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On A Mission to Washington
I went discredited, as an envoy, by an incident of personal conflict with the Federal authorities; and I wish to relate that incident before I proceed any farther. I must relate it soon, because it came up for explanation in one of my first interviews with President Cleveland; and I wish to relate it now, because it was so typical of the day and the condition from which we had to save ourselves.
In the winter of 1885-6, the United States Marshals had been pursuing my father from place to place with such determined persistence that it was evident his capture was only a matter of time. We believed that if he were arrested and tried before Chief Justice Zane - with District Attorney Dickson and Assistant District Attorney Varian prosecuting - he would be convicted on so many counts that he would be held in prison indefinitely - that he might, in fact, end his days there. There was the rumor of a boast, to this effect, made by Federal officers; and we misunderstood them and their motives, in those days, sufficiently to accept the unjust report as well-founded.
My father, as First Councilor of the Church, had proposed to President Taylor that every man who was living in plural marriage should surrender himself voluntarily to the court and plead: "I entered into this covenant of celestial marriage with a personal conviction that it was an order revealed by our Father in Heaven for the salvation of mankind. I have kept my covenant in purity. I believed that no constitutional law of the country could forbid this practice of a religious faith. As the laws of Congress conflict with my sense of submission to the will of the Lord, I now offer myself, here, for whatever judgment the courts of my country may impose." He believed that such a course would vindicate the sincerity of the men who had engaged in polygamy and defied the law in an assumption of religious immunity; and he believed that the world would pause to reconsider its judgment upon us, if it saw thousands of men - the bankers, the farmers, the merchants, and all the religious leaders of a civilized community - marching in a mass to perform such an act of faith.
But President Taylor was not prepared for a movement that would have recommended itself better to the daring genius of Brigham Young. Taylor had given himself into the custody of the officers of the law once - in Carthage, Illinois - with Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum Smith; and Taylor had been wounded by the mob that broke into the jail and shot the Smiths to death. This, perhaps, had cured him of any faith in the protecting power of innocency. He decided against voluntary surrender; and now that my father's liberty was so seriously threatened, he ordered him to go either to Mexico or to the Sandwich Islands - his old mission field - where he would be beyond the reach of the United States authorities.
My father believed that if he left Utah, his recession might tend to placate the government and soften the severity of the prosecutions of the Mormons; and accordingly, on the night of February 12, 1886, he boarded a west-bound Central Pacific train at Willard. The Federal officers in some way learned of it; he was arrested, on the train, at Humboldt Wells, Nevada, and brought back to Utah. Near Promontory he fell from the steps of the moving car, at night, in the midst of an alkali desert, and hurt himself seriously. He was recaptured and brought to Salt Lake City on a stretcher, in a special car, guarded by a squad of soldiers from Fort Douglas, with loaded muskets, and a captain with a conspicuous sword. He was taken to Judge Zane's chambers and placed under bonds of $25,000. Immediately two bench warrants were issued by a United States Commissioner, and these were served upon him while he lay on a mattress on the floor of Zane's office. Two more bonds of $10,000 each were given. He was then taken to his home.
Later - (President Taylor still insisting that he must not stand trial) - he disappeared again, "on the underground," and his bonds were declared forfeited. But in the meantime, while the grand jury was hearing testimony against him, one of the beloved women of his family was called for examination, and District Attorney Dickson asked her some questions that deeply wounded her. She returned home weeping. My brothers and I felt that the questions had been needlessly offensive, and after an indignant discussion of the matter, I undertook to remonstrate personally with Mr. Dickson.
If I had been as wise, then, as I sometimes think I am now, I should have realized that a meeting between us was dangerous; that the feeling, on our side at least, was too warm for calm remonstrances. And I should not have taken with me a younger brother, about sixteen years old, with all the hot-headedness of youth. Fortunately we did not go armed.
We sought Dickson in the evening, at the Continental Hotel - the old, adobe Continental with its wide porches and its lawn trees - and we found him in the lobby. I asked him to step out on the porch, where I might speak with him in private. He came without a moment's hesitation. He was a big, handsome, black-bearded man in the prime of his strength.
We had scarcely exchanged more than a few sentences formally, when my brother drew back and struck him a smashing blow in the face. Dickson grappled with me, a little blinded, and I called to the boy to run - which he very wisely did. Dickson and I were at once surrounded, and I was arrested.
