their faith and the practice of it.… And should there ever be laws enacted by this government to restrict them from the free exercise of this part of their religion, such laws must be unconstitutional.”3
The immediate impact of the church’s disclosure is difficult to judge. Certainly antagonism ensued, and many editorials were written against the Mormons. The announcement even occasioned some dismay among foreign church members4 and outraged the general population of the United States. In fact, polygamy was used to argue against popular sovereignty in the discussions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (see chap. 13).
Mormon polygamy, unlike polygamy in other cultures, developed rapidly, without the usual societal norms and institutions for regulating its practice. Thus no limit, formal or informal, was imposed on the number of wives a man might have. Neither did a strictly prescribed method of gaining additional wives exist. As a result, several Mormon leaders married large numbers of wives in a short period. Writing in the mid-1850s, John Hyde, Jr., a Mormon apostate, [p.166] described Salt Lake City’s downtown section not far from Brigham Young’s Lion House and Beehive House:
A very pretty house on the east side was occupied by the late J. M. Grant and his five wives. A larger barracks-like house is tenanted by Ezra T. Benson and his four ladies. A large but mean-looking house to the west was inhabited by Parley P. Pratt and his nine wives. In that long dirty row of single rooms half hidden by a beautiful orchard and garden lived Dr. Richards and his eleven wives. Wilford Woodruff and his five wives reside in another large house still farther west. Orson Pratt and some four or five wives occupy an adjacent building. And looking toward the north we see a whole block covered with houses, barns, gardens and orchards in the east [for] Heber C. Kimball and his eighteen or twenty wives and their families.
Hyde did not mention Young’s Beehive House and Lion House, where eighteen to twenty of his wives lived.
Numerous wives was the exception rather than the rule. Mormon researcher Stanley Ivins, in his study of 1,784 polygamist men, found that 66 percent married only one extra wife. About 22 percent had three wives, and only about 7 percent had four. This left a small group of less than 6 percent who married five or more women. Ivins wrote that “the typical polygamist, far from being the insatiable male of popular fable, was a dispassionate fellow content to call a halt after marrying one extra wife, required to assure him of his chance to salvation.”
Nor was there an established courtship pattern. Some men married widows or young girls who had no other relatives. Some married girls who were living with their family as maids. Some asked their wives to help them choose, while others became involved in romantic courtship, often causing heartache to their other wives. Everything seems to have depended on the feelings and the situation of the people involved. Often, the men married sisters because the wives found it easier to get along together. In fact, Mormon sociologist Kimball Young’s study, Isn’t One Wife Enough?, found that as many as 20 percent of men taking additional wives married sisters. Often when these men married additional wives, the sisters refused to accept them or left the marriage rather than tolerate an “outsider.”
How the wives were housed also varied. Some plural families lived under one roof. In others, each wife lived in a separate house. At times, families were spread throughout the city or even the region. [p.167] Gradually a rule was established that no man could marry into polygamy unless he could support an extra wife in a separate household. But this rule was never really followed or enforced. Theoretically, all of the wives in the family were to be equal. In practice the first wife was usually more powerful because she was the only “legal” wife. She was supposed to give her permission before her husband married other wives, for example. Kimball Young’s study indicates that when a man took several wives, he consulted the first wife but often not his other wives. Although the first wife enjoyed legal status, the second or later wife was often younger, more beautiful, or benefited from the romance of the courtship.
The percentage of Mormons involved in polygamy is difficult to ascertain. Studies by Young, Ivins, and Nels Anderson indicate that about 10 to 15 percent of eligible males were polygamous, and since each had at least two wives, a fairly sizable percentage of Mormons were involved in plural marriage—perhaps as high as 40 to 60 percent. Ivins found in his study that the percentage increased whenever the federal government threatened the practice. Leonard Arrington, in Great Basin Kingdom, argued that church pressure was the strongest motive for polygamy and that the rate of polygamous marriages rose whenever religious reformations took place or the Mormons were threatened economically. The classic example is the Mormon Reformation of 1855-57 when a tremendous amount of pressure was exerted on men to marry polygamously. Apostle George A. Smith wrote that by 1857 there was hardly an unmarried girl in the territory who had reached her fourteenth birthday.
