The following item, the first 'regular' installment in our 'Newspaper Wars Over the Manifesto' series, appeared originally as "The 'Mormon' Perplexity", Deseret Evening News 23/258 (23 September 1890): . This was an editorial printed two days before the publication of the 1890 Woodruff Manifesto (for which, stay tuned); in it, the Deseret Evening News replies to an editorial from the Globe-Democrat of St. Louis, Missouri.
The 'Mormon' Perplexity
The annexed article appears as an editorial in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of September 19th:
"The report of the Utah Commission for the past year resembles all preceding ones in the important respect that it urges the necessity of more stringent legislation to solve the Mormon problem. Congress has been passing laws for that purpose from time to time for many years, and still the perplexity remains. Mormonism seems to be practically just as strong as it ever was. The successive blows inflicted upon it have done it some harm, doubtless, but in each instance it has recovered and gone on growing. There are more Mormons in Utah now than ever, and they keep coming from different quarters, principally beyond the Atlantic, the same as if nothing had been done by the Government to suppress the monstrous iniquity which has so long made Utah a national reproach. The Mormon Church maintains its absolute power over its members, both spiritually and temporally; the edicts of the priesthood are implicitly obeyed, and there are no signs of that revolt against ecclesiastical tyranny which has so often been predicted. After all the penalties that have been provided for those who indulge in a plurality of wives, the commission declares that polygamy continues to be practiced; and the opinion is added, curiously enough, that the only real hope of abating the evil lies in the possible renunciation of the doctrine as a part of the Mormon creed.
"It is astonishing, to say the least, that no way can be found to deal effectively with this great wrong. The power of the government is practically unlimited in the case, and public sentiment is decidedly inimical to Mormon interests of every kind. This implies that the task should be an easy one, but some how it is not. Some of the legislation upon the subject has been very drastic, and the courts have enforced it with reasonable rigor, and yet the much-desired consummation does not come to pass. There is something lacking somewhere, it is easy to understand; but it not so easy to say what or where the trouble is. Most likely, however, the chief mistake has been in not directly and thoroughly taking away the occupation of the priesthood. The leaders of the Church are its chief strength. They rule as so many autocrats, acknowledging no sense of duty except their own inclinations, and recognizing no law except those which they personally make or dictate. The Mormon problem will never be solved, it is safe to say, so long as they are permitted to exercise such sway over their followers. They are men of extraordinary ability in their way, thoroughly acquainted with the weaknesses of human nature, and quick to seize every advantage that may be presented. If these adroit and unscrupulous individuals could be deprived of their power for mischief the whole matter would soon adjust itself in a sound and wholesome manner. They are the principal stumbling-blocks, and no legislation can prove satisfactory that leaves them in possession of such authority as they now have. How to dislodge them is a difficult question, but it is nevertheless the vital question, and Congress can not afford to evade or postpone it."
These remarks were prompted by the dispatches which have been sent from this city giving garbled extracts from the report of the Utah Commission for 1890. The urging of more legislation to solve the "Mormon" problem, is the annual effort of that body in the interest of the "Liberal" faction in this Territory. Its object is to deprive that part of the "Mormon" people who have not broken the law, of every political right and privilege. This is what they mean by "solving the Mormon problem."
The Globe-Democrat, in common with the greater part of the American press, evidently regards polygamy as "Mormonism" and "Mormonism" as polygamy. The Utah Commission know better than that. They understand that all the legislation necessary, and a great deal more, to handle the polygamy question has been enacted. And further, that the doctrine of plural marriage, even when it was openly advocated and practiced, was but one out of a very large number of tenets that made up the creed of "Mormonism." Also that plural marriage apart, the religion of the Latter-day Saints is as much above the reach of law as the religion of any body of worshippers in the land.
Does the Globe-Democrat seriously claim that Congress has of right any authority or power to interfere with such a religion? If not, why should accessions to the "Mormon" Church trouble the editors of that paper or anybody else? Or do they mean to say that the "practically unlimited power of the government" extends to the regulation of religious belief?
They may answer that all they mean by that power is the authority to suppress practices that are declared to be criminal. If that is the case, we unhesitatingly affirm that laws to that effect are in force in Utah more potently and effectually than in any other part of the United States. Moreover, there have been less convictions for polygamy for two or three years past than there have been for bigamy in other parts of this great and moral country. The records of courts will demonstrate the truth of this statement.
If it be urged that the report of the Utah Commission alleges to the contrary, we answer, we do not believe it. The concocter of false dispatches in this city may have stated that the Commissioners have so declared, but that is another thing. We are of the opinion that the report when published will disprove his assertion. But whether they have stated or not that eighty or forty or twenty polygamous marriages have been solemnized in Utah during the last few months of the last year, that is something that neither they nor any other body can prove, and it has been made with malicious intent, that is, to injure the law-obeying "Mormon" people and deceive the American press and public.
The statement that the leaders of the Church "rule as so many autocrats" and that "they recognize no law except those which they personally make or dictate" is grossly untrue and absurd, and can only be excused by the evidence ignorance of the writer. Such a rule, if it existed, would be the very antipodes of "Mormonism." It would be destructive of the system. The "edicts of the priesthood" have no existence except in the imagination of persons who are too prejudiced to look into the facts, and the "Mormon" leaders are today more strictly observant of every law of the land than ninety-nine hundredths of their accusers.
That oft predicted "revolt against ecclesiastical tyranny" of which there are "no signs," has never come because there is no such tyranny to revolt from. All things in the "Mormon" Church are and must be done "by common consent." The "Priesthood" is composed of nearly all the adult male members. Women as well as men vote on all Church questions and officers, and the "occupation of the priesthood" is beyond the legitimate reach of any secular power.
Of course in the attempt to solve "the Mormon perplexity" there is "something lacking," and there always will be. What is it? It is a failure to get at the truth. Its opponents are figuring, and thrusting, and plunging in the dark. They do not know what they are fighting. It is not these formidable leaders that stand in the way, as supposed. If the vindictive befugs who desire their extinction could kill every one of these leaders or immure them for life in dungeons, the "perplexity" would remain and the "problem["] would remain unsolved.
The abatement of the evil, the Globe-Democrat says, in the opinion of the Commission depends upon the "renunciation" of a certain ["]part of the Mormon creed." And does any one who is sane believe that can be accomplished by "more stringent legislation." Does not the Globe-Democrat understand that drastic laws against a belief are more likely to confirm than destroy that belief? And if the belief of the Latter-day Saints is the real root of the trouble, why not try to reach it by reason instead of seeking to crush it out by force?
We submit for the consideration of the reflecting that a more rational and Christian method of combating "Mormonism," would be first to find out what it is, and to overcome the power of its Priesthood, to ascertain in what it consists. Then instead of misrepresenting and abusing and maltreating the "Mormons," show them "a more excellent way." They are a good, honest, industrious, temperate and cheerful people, able to comprehend an argument and highly appreciative of kindness. They have convictions which are personal, and for these they have suffered much. They will never be coerced into renunciation of their belief, and while falsehood and force continue to be the means employed, the "Mormon" perplexity will remain to vex sectarians and puzzle politicians.