Ordinarily the incident would have been trivial enough, but in the alarmed state of the public mind it was magnified into an attempt on the part of George Q. Cannon's sons to take the life of the United States District Attorney. Indictments were found against my brother and myself, and against a cousin who happened to be in another part of the hotel at the time of the attack. Some weeks later, when the excitement had rather died down, I went to the District Attorney's office and arranged with his assistant, Mr. Varian, that the indictments against my brother (who had escaped from Utah) and my cousin (who was wholly innocent) should be quashed, and that I should plead guilty to a charge of assault and battery. On this understanding, I appeared in court before Chief Justice Zane.
But Mr. Varian, having consulted with Mr. Dickson, had learned that I had not struck the blow - though, as the elder brother, I was morally responsible for it - and he suggested to the court that sentence be suspended. This, Justice Zane seemed prepared to do, but I objected. I was a newspaper writer (as I explained), and I felt that if I criticized the court thereafter for what I believed to be a harshness that amounted to persecution, I could be silenced by the imposition of the suspended sentence; and if I failed to criticize, I should be false to what I considered my duty. I did not wish to be put in any such position; and I said so.
Justice Zane had a respect for the constitution and the statutes that amounted to a creed of infallibility. He was the most superbly rigid pontiff of legal justice that I ever knew. A man of unspotted character, a Puritan, of a sincerity that was afterwards accepted and admired from end to end of Utah, he was determined to vindicate the essential supremacy of the civil law over the ecclesiastical domination in the territory; and every act of insubordination against that law was resented and punished by him, unforgivingly. He promptly sentenced me to three months in the County jail and a fine of $150.
My imprisonment was, of course, a farce. I was merely confined, most of the time, in a room in the County Court House, where I lived and worked as if I were in my home. But the sentence remained on my record as a sufficient mark of my recalcitrance; and I knew that it would not aid me in my appeal to Washington, where I intended to argue - as the first wise concession needed of the Federal authorities - that Chief Justice Zane should no longer be retained on the bench in Utah, but should be succeeded by a man more gentle. He was the great figure among our prosecutors; the others were District Attorney Dickson and the two assistants, Mr. Varian and Mr. Riles. The square had only seemed to be broken by the recent retirement of Mr. Dickson; the strength of his purpose remained still in power, in the person of Judge Zane.
And let me say that whatever my opinion was of these men, at that time, I recognize now that they were justified as officers of the law in enforcing the law. If it had not been for them, the Mormon Church would never have been brought to the point of abating one jot of its pretensions. All four men, as their records have since proved, were much superior to their positions as territorial officers. Utah's admiration for Judge Zane was shown, upon the composition of our differences with the nation, by the Mormon vote that placed him on the Supreme Court bench. Indeed, it is one of the strange psychologies of this reconciliation, that, as soon as peace was made, the strongest men of both parties came into the warmest friendship; our fear and hatred of our prosecutors changed to respect; and their opposition to our indissoluble solidarity changed to regard when they saw us devoting our strength to purposes of which they could approve. But now, in the midst of our contentions, the aspect of splendor in their legal authority had something baleful in it, for us; and we saw our own defiance set with a halo of martyrdom and illumined by the radiance of a Church oppressed!
There was more than a glimmer of that radiance in my thoughts as I made the railroad journey from Utah to the East. The Union Pacific Railway, on which I rode, followed the route that the Mormons had taken in their long trek from the Missouri; and I could look from my car window and imagine them toiling across those endless plains - in their creaking wagons, drawn by their oxen and lean farm cows - choked with dust, burned by the sun of the prairies, their faces to the unknown dangers of an unknown wilderness, and behind them the cool-roomed houses, the moist fields, the tree-shaded streets, all the quiet and comfort of the settled life of homekeeping happiness that they had left. My own mother had come that road, a little girl of eight; and my mind was full of pictures of her, at school in a wagon-box, singing hymns with her elders around the camp fires at night, or kneeling with the mourners beside the grave of an infant relative buried by the roadside. Our train crossed the Loup Fork of the Platte almost within sight of the place where my father, a lad of twenty, had led across the river at nightfall, had been lost to his party, and had nearly perished, naked to the cold, before he struggled back to the camp. I could see their little circle of wagons drawn up at sunset against the menace of the Indians who snaked through the long grass to kill. I could feel some of their despair, and my heart lifted to their heroism. Never had such a migration been made by any people with fewer of the concomitants of their civilization. Their arms had been taken from them at Nauvoo; they had bartered their goods for wagons and cattle to carry them; even the grain that they brought, for food, had to be saved for seed. They felt themselves devoted to destruction by the people with whose laws and institutions they had come in conflict, and they went forth bravely, trusting in the power of the God whom they were determined to worship according to their despised belief.
