Chapter 13: Years of Endurance
by Gordon B. Hinckley
THE subject of polygamy was considered in the first
section of this book. But the history of the Church is so inextricably
interwoven with this doctrine that it should be given further consideration
in this section.
The doctrine was first announced by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo
in 1842. Many of the men close to him knew of it and accepted it as a
principle of divine pronouncement. However, it was not until 1852 that it
was publicly taught. It should be said at the outset that the practice among
the Mormons was radically different from that of oriental peoples. Each
wife, with her children, occupied a separate house, or, if the wives lived
in the same house, as was sometimes the case, in separate quarters. No
distinction was made between either of the wives or the children. The
husband provided for each family, was responsible for the education of the
children, and gave both the children and their mothers the same advantages
he would have given to his family under the monogamous relationship. If it
was thought he could not do this, he was not permitted to enter upon the
practice of plural marriage.
Indications point to the fact that as a rule the children
of polygamous marriages were superior physically and mentally.
While the practice was extremely limited—only about three
percent of the families were involved—and while it was kept on an extremely
high level, it was the kind of thing of which enemies of the Church could
easily make capital.
The question was agitated over the country, and it entered
into the presidential campaign of 1860. When Lincoln was asked what he
proposed to do about the Mormons, he replied, "Let them alone." In 1862 the
Congress passed an anti-polygamy law, but it was aimed at plural marriages
and not polygamous relations. Ten years later the Congress passed a bill
prohibiting polygamy. It was considered unconstitutional by many people in
the nation, and generally by the Mormons. A test case was brought into the
courts of Utah, and carried through the Supreme Court of the United States,
resulting in a decision adverse to the Mormons. In the midst of this
difficulty, John Taylor succeeded to the presidency of the Church. The years
that followed were truly years of endurance.
"Champion of Liberty"
Elder Taylor was a native of England, where he had been a
lay Methodist preacher. He emigrated to Canada in 1832, and heard Mormonism
preached for the first time four years later. When he joined the Church, his
bold spirit, educated mind, and ready tongue made of him an outstanding
advocate of the cause. He served as a missionary in Canada, in his native
England, and in France.
This man selected as his motto, "The kingdom of God or
nothing." He once remarked: "I do not believe in a religion that cannot have
all my affections, but in a religion for which I can both live and die. I
would rather have God for my friend than all other influences and powers."
In this spirit he defended Mormonism with such vigor that his friends in the
Church called him "the Champion of Liberty." He it was who was wounded when
Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed in Carthage jail.
As senior member of the Council of Twelve Apostles, he
succeeded Brigham Young as President of the Church. Thus it was during his
regime that the Mormons were again made to feel the bitter hand of
persecution. He foresaw the storm when in 1880, while the Saints were
celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Church, he warned them: "There
are events in the future, and not far ahead, that will require all our
faith, all our confidence, all our trust in God, to enable us to withstand
the influences that will be brought against us . . . There never was a time
when we needed to be more humble and more prayerful, there never was a time
when we needed more fidelity, self-denial, and adherence to the principles
of truth than we do this day."
The storm broke two years later. The Edmunds Act was
passed by Congress and became law. Polygamy was made punishable by fine or
imprisonment—usually imprisonment. No man who had more than one wife could
act as a juror in any Utah court. In Idaho those who were members of the
Church were disfranchised. No one who believed in polygamy could become a
In 1887 the Edmunds-Tucker Act gave added power to the
judges who tried polygamy cases. This act also disincorporated the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ordered the Supreme Court to wind up its
affairs, and required that its property be escheated to the nation.
The law was administered with extreme harshness. Thousands
of Mormons were disfranchised. A thousand men were imprisoned because they
had plural families. Homes were broken. The election machinery was taken
from the hands of the people.
Under these conditions John Taylor died on July 25, 1887.
He was succeeded by Wilford Woodruff.
