Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Official Declaration

The following item, the second installment of our 'Newspaper Wars Over the Manifesto', appeared originally as "Official Declaration", Deseret Evening News 23/260 (25 September 1890): 2.  The declaration itself here printed, although immediately having some effect, was approved by a majority at the next General Conference, and later (in the early twentieth century) became canonized as "Official Declaration - 1", though from the beginning has often informally been known as the "Manifesto".
Official Declaration
To Whom it May Concern:
PRESS dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year; also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygamy;

I, therefore, as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false.  We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our temples or in any other place in the Territory.

One case has been reported, in which the parties alleged that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, in Salt Lake City, in the spring of 1889; but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony; whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge.  In consequence of this alleged occurrence the Endowment House was, by my instructions, taken down without delay.

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can reasonably be construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy, and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey such teaching he has been promptly reproved.  And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The foregoing was sent to the Associated Press for publication, but has only appeared here in a condensed form, which poorly conveys the sentiments of the writer.  This is the full document as prepared and signed officially by President Wilford Woodruff.

This document came in time to be regarded as in some manner revelatory, though some of its contents are wanting in accuracy.  During the time period in question, numerous plural marriages were officially performed by authorized church leaders, and one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (Marriner W. Merrill) seems to have taken a plural wife during the time that, according to this declaration, was free of new polygamous unions.  Plural marriages continued to be officially authorized for years after this, with a majority of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles engaging in post-Manifesto polygamous activities.  Additionally, contrary to the above statement's assertion that plural marriage was no longer being taught, a December 1891 petition for amnesty signed by the First Presidency conceded that polygamy was taught up to just a short time prior to September 1890.  As for the specific case of Hans Jespersen's 1889 marriage in the Endowment House as alluded to in the above statement, official records show that it was performed by Franklin S. Richards, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Further, although this Official Declaration professes to be in response to a very recent decision in favor of anti-polygamy legislation, such a decision was made previously in the 1885 Supreme Court decision Clawson v. United States.  Several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles learned of the Manifesto only from reading of it in the newspaper.  Perhaps worthy of note is that, while an earlier official statement also titled "Official Declaration" was signed by the whole First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, this declaration was signed exclusively by President Wilford Woodruff, though several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were consulted about the matter.

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