Now they had built themselves new homes and meeting-houses in the fertile "Valley;" and the civilization that they had left, having covered the distance of their exile, was punishing them again for their law-breaking fidelity to their faith. Surely they had suffered enough! Surely it was evident that suffering only made them strong to resist! Surely there must be somebody in power in Washington who could be persuaded to see that, where force had always failed, there might be some profit in employing gentleness!
This, at least, was the appeal which I had planned to make. And I had decided to make it through Mr. Abraham S. Hewitt, then mayor of New York City, who had been a friend of my father in Congress. He was not in favor with the administration at Washington. He was personally unfriendly to President Cleveland. I was a stranger to him. But I had seen enough of him to know that he had the heart to hear a plea on behalf of the Mormons, and the brain to help me carry that plea diplomatically to President Cleveland.
When I arrived in New York I set about finding him without the aid of any common friend. I did not try to reach him at his home, being aware that he might resent an intrusion of public matters upon his private leisure, and fearing to impair my own confidence by beginning with a rebuff. I decided to see him in his office hours.
I cannot recall why I did not find him in the municipal buildings, but I well remember going to and fro in the streets in search of him, feeling at every step the huge city's absorption in its own press and hurry of affairs, and seeing the troubles of Utah as distant as a foreign war. It was with a very keen sense of discouragement that I took my place, at last, in the long line of applicants waiting for a word with the man who directed the municipal activities of this tremendous hive of eager energy.
He was in the old Stewart building, on Broadway, near Park Place; and he had his desk in what was, I think, a temporary office - an empty shop used as an office - on the ground floor. There must have been fifty men ahead of me, and they were the unemployed, as I remember it, besieging him for work. They came to his desk, spoke, and passed with a rapidity that was ominous. As I drew nearer, I watched him anxiously, and saw the incessant, nervous, querulous activity of eyes, lips, hands, as he dismissed each with a word or a scratch of the pen, and looked up sharply at the next one.
"Well, young man," he greeted me, "what do you want?"
I replied: "I want a half hour of your time."
"Good God," he said, in a sort of reproachful indignation, "I couldn't give it to the President of the United States."
I felt the crowd of applicants pressing behind me. I knew the man's prodigious humanity. I knew that if I could only hold them back long enough - " Mr. Hewitt," I said, "it's more important even than that. It's to save a whole people from suffering - from destruction."
He may have thought me a maniac; or it may be that the desperation of the moment sounded in my voice. He frowned intently up at me. "Who are you?"
"I'm the son of your old friend in Congress, George Q. Cannon of Utah," I said. "My father's in exile. He and his people are threatened with endless proscriptions. I want time to tell you."
His impatience had vanished. His eyes were steadily kind and interested. "Can you come to the Board of Health, in an hour? As soon as I open the meeting, I'll retire and listen to you."
I asked him for a card, to admit me to the meeting, having been stopped that morning at many doors. He gave it, nodded, and flashed his attention on the man behind me. I went out with the heady assurance that my first move had succeeded; but I went, too, with the restrained pulse of realizing that I had yet to join issue with the decisive event and do it warily.
I do not remember where I found the Board of Health in session. I recall only the dark, official board-room, the members at the table, and - as the one small spot of light and interest to me - Mr. Hewitt's white-bearded face, as an attendant opened the door to me, and the Mayor, looking up alertly, nodded across the room, and waved his hand to a chair.
As soon as he had opened the meeting, we withdrew together to a settee in some remote corner, and I began to tell him, as quickly as I could, the desperateness of the Mormon situation. "Yes," he said, "but why can't your people obey the law?"
I explained what I have been trying to explain in this narrative - that these people, following a Church which they believed to be guided by God, and regarding themselves as objects of a religious persecution, could not be brought by means of force to obey a law against conscience. I explained that I was not pleading to save their pride but to spare them useless suffering; their history showed that no proscription, short of extermination outright, could overcome their resistance; but what force could not accomplish, a little sensible diplomacy might hope to effect. No first step could be made, by them, towards a composition of their differences with the law so long as the law was administered with a hostility that provoked hostility. But if we could obtain some mitigation of the law's severity, the leaders of the Church were willing to surrender themselves to the court - such of them as had not already died of their privations or served their terms of imprisonment - and a sense of gratitude for leniency would prepare the way for a recession from their present attitude of unconquerable antagonism.
