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The New Polygamy
In the old days of Mormonism - and as late as the anti-polygamous manifesto of 1890 - the whole aim and effort of the Church was to exalt and sanctify and make pure the practice of plural marriage by means of the community's respect and the reverences of religion. The doctrine of polygamy was taught as a revealed mystery of faith. It was accepted as a sacrament ordained by God for the salvation of mankind. The most important families in the Church dignified it by their participation, and were in turn dignified by the Church's approval and by the wealth and power that followed approval. The inevitable mental sufferings of the plural wives were endured by them as part of an earthly self-immolation required by God, for which they should be rewarded in eternity. The very necessities of their situation compelled them to exact and cherish a super reverence for the doctrine of plural marriage - since the only way a mother could justify herself to her children was by teaching, as she believed, that she had been selected by God for the exaltation of this sacrifice, and by inculcating in her children a scrupulous respect for sexual purity. There was no pretense of denial of the polygamous relation. Plural wives held the place of honor in the community. Their marriages were considered the most sanctified. They and their progeny were called "the wives and children of the holy covenant," and they were esteemed accordingly.
But as the history of the Church shows, plural marriage was always a heavy cross to the Mormon women; many had refused to bear it, in the face of the frequent pulpit scoldings of the Prophets; and few did not sometime weep under it in the secrecy of their family life. In the days immediately preceding the manifesto of 1890, there was a general hope and longing among the Mormon mothers that God would permit a relief before their daughters and their sons should become of an age to be drafted into the ranks of polygamy. The great majority of the young men were monogamists. It required the strong persuasions of personal affection as well as the authority of Divine command to make the young women accept a polygamist in marriage. And when the Church received President Woodruff's anti-polygamous revelation, every profound human emotion of the people coincided with the promise to abstain.
Only among a few of the polygamous leaders themselves was there any inclination to break the Church's pledge - an inclination that was strengthened by resentment against the Federal power that had compelled the giving of the pledge. Almost immediately upon obtaining the freedom of statehood, some of these leaders returned to the practice of polygamous cohabitation - although they had accepted the revelation, had bound themselves by their covenant to the nation and had solemnly subscribed to the terms of their amnesty. To justify themselves, they found it necessary to teach that polygamy was still approved by the law of God - that the practice of plural marriage had only been abandoned because it was forbidden by the laws of man. Joseph F. Smith continued to live with his five wives and to rear children by all of them. Those of the apostles who were not assured of that attainment to the principality of Heaven which was promised the man of five wives and proportionate progeny, were naturally tempted (if, indeed, they were not actually encouraged) to take Joseph F. Smith as their examplar. It was scarcely worse to break the covenant by taking a new polygamous wife than by continuing polygamous relations with former plural wives; and when an apostle took a new polygamous wife, his inevitable and necessary course was to justify himself by the authority of God. He could not then deny the same authority to the minor ecclesiasts, even if he had wished to. And, finally, when the evil circle spread to the man on the fringe of the Church - who could not obtain even such poor authorization for his perfidy he found a way to perpetrate a pretended plural marriage with his victim, and the Church authorities did not dare but protect him.
This was polygamy without the great saving grace that had previously defended the Mormon women from the cruelties and abuses of the practice. It was polygamy without honor - polygamy against an assumed revelation of God instead of by virtue of one - polygamy worse than that of the Mohammedans, since it was necessarily clandestine, could claim no social respect or acceptance, and was forbidden "by the laws of God and man" alike.
This is the "new polygamy" of Mormonism. The Church leaders dare not acknowledge it for fear of the national consequences. They dare not even secretly issue certificates of plural marriage, lest the record should be betrayed. They protect the polygamist by a conspiracy of falsehood that is almost as shameful as the shame it seeks to cover; and the infection of the duplicity spreads like a plague to corrupt the whole social life of the people. The wife of a new polygamist cannot claim a husband; she has no social status; she cannot, even to her parents, prove the religious sanction for her marital relations. Her children are taught that they must not use a father's name. They are hopelessly outside the law - without the possibility that any further statutes of legitimization will be enacted for their relief. They are born in falsehood and bred to the living of a lie. Their father cannot claim the authority of the Church for their parentage, for he must protect his Prophet. He cannot even publicly acknowledge them - any more than he can publicly acknowledge their mother.