The success of such marriages is an open question. According to Kimball Young, 53 percent of the cases he examined were either highly successful or reasonably successful. One-fourth were moderately successful, and only 23 percent were rated as having considerable or severe conflict. There is evidence, however, that this may be too optimistic because Brigham Young granted a large number of divorces during this period. Between 1847 and 1859 Young authorized 517 divorces, practically all of which were from polygamous marriages. These divorces involved church officials, including Young himself, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, John Smith, John and Phineas Young, Orson Spencer, William W. Phelps, Benjamin Johnson, and John M. Bernhisel. Many of these had probably been marriages of convenience, involving women who had been disassociated from their first husbands or disowned by their families. Some had no one to take them across the plains or give them a home after they reached the Great Basin. Many of these [p.168] failed marriages began without a real chance for developing meaningful relationships between the partners.5
Despite difficulties, many plural families succeeded in establishing good relationships and in raising well-rounded, intelligent children. Many of the wives loved each other and each other’s children and were able to function well in this system. Nonetheless, plural marriage was a constant source of difficulty with the outside world and ultimately one of the factors leading to the so-called Utah War (chap. 14).
Beginning in Nauvoo, Mormons believed that marriages performed by the necessary authority, or priesthood, would last for all eternity. Eternal marriage for Mormons implies all the joys of the wedded state, including parenthood. According to B. H. Roberts, “Man’s heavenly home was to be upon the earth after it had become sanctified and made a celestial sphere. His relations with his kindred and friends were to be of such a nature to satisfy the longings of the human heart, for society, for fellowship, and needed only the revelation of this marriage system to complete the circle of his promised future felicity.” In Mormonism men and women are spirit children of God capable of achieving godhood themselves. To do so they must enter into “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” Thus sealed for eternity, Mormon couples will one day procreate spirit children, organize worlds, and people them with their own offspring.
This and other ordinances can only be performed in Mormon temples—although when temples were not available some ordinances were performed elsewhere.6 The Nauvoo Temple was completed while the Mormons were preparing to leave Illinois and used heavily from 1845 until the Saints left in 1846. The fervor with which the temple was completed indicates the extent of the Mormon belief in the necessity of temples and temple ordinances.
On 28 July 1847, just four days after the pioneers entered the Great Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young designated an area for a new [p.169] temple on City Creek. This site was later approved and meetings were held on the location. During the April 1851 General Conference, construction was officially authorized, and on 9 October 1852 church members voted to use only the best materials available. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place on 14 February 1853, and then in an impressive celebration, the corner stones were laid on 6 April.
After Brigham Young opened the conference session with song, prayer, and some remarks, a parade formed and marched through a line of guards to the southeast corner of the temple grounds. Young then intoned, “We dedicate the southeast corner stone of this temple to the most high God. May it remain in peace until it has done its work, until He who has inspired our hearts to fulfill the prophecies of these holy prophets that the House of the Lord shall be reared in the tops of the mountains shall be satisfied and say, ‘It is enough.'” Similar services were held at each of the other cornerstones. However, it would be forty years before the temple would be completed. So for a time these ordinances were performed in the Council House or in Brigham Young’s office until a temporary Endowment House could be erected.
Conducting these ordinances in the Council House proved increasingly difficult because the building was used for a variety of purposes, including offices for federal officials. Church authorities decided to construct a temporary building for administering ordinances where they would not be observed by the growing non-Mormon community. The architect was Truman O. Angell, whose first blueprint of the floor plan was completed in March 1854. By 11 September, the foundation was finished, and three months later the rafters were going up. Angell called the project the temple protem or pro tempore, meaning temporary temple. It was not until the early part of 1855 that the phrase “endowment house” was used.
On Saturday, 5 May 1855, eight years after Joseph Smith began performing endowment ceremonies in Nauvoo, Brigham Young and other church leaders dedicated the new building. The prayer “was done by first naming each room separate, then the material of each part separate from stone to lumber, from adobes to sand, including every kind of material from the foundation to the chimney top.” After the dedication, ordinances were administered until five in the afternoon when three couples were sealed. As they progressed through each stage of the ceremony, initiates stepped up to the next room. Though simple, the Endowment House contained all of the rooms [p.170] modern LDS temples have and served as a structure for temple ordinances during the Saints’ first three decades in the region.