A Manifesto to the People
To undertake the responsibility of Church leadership under
such circumstances was no small task. Colonies of Latter-day Saints were now
scattered from Canada to Mexico. Active missionary work was carried on
throughout the United States, in the British Isles, in most of the nations
of Europe, and in the islands of the Pacific. In spite of determined
opposition many converts to the faith were made in all of these missions.
And yet the Church in Utah was dispossessed of its property, and most of its
leaders were in prison or were facing prosecution. Under these conditions
Wilford Woodruff undertook the responsibility of leadership. He was eighty
years of age at the time.
Fortunately he had been well trained. He had joined the
Church only three years after its organization. He had marched from Ohio to
Missouri to aid his brethren when they were driven from Jackson County, and
had passed through the Missouri persecutions. As we have previously seen, he
was a powerful missionary in England where he had brought more than two
thousand converts into the Church.
He had gone west as one of the pioneer company, and
Brigham Young was in his wagon when he made the prophetic statement
concerning the Salt Lake Valley: "This is the place." When President Young
had indicated the site for a temple only four days after arriving in the
valley, Wilford Woodruff had marked the spot with a stake. He had
participated in most of the significant events connected with the building
of the territory since that time.
But now all progress had ceased under the heavy hand of
law enforcement. In a revelation given to the Church in 1841, the Prophet
had declared as the word of the Lord: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that
when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my
name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have
to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come
upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold it behooveth me
to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to
accept their offerings." Another fundamental teaching of the Church also
applied. One of the Articles of Faith of the organization reads: "We believe
in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying,
honoring, and sustaining the law."
What was to be done under the circumstances?
The practice had come of revelation. It came to an end by
the same means. After "earnest prayer before the Lord," President Woodruff
issued on October 6, 1890 what is known in Church history as "the
Manifesto." It declared an end to the practice of plural marriage. Since
that time the Church has neither practiced nor sanctioned such marriage.
The End of an Era
On April 6, 1893 the great temple in Salt Lake City was
declared completed, and the building was dedicated to God as His holy house.
Prior to its dedication non-members of the Church were invited to go through
the building and its various facilities were explained to them. Since its
dedication, only members of the Church in good standing have been permitted
It was fitting that Wilford Woodruff should have lived to
offer the dedicatory prayer. Forty-six years earlier he had driven the stake
to mark the location of the building. For forty years he had watched its
construction. Its dedication was one of the great events in the history of
Before his death in September 1898, President Woodruff was
to participate in another significant event. Although the residents of the
territory had applied for statehood in 1849, this boon had been denied
because of anti-Mormon agitation throughout the nation. On January 4, 1896
Utah was admitted to the Union as a state. In ceremonies incident to the
occasion, President Woodruff was asked to offer the prayer. The prayer is
significant of the man:
Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth, Thou who
are the God of the nations and the Father of the spirits of all men, we
humbly bow before Thee on this great occasion . . .
When we gaze upon these fertile valleys with their
abundant products of fields and garden, their pleasant homes and prosperous
inhabitants . . . and contrast these with the barren and silent wastes which
greeted the eyes of the Pioneers when first they looked upon these dry sage
lands less than half a century ago, our souls are filled with wonder and
with praise . . .
And now when the efforts of several decades to secure
the priceless boon of perfect political liberty . . . have at length been
crowned with glorious success, we feel that to Thee, our Father and our God,
we are indebted for this inestimable blessing.
We pray Thee to bless the President of the United States
and his cabinet, that they may be inspired to conduct the affairs of this
nation in wisdom, justice and equity that its rights may be maintained at
home and abroad and that all its citizens may enjoy the privileges of free
men . . . and may the privileges of free government be extended to every
land and clime and oppression be broken down to rise no more, until all
nations shall be united for the common good, that war may cease, that the
voice of strife may be hushed, that universal brotherhood may prevail, and
Thou, our God, shall be honored everywhere as the Everlasting Father and the
King of peace.