Out of these terrible conditions comes such an instance as the notorious case of one of Henry S. Tanner's wives, who went on a visit to one of her relatives, with her children, and denied that they were her children, and denied that she was married - and was supported by her children's denial that she was their mother. Similarly, a plural wife of a wealthy Mormon, whose fortune is estimated at $25,000,000 - a partner of the sugar trust, a community leader, a favorite of the Church went before the Senate Committee in December, 1904, and swore that her first husband had died thirteen years before, that she had had a child within six years, and that she had no second husband. And by doing so she not only marked the child as illegitimate beyond the relief of any future statutes - legitimizing the offspring of polygamous marriages, but she left herself and the child without any claim upon the estate of its father and publicly swore herself a social outcast before a committee of the United States Senate, and perjured herself - to the knowledge of all her friends and acquaintances in Utah - for the protection of her husband and her Church. What can one say of a man who will permit a woman to commit such an act of social suicide for him - or of a Church that will command it?
Here is a condition of society unparalleled anywhere else in civilization - unparalleled even in barbarous countries, for wherever else polygamy is practiced it at least has the sanction of local convention. And the consequent suffering that falls upon the women and the children is a heart-break to see. During the days when I was in the editorial office of the Salt Lake Tribune, scores of miserable cases came to my knowledge by letter, by the report of friends, and by the visits of the agonized wives themselves. I shall never forget one young woman, in her twenties, who came to ask my help in forcing her husband to obtain a marriage certificate for her from the Church, so that her boy might have the right to claim a father. She wept, with her head on my desk, sobbing out her story, and appealing to me for aid with a convulsed and tear-drenched face.
Four years earlier, she had become friendly with a man twice her age, whom she admired and respected. He had taken two wives before the manifesto of 1890, but that did not prevent him from coveting the youth and beauty of this young woman. He first approached her mother for permission to marry the girl, and when the mother-who was herself a plural wife replied that it was impossible under the law, he brought an apostle to persuade her that the practice of plural marriage was still as meet, just and available to salvation as it had been when she married. Then he went to the daughter.
"I was terrified," she said, "when he proposed to me. And yet - he asked me if I thought my mother had done wrong when she married my father. . . . There was no one else I liked as much. He was good. He was rich. He told me I'd never want for anything. He said I would be fulfilling the command of God against the wickedness of a persecuting world. . . . I don't know what devil of fanaticism entered into me. I thought it would be smart to defy the United States."
Late one night, by appointment, he called for her with a carriage, driven by a man unknown to her, and took her to a darkened house that had a dim light only in the hallway. They entered alone and turned into a parlor that was dark, except for the reflection from the hail. He led her up to the portieres that hung across an inner door, and through the opening between the curtains she saw the indistinct figure of a man. They stood before him, hand in hand, while he mumbled over the words of a ceremony that sounded to her like the ceremonies she had heard in the Temple. She caught little of it clearly; she remembered practically nothing. She was not given anything to show that a ceremony had been performed, and she did not ask for anything. The elderly bridegroom kissed her when the mumbling ceased, led her out to the carriage, took her back to her mother's house, and that night became her husband.
She bore him a son. No one except her mother, her father and a few trusted friends knew that she was married. In the early months of 1905 she read in the Tribune the testimony given before the Senate committee by Professor James E. Talmage, for the Church, to the effect that since the manifesto of 1890 neither the President of the Church nor anybody else in the Church had power to authorize a plural marriage, and that any woman who had become a plural wife, since the manifesto, was "no more a wife by the law of the Church, than she is by the law of the land."
She asked her husband about it. He replied that an apostle had married them. "I asked my husband," she said, "to get a certificate of marriage from the apostle. He told me I needed none - that it was recorded in the books here and recorded in heaven - that it would put the apostle in danger if he were to sign such a paper. I said that that was nothing to me - that I wanted to protect my good name. Finally, he said it was not an apostle. Then we had a bitter scene. And he did not come back for a long time. And he didn't write as long as he stayed away.
"When he came back he was more loving than ever. I was afraid of having more children. I said to him: 'You cannot hold me as a wife any longer unless you write a paper certifying that I'm your wife and this boy is your child. You may place that paper anywhere you like, so long as I know I can get it in case you die. Suppose you were to die and all your folks were to deny that I was your wife - say that I was an imposter - that I was trying to foist my boy on the estate of a dead man - in the name of God, then what could I do?' He went away; and he hasn't come back; and he hasn't written. I don't know who married us. I don't even know the house where it happened. I don't know who the driver was. I don't even know who the apostle was that told mother it would be all right. He made her promise under a covenant not to tell.