The primary ordinances performed in the Endowment House included sealings of living couples; sealings by proxy for the dead; sealings between couples in which one partner was living and the other dead; endowments for the living; and second anointings (a “higher blessing” confirming the blessings of godhood upon its recipients). Only near the end of the pioneer period, beginning in July 1867, were baptisms for the dead performed in the Endowment House. Brigham Young decreed that until the Saints completed a regular temple, certain ordinances could not be performed, including sealings between both living and dead parents and children and endowments for the dead. “We can just administer so far as the law [of God] permits us to do,” Young insisted.7
By refusing to seal children to parents, Young temporarily curtailed a program that had emerged in Nauvoo and played an important role in colonizing the Great Basin—that of adoption. Many adoptions were performed in the partially completed Nauvoo Temple beginning in 1845. Not only were children sealed to parents, but men adopted other adults into their family. Adoption was usually restricted to apostles, who believed that in the Millennium they would be adopted into a family system that extended back to “Father Adam.”8 Seventy-four percent of those adopted, excluding natural children and relatives, were linked to Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, John Taylor, or Brigham Young. Most of those adopted were young couples in their twenties and thirties, although some were in their forties. Some of the adopted would become well known Saints, but only one or two ever occupied positions of first rank in the church.9 According to Mormon historian Gordon Irving:
[p.171] The circumstances of 1846 made such a practical application of the adoption doctrine particularly appealing to the Church leadership. Apart from problems of member loyalty left over from the succession crisis which had followed the murder of Joseph Smith, the Church was also faced with the confusion inherent in breaking up of homes and moving en masse to an unsettled wilderness. People had to be moved; supplies had to be found; camps and temporary cities had to be located and established; morale, not to mention faith, had to be maintained; and always present was the uncertainty of the Church’s future course. In the midst of turmoil, uncertainty and weariness, Mormon leaders were sufficiently impressed with the potential of adoption, already part of the Mormon doctrinal system, as a unifying force to take seriously its this-worldly implication. So in what can be viewed as an experiment, the organization of Mormon society along family lines was tried out on a small scale within the families of the leaders. Part of this experiment was the expansion of the adoptionary system to include a large number of people. As there was no temple in the wilderness, there could be no further formal adoptions. This difficulty was overcome by treating persons desiring to join one’s family as though they had already received the temple sealing. Later, when a temple could be built, they would go through the formal ceremony.
Hosea Stout recorded in his journal on 13 July 1846 that Apostle Orson Hyde had announced that “all who felt willing to do so to give him a pledge to come into his kingdom when this ordinance could be attended to.” The Mormon concept that one’s status as a god in the next life would be determined by the number of descendants encouraged recruitment. Apostle George A. Smith admitted in February 1847 that be had “electioneered with all his might to get people to join him.” And Wilford Woodruff, in his journal, described the creation of several of these extended families:
Brigham Young went with his company or family organization of those who had been adopted unto him or who were to be and organized them into a company which … may yet be called the tribe of Brigham. They entered into a covenant with uplifted hands to heaven with President Brigham Young and each other to walk in the commandments of the Lord. President Heber C. Kimball organized his family company consisting of about 200 persons in the council house.
[p.172] Woodruff organized his own family company of forty men, mostly heads of families, who entered into a covenant with “uplifted hand to heaven to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God and to sustain me in this office.”
When Brigham Young was having trouble with some of his family over plural marriage, he called them together for a lecture followed by dinner and a dance. The Heber C. Kimball family, as a general rule, met on Sundays for sermons and the sacrament. Kimball’s family also held parties and dances. However, difficulties began when it became apparent that not all adopted members enjoyed the same status. For example, jealousy surfaced among Brigham Young’s adopted sons and in John D. Lee’s family. Part of the difficulties between adopted sons and fathers arose when men who had been adopted into families felt that they were working only for their adopted father and were not building up a kingdom for themselves. George Laub, one of Lee’s adopted sons, wrote that on a trip to Missouri to buy grain, one of Lee’s other sons refused to return the corn purchased there to him, swearing that “he was not going to be a negro for John D. Lee any longer and he was going to work for himself.” Laub and Lee quarrelled several times over Lee’s keeping too large a portion of the fruits of his sons’ labors. Eventually Laub appealed to Brigham Young to be released from this relationship.