He listened gravely, knowing the situation from his own experience in Congress, and checking off the items of my argument with a nod of acceptance that came, often, before I had completed what I had to say. He asked: "Do you know President Cleveland?"
I told him that I had seen the President several times but was not known to him.
"Well," he said, "I may be able to help you indirectly. I don't care for Cleveland, and I wouldn't ask him for a favor if I were sinking. But tell me what plan you have in your mind, and I'll see if I can't aid you - through friends."
I replied that I hoped to have some man appointed as Chief Justice in Utah who should adopt a less rigorous way of adjudicating upon the cases of polygamists; but that before he was selected - or at least before he knew of his appointment - I wished to talk with him and convert him to the idea that he could begin the solution of "the Mormon question" by having the leaders of the community come into his court and accept sentences that should not be inconsistent with the sovereignty of the law but not unmerciful to the subjects of that sovereignty.
"The man you want," Mr. Hewitt said, "is here in New York - Elliot F. Sandford. He's a referee of the Supreme Court of this state - a fine man, great legal ability, courageous, of undoubted integrity. Come to me, tomorrow. I'll introduce you to him."
It was the first time that I had even heard the name of Elliot F. Sandford; and I had not the faintest notion of how best to approach him.
I did not find him in Mr. Hewitt's office, on the morrow; but the Mayor had communicated with him, and now gave me a letter of introduction to him; and I went alone to present it.
He received me in his outer office, with a manner full of kindliness but non-committal. He glanced through my letter of introduction, and I tried to read him while he did it. He was not on the surface. He was a tall, dignified man, his hair turning gray - thoughtful, judicial - evidently a man who was not quick to decide. He led me into his private room, and sat down with the air of a lawyer who has been asked to take a case and who wishes first to hear all the details of the action.
I began by describing the Mormon situation as I saw it in those days: that the Mormons were growing more desperately determined in their opposition, because they believed their prosecutors were persecuting them; that the District Attorney and his assistants were harsh to the point of heartlessness, and that Judge Zane (to us, then) acted like a religious fanatic in his judicial office; that nearly every Federal official in Utah had taken a tone of bigoted opposition to the people; and that the law was detested and the government despised because of the actions of Federal "carpet-baggers."
I was prejudiced, no doubt, and partisan in my account of the state of affairs, but I did not exaggerate the facts as I saw them; I believed what I said.
I did not really reach his sympathy until I spoke of the court system in Utah - the open venire, the employment of "professional jurors" - the legal doctrine of "segregation," under which a man might be separately indicted for every day of his living in plural marriage - and the result of all this: that the pursuit of defendants and the confiscation of property had become less an enforcement of law than a profitable legal industry.
After two hours of argument and examination, I ended with an appeal to him to accept the opportunity to undertake a merciful assuagement of our misery. After so many years of failure on the part of the Federal authorities, he might have the distinction of calling into his court the Mormon leaders who had been most long and vainly sought by the law; and by sentencing them to a supportable punishment, he could begin the composition of a conflict that had gone on for half a century.
He replied with reasons that expressed a kindly unwillingness to undertake the work. It would mean the sacrifice of his professional career in New York. He would be putting himself entirely outside the progression of advancement. His friends, here, would never understand why he had done it. The affairs of Utah had little interest for them.
I saw that he was not convinced. His wife had been waiting some minutes in the outer office; he proposed that he should bring her in; and I gathered from his manner, that he expected her to pronounce against his accepting my solicitation, and so terminate our interview pleasantly, with the aid of the feminine social grace.
Mrs. Sandford, when she entered, certainly looked the very lady to do the thing with gentle skill. She was handsome, with an animated expression, dark-eyed, dark-haired, charming in her costume, a woman of the smiling world, but maturely sincere and unaffected. I took a somewhat distracted impression of her greeting, and heard him begin to explain my proposal to her, as one hears a "silent partner" formally consulted by a man who has already made up his mind. But when I glanced at her, seated, her manner had changed. She was listening as if she were used to being consulted and knew the responsibilities of decision. She had the abstracted eye of impersonal consideration - silent - with now and then a slow, meditative glance at me.
Her first question seemed merely femininely curious as to the domestic aspects of polygamy. How did the women endure it?