"I don't know where to go. A friend of mine told me you would advise me. He said perhaps you could make them give me a certificate. I don't want to expose my husband. I only want something so that my boy, when he grows up, won't be" -
What could I do? What could anyone do for this unfortunate girl, seduced in the name of religion, with the aid of a Church that repudiated her for its own protection? She had to suffer, and see her boy suffer, the penalties of a social outcast.
Her case was typical of many that came to my personal knowledge. At the Sunday Schools, in the choirs, in the joint meetings of mutual improvement associations, young girls - taught to believe that plural marriage was sacred, and reverencing the polygamous prophets as the anointed of the Lord - were being seduced into clandestine marriage relations with polygamous elders who persuaded their victims that the anti-polygamous manifesto had been given out to save a persecuted people from the cruelties of an unjust government; that it was never intended it should be obeyed; that all the celestial blessings promised by revelation to the polygamist and his wives were still waiting for those who would dare to enjoy them.
If the tempted girl turned to one of her women friends, and besought her to say, on her honor, whether she thought that plural marriage was right, the other was likely enough to answer: "Yes, yes. Indeed it is. Promise me you won't tell a living soul. Tell me you'll die first. . . . I'm married to Brother I, - , the leader of the ward choir."
If she asked her mother: "Tell me. Is plural marriage wrong?" the mother could only reply: "Oh - I don't know - I don't know. Your father said it was right, and I accepted it - and we practiced it - and you have always loved your other brothers and sisters, and it seems to me it can't be wrong, since we have lived it. But - Oh, I don't know, daughter. I don't know."
The man who is tempting her knows. He has the word of an apostle, the example of the Prophet, the secret teaching of the Church. He courts her as any other religious young girl might be courted - with little attentions, at the meetings, over the music books - and he has, to aid him, a religious exaltation in her, induced by his plea that she is to enter into the mystery of the holy covenant, to become one of the most faithful of a persecuted Church, to defy the wicked laws of its enemies. She is just as happy in her betrothal as any other innocent girl of her age. Even the secrecy is sweet to her. And then, some evening, they saunter down a side street to a strange house - or even to a back orchard where a man is waiting in a cowl under a tree (perhaps vulgarly disguised as a woman with a veil over his face) - and they are married in a mutter of which she hears nothing.
Such a case was related to me by a horrified mother who had discovered that the marriage ceremony had been performed by an accomplice of the libertine who had seduced her daughter and since confessed his crime. But whether the ceremony be performed by a priest of the Church or by a more unauthorized scoundrel, the girl is equally at the mercy of her "husband" and equally betrayed in the world. Even in this case of the pretended marriage, the elders of the ward hushed up the threatened prosecution because the authorities of the Church objected to a proceeding that might expose other plural marriages more orthodox.
Hundreds of Mormon men and women personally thanked me by letter or in interviews at the Tribune office, for our editorial attacks upon the hierarchy for encouraging these horrors. Strangers spoke to me on railroad trains, thanking me and telling me of cases. Three Mormon physicians, themselves priests of the Church, told me of innumerable instances that had come to them in their practice, and said that they did not know what was to become of the community. One Mormon woman wrote me from Mexico to say that she had exiled herself there with her husband and his two plural wives, and that she felt she had worked out sufficient atonement for all her descendants; yet she saw girls of the family on the verge of entering into plural marriage - if they had not already done so - and she begged us to continue our newspaper exposures, so that others might be saved from the bitter experiences of her life.
President Winder met me on the street in 1905, towards the close of the year, and said: "Frank, you need not continue your fight against plural marriage. President Smith has stopped it." "Then," I replied, "two things are evident: I have been telling the truth when I said that plural marriage had been renewed - in spite of the authorized denials - and if President Smith has stopped it now, he has had authority over it all the time."
To me, or to any other well-informed citizen of Utah, President Winder's admission was not necessary to prove Smith's responsibility. In the April conference of 1904, Smith had read an "official statement," signed by him, prohibiting plural marriages and threatening to excommunicate any officer or member of the Church who should solemnize one; and this official statement was carried to the Senate committee by Professor James E. Talmage, and offered in proof that the Church was keeping its covenant.
For us, in Utah, the declaration served merely to illuminate the dark places of ecclesiastical bad faith. We knew that from the year 1900 down, there had never been a sermon preached in any Mormon tabernacle, by any of the general authorities of the Church, against the practice of plural marriage, or against the propriety of the practice, or against the sanctity of the doctrine. We knew, on the contrary, that upon numerous occasions, at funerals and in public assemblages, Joseph F. Smith and John Henry Smith and others of the hierarchy, had proclaimed the doctrine as sacred. We knew that it was still being taught in the secret prayer meetings. Practically all the leading authorities of the Church were living in plural marriage. Some of them had taken new wives since the manifesto. None of them had been actually punished. All were in high favor. And though Joseph F. Smith denied his responsibility, every one knew that none of these things could be, except with his active approval.