After 1848, adoption began to decline. Still, relationships which had already been established continued, and some new ones were formed on a temporary basis while awaiting the completion of a temple. Nineteenth-century Mormon historian Edward Tullidge believed that adoption explained how some pioneers distributed land upon entering the valley. Adoption also continued to influence personal relationships. Gradually, as memories of unpleasant experiences faded, members began speaking again of adoption. For example, in 1860, Brigham Young maintained that adoption was a glorious doctrine but that the people were not ready for it. However, after the completion of the St. George Temple and the death of Brigham Young, adoption was reintroduced and practiced until the 1890s.
Another important religious activity during this period was missionary work. During his temporary absence from home, a man’s family would have to survive without him by running the farm or business enterprise themselves. Wives managed to survive with help from relatives, friends, and church leaders. One early missionary venture included men from the gold fields (see chap. 3) who were sent to the Sandwich Islands in the fall of 1850. Although five of the ten missionaries, including the mission president, became discouraged [p.173] and left, George Q. Cannon learned the language rapidly and was able to publish the Book of Mormon in Hawaiian. Subsequent missionaries were either accompanied by their wives or later joined by them. The mission was successful for the first few years, but with the coming of Johnston’s Army, the missionaries were called home, leaving some 4,000 converts to fend for themselves. Many came under the influence of Walter Murray Gibson, an opportunist who attempted to set up his own kingdom in the Hawaiian Islands.
The most remarkable aspect of missionary work during the 1850s was the call of hundreds of men to distant parts of the world to proclaim the gospel when, at the same time, Brigham Young was encouraging people to gather to Zion. Not surprisingly the church sent many of these missionaries to the United States, Canada, and Europe, especially the British Isles. But missionaries were also sent to countries where missionaries had never labored before. Because of their belief that the gospel must be preached to all the world prior to the Second Coming, church leaders sent missionaries to Gibraltar, the Middle East, India, Ceylon, China, and South Africa despite the need for manpower in the Great Basin.
Perhaps the least successful of these endeavors was Parley P. Pratt’s mission to South America. Pratt was called in February 1851 to the Pacific Islands, lower California, and South America. He arrived in California in March, and under his supervision a second group of missionaries was sent to the Hawaiian Islands. Pratt also announced he wanted to send Elders to New Zealand and Australia, while he would visit Chile and South America. Accompanied by one of his wives and Rufus Allen, Pratt’s small contingent took up residence in Valparaiso, Chile, where they remained for several months but had little success. A revolution was then in progress, and restrictive laws about religion made missionary activities impossible. Pratt also found the language difficult and never felt competent to preach in Spanish. Finally he was forced to return, hungry and sick, without making any contacts for the church.10
Other missions were launched at the special August 1852 conference when plural marriage was first publicly announced. Orson Spencer and Jacob Oats were sent to Prussia but found it almost impossible to work there. Edward Stevenson and Nathan Porter [p.174] arrived in Gibraltar but encountered difficulty even though Stevenson had been born there. They attempted to extend the work into Spain, but apparently without success. One of the most ambitious yet fruitless efforts was in Hindustan in northern India. Nathaniel B. Jones, Robert Skelton, Samuel Woolley, William Fotheringham, Richard Ballantyne, Truman Leonard, Amos Milton Musser, Robert Owen, and William F. Carter held a conference in Calcutta in April 1853 but found it impossible to work with the Hindus. They found a few “Rice Christians,” who were willing to change their religion if they were paid, reasoning that if they left their own religion they would be excluded from their families and castes and would have no livelihood. Ultimately the missionaries began to visit places where British army outposts were located and succeeded in converting some British soldiers.11
These ventures seem to demonstrate some wastefulness considering the need for these men to be at home or to work among English-speaking peoples. But church leaders were motivated by a conviction that the Millennium was imminent and that their duty was to bear witness of the restored gospel to all the world before the end. While the men who were willing to undertake such assignments deserve credit, the misery of their families during their absence, and the need for them at home, these activities seem questionable in retrospect.