I repeated a conversation I had once had with Frances Willard, who had said: "The woman's heart must ache in polygamy." To which I had made the obvious reply: "Don't women's hearts ache all over the world? Is there any condition of society in which women do not bear more than an equal share of the suffering?"
Mrs. Sandford asked me pointedly whether I was living in polygamy?
No, I was not.
Did I believe in it?
I believed that those did who practiced it.
Why didn't I practice it?
Those who practiced it believed that it had been authorized by a divine revelation. I had not received such a revelation. I did not expect to.
Our talk warmed into a very intimate discussion of the lives of the Mormon people, but I supposed that she was moved only by a curiosity to which I was accustomed - a curiosity that was not necessarily sympathetic - the curiosity one might have about the domestic life of a Mohammedan. I took advantage of her curiosity to lead up to an explanation of how the proscription of polygamy was driving young Mormons into the practice, instead of frightening them from it. And so I arrived at another recountal of the miserable condition of persecution and suffering which I had come to ask her husband help us relieve; and I made my appeal again, to them both, with something of despair, because of my failure with him, and perhaps with greater effect because of my despair. She listened thoughtfully, her hands clasped.
It did not seem that I had reached her - until she turned to him, and said unexpectedly "It seems to me that this is an opportunity - a larger opportunity than any I see here - to do a great deal of good."
He did not appear as surprised as I was. He made some joking reference to his income and asked her if she would be willing to live on a salary of - How much was the salary of the Chief Justice of Utah?
I thought it was about $3,000 a year.
"Two hundred and fifty dollars a month," he said. "How many bonnets will that buy?"
"No," she retorted, "you can't put the blame on my millinery bill. If that's been the cause of your hesitation, I'll agree to dress as becomes the wife of a poor but upright judge."
In such a happy spirit of good-natured raillery, my petition was provisionally entertained, till I could see the President; and it is one of the curiosities of experience, as I look back upon it now, that a decision so momentous in the history of Utah owed its induction to the wisdom of a woman and was confirmed with a domestic pleasantry.
I left them after we had arrived at the tacit understanding that if President Cleveland should make the appointment, Mr. Sandford would accept it with the end in view that I had proposed. I went to report my progress, in a cipher telegram, to Salt Lake City, and I recall the peculiarly mixed satisfaction with which I regarded my work, as I walked the streets of New York after this interview. In all that city of millions, I knew, there were few if any men who were the equal of my father in the essentials of manhood; and yet, before he could enjoy the liberties of which they were so lightly unconscious, he must endure the shame of a prison. I was rejoicing because I was succeeding in getting for him a sentence that should not be ruinous! I was pleased because a prospective judge had been persuaded to be not too harsh to him!
It did not make me bitter. I realized that the peculiar faith which we had accepted was responsible for our peculiar suffering. I saw that we were working out our human destiny; and if that destiny was not of God, but merely the issue of human impulsion, still our only prospect of success would come of our bearing with experience patiently to make us strong.
When I went back to Mr. Hewitt, to tell him of my success, I consulted with him upon the best way of approaching Mr. Cleveland. And he was not encouraging. In his opinion of the President, he had, as I could see, the impatient resentment which a quick-minded, nervous, small-bodied man has for the big, slow one whose mental operations are stubbornly deliberate and leisurely. And he was obviously irritated by the President's continual assumption that he was better than his party. "He's honest," he said, "by right of original discovery of what honesty is. No one can question his honesty. But as soon as he discovers a better thing than he knew previously, he announces it as if it were the discovery of a new planet. It may have been a commonplace for a generation. That doesn't signify. He announces it with such ponderosity that the world believes it's as prodigious as his sentences!"
As for my own mission: I would have to be persistent, patient, and - lucky. "You'll have to be lucky, if you intend to persuade him to acquire any information. He's been so successful in instructing mankind that it's hard to get him to see he doesn't know all he ought to know about a public question. But he's honest and he's courageous. If you can convince him that your view is right, he'll carry but the conviction in spite of everything. In fact he'll be all the better pleased if it requires fearlessness and defiance of general sentimentality to carry it out."
He gave me a letter to Mr. William C. Whitney, then Secretary of the Navy, explaining my purpose in coming to Washington, and asking him to obtain for me an interview with President Cleveland without using Mr. Hewitt's name. Then he shook hands with me, and wished me success. "I have the faith," he said, "that is without hope."
That expressed my own feeling. The faith that was without hope!