Perhaps, for a brief time, while Smoot's case was still before the Senate, some check was put upon the renewal of polygamy. But, even then, there were undoubtedly, occasional marriages allowed, where the parties were so situated as to make concealment perfect. And all checks were withdrawn when Smoot's case was favorably disposed of, and the Church found itself protected by the political power of the administration at Washington and by a political and financial alliance with "the Interests."
Today, in spite of the difficulty of discovering plural marriages, because of the concealments by which they are protected, the Salt Lake Tribune is publishing a list of more than two hundred "new" polygamists with the dates and circumstances of their marriages; and these are probably not one tenth of all the cases. During President Taft's visit to Salt Lake City, in 1909, Senator Thomas Kearns, one of the proprietors of the Tribune, offered to prove to one of the President's confidants hundreds of cases of new polygamy, if the President would designate two secret service men to investigate. I believe, from my own observation, that there are more plural wives among the Mormons today than there were before 1890. Then the young men married early, and were chiefly monogamists. Now the change in economic conditions has raised the age at which men marry; it has made more bachelors than there were when simpler modes of life prevailed. The young women have fewer offers of marriage, and more of these come from well-to-do polygamists. The girls are still taught, as they have always been, that marriage is necessary to salvation; and they are betrayed into plural marriage by natural conditions as well as by the persuasions of the Church.
A perfect "underground" system has been put in operation for the protection of the lawbreakers. If they reside in Utah, they frequently go to Canada or to Mexico to be married; and the whole polygamous paraphernalia can be transported with ease and comfort - the priest who performs the ceremony, the husband, sometimes the legal wife to give her consent so that she may not be damned, and the young woman whose soul is to be saved. And this "underground" is maintained against the reluctance of the Mormon people. They aid in it from a kindly feeling toward their fellow-believers - and with some faint thought that perhaps these wayfarers are being "persecuted" but all the time with no personal sympathy for polygamy. By one sincere word of reprehension from Joseph F. Smith every "underground" station could be abolished, the route could be destroyed, and an end could be put to the protection that is, of itself, an encouragement to polygamous practice. He has never spoken that word.
Recently, the way in which the new polygamy is perpetrated in Utah has been almost officially revealed. A patriarch of the Church, resident in Davis County, less than fifteen miles from Salt Lake City, had been solemnizing these unlawful unions at wholesale. The situation became so notorious that the authorities of the Church felt themselves impelled about September, 1910, to put restrictions upon his activity. In the course of their investigations they discovered that he did not know the persons whom he married. They would come to his house, in the evening, wearing handkerchiefs over their faces; he sat hidden behind a screen in his parlor; and under these circumstances the two were declared man and wife, and were sealed up to everlasting bliss to rule over principalities and kingdoms, with power of endless increase and progression. He refused to tell the hierarchy from which one of the authorities he had received his endowment to perpetrate these crimes. He refused to give the names of any of the victims, claiming that he did not know them!
It is probable that for a long time plural marriage ceremonies were not solemnized within the Salt Lake temple. Now, we know that there have lately been such marriages in it, and at Manti, and at Logan, and perhaps also in the temple at St. George. There are cases on record where a man has a wife on one side of the Utah-Colorado line and another wife across the border. No prosecutions are possible in Utah; for, as Joseph F. Smith told the Senate committee, the officers of the law have too much "respect" for the ecclesiastical rulers of the state. Similarly, in the surrounding states, the officers show exactly the same sort of "respect" and for the same reason. They not only know the Church's power in local politics, but they see the national administration allowing the polygamists and priests of the Church to select the Federal officials, and they are not eager to rouse a resentment against themselves, at Washington as well as at home, by prosecuting polygamous Mormons.
Some few years ago, Irving Sayford, then representing the Los Angeles Times, asked Mr. P. H. Lannan, of the Salt Lake Tribune, why someone did not swear out warrants against President Smith for his offenses against the law. Mr. Lannan said: "You mean why don't I do it?"
"Oh, no," Mr. Sayford explained, "I don't mean you particularly."