One of the distinguishing marks of modern Mormonism is the Word of Wisdom. This revelation, announced by Joseph Smith on 27 February 1833, advised the Saints to avoid alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and “hot drinks” (which was later interpreted to mean tea and coffee), except for medicinal purposes. The Word of Wisdom included other dietary rules such as “eating the fruits in the season thereof” and eating meat sparingly, primarily in times of cold and famine.
Although this has become an important part of Mormonism, and observing the Word of Wisdom is required of members to hold church [p.175] offices and to go to the temple, Mormons did not strictly observe the Word of Wisdom prior to their move west. Since it was not given as commandment, members tended to regard it simply as good advice.12 On their trek west the Saints were instructed to bring tea and coffee and to have some alcohol, primarily for medicinal purposes. The menu for the first Thanksgiving Day in the Salt Lake Valley listed tea, coffee, and wine. For Brigham Young, Mormon sociologist Nels Anderson has explained, the virtues of the Word of Wisdom were “precious, but secondary.”
Still Young would periodically threaten the Saints with excommunication if they did not abide by the revelation. As early as February 1850, the Millennial Star reported that the subject had caused dissension in various branches, and the Deseret News declared, “We recommend a thorough perusal of the Word of Wisdom to the Twelve, high priests, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, deacons, brethren and sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And that the officers present the subject before the Church and decide whether they are sent forth in the wisdom of heaven or by the folly of man.” The following year, Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, and others met to pray and decided to renew their commitment to the Word of Wisdom.
Despite this meeting, no extant evidence demonstrates that leaders made any strong effort to encourage obedience until the September 1851 General Conference, when Young took action. On 9 September, according to the Frontier Guardian, church patriarch John Smith urged that all members not use tobacco and other harmful substances. Young then arose and put it to a vote, calling on the sisters to raise their right hand in support. The motion carried. Young next put the motion to “all of the boys who were under 90 years of age.” It too carried. Young commented, “The Lord bears with our weaknesses. We must serve the Lord and those who go with us will keep the Word of Wisdom. If the high priests, and seventies, and elders, and others will not we will sever them from the church. I will draw the line and will know who is for the Lord and who is not. And [p.176] those who will not keep the Word of Wisdom, I will cut off from the church.”
A number of church leaders have concluded that the Word of Wisdom was made a commandment at this time. Yet a perusal of sermons during the 1850s and 1860s leads to another conclusion. Clearly the Word of Wisdom had not become obligatory at this time. A later acceptance date seems more logical for several reasons. Young himself did not strictly adhere to the Word of Wisdom until the early 1860s. Jules Remy, a French adventurer, observed Young preparing a “quid of Virginia Tobacco” in late September 1855, and seven years later Young publicly alluded to the fact that he had only recently overcome habits contrary to the Word of Wisdom. Also, Young said as late as 1861 that he never chose to make observance of the Word of Wisdom a test of church fellowship. Finally, a catechism prepared during the Mormon Reformation only asked members if they had ever been drunk, not if they drank tea, coffee, beer, or light wines.
In fact, Young was surprisingly lenient with many older Saints who were addicted to tobacco or hot drinks and realized that they would have a difficult time abstaining. However, appeals were made to the younger generation to live the Word of Wisdom. Young and George A. Smith were particularly zealous in their efforts to persuade the youth not to follow their parents. Smith felt that it was disgraceful for any man younger than thirty-five to use tobacco. Young expressed his view on young tobacco users as follows:
If the old fogies take a little tobacco, a little whiskey, and a little tea and coffee, we wish you boys to let it alone. Let those have it who have been longer accustomed to its use. It is far better for these my brethren who are young and healthy to avoid every injurious habit. There are a great many boys here who are in the habit of chewing tobacco. They should stop it. Take no more. They are better without it. Some may turn around and say, “Father do you think so?” Yes, let the old folks have it, but you young smart gentlemen, let it alone.
Mild infractions, especially drinking tea and coffee, were apparently no cause for concern. Hard liquor—and the question of whether or not it should be imported—was a more serious problem. Still the Deseret News recommended building a city brewery, and Young himself manufactured liquor for what he called rational purposes. However, Heber C. Kimball admonished individual Saints not to sell beer and strong drink unless counselled to get a license. Kimball disdained the selling of intoxicating liquors without proper counsel. On one occasion he related seeing in vision the armies of heaven. [p.177] According to Kimball, this army was composed of righteous saints who had not sold whiskey or established distilleries.
One can only surmise to what extent the Word of Wisdom was observed by lay members. Observations by four non-Mormons who travelled through Utah suggest that the Mormons were considerably more moderate in the use of alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee than their contemporaries. Franklin Lane in 1850 noted that the Mormons did not use intoxicating drinks. S. N. Carvalho spent ten weeks in Salt Lake City in 1854 and was impressed with the lack of grog shops and the fact that he never saw a drunken man. Perhaps more accurate notes were taken by William Chandless and Jules Remy in 1855. Chandless had eaten dinner with a Mormon family. He commented on the absence of tea and coffee and noted that this was the only family he had seen rich enough not to obey who still followed the advice. Remy, perhaps the most sage observer, noted:
Although there are neither grog shops nor dealers in any kind that drinks can be met with, it does not necessarily follow that the Saints refrain from the moderate use of spirits or fermented liquors. No command compels them to reject certain productions of nature or of art. It is true that Joseph Smith in a sermon on the Word of Wisdom counselled true believers to abstain from the use of fermented drinks and tobacco and recommended such abstinence as a means of arriving at perfection. The more fervent do abstain, with this view, but occasionally they make no scruple about the use of moderate drink. Many of them take beer to make which they cultivate hops in the valley, others drink wine when they can get it and, some even indulge in whiskey which they distill from the potato.13
Gradually Young’s rhetoric became stronger. In an address reported in the Deseret News, he rebuked the Saints for boiling their grains to make liquor when the poor were going without food. He also stated that if Christ were to come to the valley some poor devil would step up with a bottle of liquor and offer him a drink. In the April 1855 General Conference, many brethren, including Young, spoke on the Word of Wisdom. George A. Smith, another strong preacher, declared to the Provo Seventies just a few days before conference that they should all observe the Word of Wisdom and not [p.178] use any tea, coffee, tobacco, or spiritous liquors. At conference, Smith said,
When a Mormon elder comes up to me and wants to get a little counsel and if his breath smells as if he had swallowed a still house, it is all I can possibly do to remain near enough to him to hear his story. He necessarily wishes to come close to me, as such men are sure to have a secret they wish to whisper, and the breath is offensive then I am forced to retire. When I am called to counsel to the man who is indulging in these intemperate practices I feel at a loss to know whether my counsel is going to do him good or harm or whether he will pay any attention to it after he gets it.
Bishops’ courts for drunkenness are reported in Lorenzo Hatch’s journal for November 1858 and in A. G. Allen’s journal for the following month. About this time, Young lamented, “It is a pity that the Latter-day Saints who live here who say that they have embraced the gospel of eternal life and are willing to sacrifice all for their salvation or give up all for Christ should be bought over by a gill of whiskey.” The following year, Lorenzo Brown recorded,
October 1st, carried to Brother Daniel Macintosh a letter that he was disfellowshipped by the council of his quorum. At home all day, October 2nd, 4 p.m. quorum meeting, approved the action taken by the council and he was unanimously disfellowshipped by the quorum for repeated drunkeness. This has been a time of serious trial for me and a source of much reflection as he is beloved by many, if not all, not as much by others than by myself, yet there was no other course to be taken.
Brown later recorded that Macintosh wrote a letter of apology, promising never again to get drunk, and was reinstated in the quorum. Later he was again disfellowshipped. William H. Kimball, president of one of the seventies’ quorums and oldest son of Heber C. Kimball, was also disfellowshipped for drunkenness.