"Oh, yes, you do," Mr. Lannan said. "You mean me if you mean anybody. If it's not my duty, it's no one's duty. . . . Well, I'll tell you why. . . . I don't make a complaint, because neither the district attorney nor the prosecuting attorney would entertain it. If he did entertain it and issued a warrant, the sheriff would refuse to serve the warrant. If the sheriff served the warrant, there would be no witnesses unless I got them. If I could get the witnesses, they wouldn't testify to the facts on the stand. If they did testify to the facts, the jury wouldn't bring in a verdict of guilty. If the jury did bring in a verdict of guilty, the judge would suspend sentence. If the judge did not suspend sentence, he would merely fine President Smith, three hundred dollars. And within twenty-four hours there would be a procession of Mormons and Gentiles crawling on their hands and knees to Church headquarters to offer to pay that three hundred dollar fine at a dime apiece."
Mr. Lannan's statement of the case was later substantiated by an action of the Salt Lake District Court. Upon the birth of the twelfth child that has been borne to President Smith in plural marriage since the manifesto of 1890, Charles Mostyn Owen made complaint in the District Court at Salt Lake, charging Mr. Smith with a statutory offense. The District Attorney reduced the charge to "unlawful cohabitation" (a misdemeanor), without the complainant's consent or knowledge. All the preliminaries were then graciously arranged and President Smith appeared in the District Court by appointment. He pleaded guilty. The judge in sentencing him remarked that as this was the first time he had appeared before the court, he would be fined three hundred dollars, but that should he again appear, the penalty might be different. Smith had already testified in Washington, before the Senate Committee, to the birth of eleven children in plural marriage since he had given his covenant to the country to cease living in polygamy; he had practically defied the Senate and the United States to punish him; he had said that he would "stand" his "chances" before the law and courts of his own state. All of this was well known to the judge who fined him three hundred dollars - a sum of money scarcely equal to the amount of Smith's official income for the time he was in court!
A leader of the Church, not long ago, asked me, in private conference, what was the policy of the American party with regard to the new plural wives and their children. I replied that as far as I knew it, the policy was to have the Church accept its responsibility in the matter and give the wives and children whatever recognition could be given them by their religion. The Church was guilty before God and man of having encouraged the awful condition. It was unspeakably cowardly and unfair for the Church leaders to put the whole burden of suffering on the helpless women and children; and, moreover, this course was a justification to polygamists in deserting their wives, on the ground that the Church had never sanctioned the relation.
This Church leader, himself a new polygamist, answered miserably: "The Church will not let itself be put in such a light before the country. That would be to admit that it has been responsible all the time."
I asked: "Has the Church not been responsible?"
He replied - equivocating - : "Well, not the Church. The Church has never taken a vote on it."
"That," I said, "answers why you have never got redress and never will get it because you are all liars, from top to bottom. You know you would never have entered the polygamous relation - nor could you have induced your wife to enter it - except with full knowledge that the Church did authorize it. The Church is one man, and you know it. The whole theory of your theology collapses if you deny that."
He shook his head blankly. "I don't know what is to become of us. I don't see any way out."
I could only advise him that he should join with other new polygamists in demanding that the Church authorities make all possible reparation to the women and children who were being crushed under the penalties of the Church's crime. But I knew that such advice was vain. He could not make such a demand, any more than any other slave could demand his freedom. And if the non-polygamists demanded it, the Prophets would deny that polygamy was being practiced. The children could not be legitimized - for the Church cannot obtain legitimizing statutes without avowing its responsibility for the need of them; and the Gentiles can not pass such statutes without encouraging the continuance of polygamy by removing the social penalty against it.
So the burden of all this guilt, this shame, this deception, falls upon the unfortunate plural wife and her innocent offspring. She is bound by the most sacred obligations never to reveal the name of the officiating priest - even if she knew it - nor to disclose the circumstances of the ceremony. She has justified her degradation by the assumption that God has commanded it; that her husband has received a revelation authorizing him to take her into his household; that her children will be legitimate in the sight of God, and that eventually the civilized world will come to a joyous acceptance of the practice of polygamy. When the trials of her life afflict her and she finds no relentment in the world's disdain, she sees no avenue of retreat. To break the relation is to imply at once that it was not ordained of God, and to cast a darker ignominy upon her unfortunate children. Her only hope lies in her continued submission to her husband and his Church, even after she has mentally and morally rejected the doctrine that betrayed her. A more pitiably helpless band of self -immolants than these Mormon women has never suffered martyrdom in the history of the world. Heaven help them. There is no help for them on earth.