Generally speaking, very few Saints were ever cut off completely; most were handled by their quorums and simply disfellowshipped. Of the total number of sermons given on the Word of Wisdom between 1847 and 1869 and reported in the Journal of Discourses, only one occurred in 1848, none in 1849 or 1850, one in 1851, none in 1852 or 1853, four in 1854, nine in 1855, two in 1856, one in 1857, and none in 1858 or 1859. Brigham Young spoke on the subject most often; George A. Smith was next. These two leaders spoke on the Word of Wisdom more than anyone else.
Another practice during the Saints’ first years in the Great Basin was fasting and using the food saved to help the less fortunate. On [p.179] Sunday, 30 May 1847, while still en route to the valley, Howard Egan wrote in his journal, “Tomorrow is set aside as the last Sunday was, for fasting and prayer.” Sunday lent itself to the practice since the pioneers did not travel on Sundays and could more easily fast when not engaged in vigorous activity. Apparently not until 1849 were fast days regularly observed. Thursday, 26 April 1849, according to the Journal History, was set aside as a fast day, and the following Thursday was also a day of fasting. At the April 1852 General Conference, Young announced that from “henceforth we should hold meetings regularly each Sabbath at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and in the evening several quorums of the priesthood would assemble to receive instructions. On Thursdays the brethren and sisters would come together at 2 p.m. for prayer and supplication and on the first Thursday of each month at 10 a.m. for the purpose of fasting and prayer.” This pattern was followed until November 1896 when the First Presidency decided that Fast Day would be the first Sunday of the month.14
Mormons had always been admonished to give to the poor; but not until 1855-56 did this become associated with fast meetings when Mormons were asked to bring their “fast offerings” to the meetings.15 Sources for 1856 are replete with evidence that members brought donations for the poor to monthly fast meetings. The scribe of the Salt Lake Eighteenth Ward recorded on 7 February 1856 that “meeting opened by prayer by Brother George Works, Saints who met for fasting and prayer and who brought corn beef and cabbage and seed for the relief of the poor bore their testimonies, and the [p.180] meeting was closed by prayer.” During this year some wards even instituted two fast days a month. However, many members seemed to resent this, and the practice was discontinued after a few months. By 1857, fast days had become a permanent institution in the church.
Thus by 1860, many of the doctrines and practices of the church were stabilizing. Plural marriage was defended as an important teaching. The endowment as a key to eternal marriage was emphasized, and temple building had begun. Adoption and the Word of Wisdom both had periods of importance and decline. And although missionary work fell off, the practice of fasting and using the food to benefit the poor became an increasingly important facet of church membership and loyalty. [p.181]
1. The temple endowment is a ritualized drama of the creation, fall, and redemption of Adam, during which its participants make specific promises regarding obedience to the commandments and loyalty to the church, together with learning various passwords and other signs they believe will one day enable them to enter into the celestial, or highest, kingdom of heaven.
2. In 1842 Pratt had been temporarily suspended from the Twelve because he opposed polygamy and believed that Joseph had propositioned his wife. However, after considerable struggle, he came to accept plural marriage under certain circumstances as sanctioned by God. Pratt eventually married a number of wives and sought evidence from world history and the scriptures to justify the practice.
3. In commenting on the necessity of Pratt’s discourse, early twentieth-century Mormon historian B. H. Roberts wrote that the church owed such a public disclosure because “it had been a matter of wide knowledge within the Church for some time that such a principle was not only believed in but practiced by many leading Mormon officials. Yet none to whom this knowledge had come felt at liberty to make a public proclamation of the doctrine.… In the absence of an official announcement,” Roberts concluded, “plural marriage had become a source of embarrassment. Justice to the women involved in the system, moreover, also required an official proclamation, for their standing must have become equivocal had the announcement been delayed much longer.”
4. T.B.H. Stenhouse, in Rocky Mountain Saints, asserts that many excommunications followed the announcement, but B. H. Roberts’s more careful study indicates that there were about as many excommunications in the six months prior to the announcement as in the six months after. Nevertheless, from 1850 to 1854, some 15,000 excommunications took place in England, evidence of significant unrest, whatever the reason.
5. Some of these marriages undoubtedly were also entered into because of the belief in an impending millennium. Convinced that Jesus Christ’s reign on earth would begin soon and that a man’s kingdom would be based on the number of wives and children he had, men might enter into such marriages without planning very far into the future. It was a time of dislocation and adjustment, and it is easy to understand why so many marriages failed.
6. For example, Addison Pratt, who had not received his endowments in the Nauvoo Temple, was taken to Ensign Hill, just northeast of Salt Lake City, on 21 July 1849 for that purpose. Brigham Young’s scribes noted in his unpublished history that Ensign Hill had been specially dedicated that day for the giving of endowments.
7. Prayer meetings and instructional meetings for departing missionaries were also held in the Endowment House. Most prayer meetings were general weekly gatherings; however, some were meetings of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles. The first instructional meeting was held on 5 April 1855, shortly before the building was dedicated. Following the day’s services, Heber C. Kimball lectured to “about 15 brethren who were immediately going on missions.” Missionaries were also set apart in the Endowment House.
8. For a time during the mid-nineteenth century Mormons regarded Adam as a god who stood at the head of the human race and to whom they would ultimately be sealed as members of an eternal patriarchal family unit. This complex belief is usually referred to as the “Adam-God theory.” It was never systematized into a consistent and understandable theology and was never adopted as an “official” doctrine of the church.
9. One who achieved some prominence was John D. Lee, who was adopted by Brigham Young. On occasion he even signed his name John D. Lee Young. Writing later, Lee noted, “I was adopted by Brigham Young and was to seek his temporal interests here and in return he was to seek my spiritual salvation. I, being an heir of his family, was to share his blessings in common with other heirs.” Thus sons were to give their fathers the benefit of their labor and fathers were to offer their adopted children not only security in the next world but counsel and direction in this one as well.
10. Pratt sent John Murdock and Charles W. Wandell to Australia in October 1851, and they were able to organize a branch of the church in Sydney on 4 January 1852 with thirteen members. This mission was reasonably successful, and some missionaries, including the nine sent to Australia in 1852, extended the work to New Zealand and Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land).
11. This was not the first time Mormon missionaries had been sent to India, for Lorenzo Snow had sent missionaries there from Europe in 1850-51; and one or two were still there when the new wave of missionaries arrived. Eventually the missionaries came home, some by way of England, thus completing an around-the-world journey. Other missionaries were sent to Hong Kong in April 1853, some to Siam in 1852. Unable to go to Siam, some of these moved to Ceylon. Missionaries were sent to South Africa and the West Indies in 1853, and still others to British Guiana. Some went to the Island of Malta where they established several branches. One, a “floating branch,” consisted of a group of British soldiers and sailors assigned to the Mediterranean Sea.
12. Joseph Smith, for example, did not object to drinking beer and wine on occasion and may have once smoked a cigar after lecturing on the Word of Wisdom, supposedly to teach people to follow his teachings rather than his example. On another occasion, he reported that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey but that when he investigated the complaint, he “was satisfied that no evil had been done. And I gave them a couple of dollars with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.”
13. Remy later observed that Mormons were more temperate than most societies and used coffee and tea less than other staples. He added that “the majority abstained from fermented or spiritous liquors either voluntarily … or on account of their poverty.” He concluded by pointing out that the tobacco habit was less usual among them than in other parts of the union.
14. Evidence suggests that fast meetings on the first Thursday of each month were observed throughout the entire church. Some historians believe that fast day resulted from the prolonged drought, the grasshopper attacks of 1855-56, the severe winter, heavy immigration, and the great number of miners on their way to California. B. H. Roberts quoted George A. Smith that “In all of these times of scarcity, measures were taken to supply those who were unable to furnish themselves. The fast day was proclaimed for the Church on the first Thursday of each month, and the food saved in that way was distributed among the poor and thousands of persons who had abundance of bread put their families on rations in order to save the same for those who could not otherwise obtain it.”
15. During the early years, little was written to address the question of the length of an acceptable fast. Scriptures counselled that fasts customarily last from evening to evening. The instructions to the Saints at Nauvoo had also been to fast for one day. To fast from evening to evening implies that the fast should last approximately twenty-four hours, or two meals. An acceptable fast offering would thus comprise two-thirds of one’s daily allowance of food. Mormons still compute fast offerings in this way. Mormons still participate in other fast day observances which became common during this period, including blessing children, bearing testimony, and attending to ward business.