Correlation: An Uncorrelated History (Part 2 — Manifestos)

A continuation of our conversation on the origins and historical developments of Correlation. Part 1 can be read here. To reiterate, these conversations are meant to serve as an introduction or prolegomenon to Daymon Smith’s pathbreaking existing work on the topic, available here. Last time we talked about the Underground. It would be useful to read there before moving into this section of the conversation. Again, thanks to Daymon for his willingness to participate in these chats.

The Expectation of Concealment

Brad: So we ended our last discussion noting that if you were an Undergrounder—someone evading arrest for the crime of Unlawful Cohabitation—your efforts were directed at either concealing your body from the law, or, more often, concealing your identity through language. Of course today there’s all kinds of moralistic baggage that gets associated with the word “lie,” but really, the fact that you concealed who you are, whether through a lie of commission or omission, however you want to parse it, lying and concealment become built into your identity as a good, faithful Mormon, defending for the Kingdom, sacrificing for the Kingdom, and resisting the satanic wickedness of the federal government.

Daymon: There have been other studies of this, which really directed my attention to the Underground in the first place. Initially I was just interested in Correlation beginning in the 1950s and 60s, but that expanded by way of the research of, again, Carmon Hardy, Sarah Gordon, their work on, for example, wives who lied under oath, or who would conveniently forget vital bits of information. This was a standard stereotype of Mormon women, that just as soon as they took an oath in a courtroom they would mysteriously forget who their parents were, who their children were, who their husband was, when they got married, who performed the ceremony—all these things were suddenly forgotten. So here you have Mormon women taking refuge in their capacity to veil their mind and conceal it from scrutiny.

Brad: To use language, then, not to reflect what’s inside their mind, but to conceal what’s inside the mind. Of course it’s nothing new or original to use language to conceal something. That’s certainly not unique to Mormons. But what’s fascinating is that during this time, using language to conceal mind and conceal reality, rather than revealing mind and reality—language as concealment is associated with righteousness. It has a positive rather than negative moral connotation

Daymon: Part of the positive cover came from the Mormon creed—Mind your own business—a statement that you can use to reply to other people, so if they ask you something you can tell them to mind their own business. The creed becomes a justification of virtually any linguistic act of concealment. You are obliging your interlocutor to follow the creed, enabling them, in a certain sense, to be righteous through your own deceptiveness.

Brad: And these new linguistic habits and moral codes don’t just affect polygamist men who are on the underground avoiding arrest or witnesses in the courtroom. Undergrounders depend on all kinds of networks of concealment, of protection, of secrecy, families and extended families, friends, kinship networks. Anyone who is at all connected with the Underground will eventually become familiar with these norms of communication and morality according to which concealment becomes a chief strategy for protecting the Kingdom and the Lord’s Anointed.

Daymon: It really becomes a kind of performance of one’s religiosity, for example, not asking questions of someone who is boarding with you, and also to not answer their questions. There’s a story of a woman—Annie Tanner—who was asked a question by Wilford Woodruff who was staying at her house, on the run. He asked her about the father of the child who was in the room, and she says, “Well that’s not a very fair question, now, is it Brother Woodruff?” This wasn’t taken as something rude or hostile. It was, in some sense, potentially a test.

Brad: She was demonstrating both her loyalty and the fact that she knew how things were supposed to work, she was initiated into the norms of proper Mormon interaction. It’s almost a litmus test of your faithfulness: Do you know and obey the Mormon creed?

Daymon: Can you be trusted? This was the central dilemma of the Underground. Who can I trust?

Brad: And the answer at almost any given time is virtually nobody.

Daymon. Eventually that’s what most of these men report, including apostles in reference to other apostles. So although the Underground started as a fairly effective resistance movement, it becomes something that destroys the foundation of trust in most Mormon communities. Even though the Underground is only officially a path or a place of residence for a couple thousand people, there are so many other people involved on so many levels—hiding, conveying information—and everyone wants to be helpful, to contribute when and how they can, to show their loyalty and protect their leaders, and everyone’s trying to give warnings when they suspect someone is a marshal or a spy. What you’ve got is a wide-ranging regime of Mormons conducting vigilant and unrelenting surveillance on what they believe to be enemies and spies without ever really verifying the accuracy of their suspicions. There’s a runaway of speculation with runaway social consequences.

Brad: And this is really key for understanding why Mormon polygamy totally breaks down. You have a kind of tearing of the social and cultural fabric that enables society and communities to function. This carries itself out for the most part at the level of language and language use. And this is so closely associated with polygamy that eventually the only spaces, physical or discursive spaces, in the entire territory that are immune from this kind of total breakdown are spaces that have no connection to plural marriage.

Divisions from Discourse: Public and Private Spaces and Persons

Daymon: Any time some statement is taken to be uttered by either a spy or an Undergrounder it is automatically taken to be a smokescreen. There are public spaces, though, particularly the newspapers, where you don’t have a clear idea of who the speaker is. Sometimes there’s a signed editorial, or letter, but it’s almost always signed with what is clearly a pseudonym. This effaced identity of speaker makes newspapers into a kind of exemplary space where the relationship between language and mind, language and reality, language and truth can be reassembled. In this public sphere, language can accurately, cleanly, truly, sincerely reflect the mind of speaker.

Brad: A journalistic ideology about language. Language is plain, simple, clear, and transparently reflects reality. It won’t be flowery or poetic or purple, it will be journalistic.

Daymon: Not to over-simplify the situation, but Mormons generally trusted the Deseret News, but liked to read the Salt Lake Tribune. It was much more colorful, and it took greater liberty with its journalistic standards. The newspapers become an important voice of truth, in some ways, and it begins to divide up the Mormon populace. Public emerges to challenge Private.

On the other hand, those in the private realm, you have Undergrounders. Say, George Reynolds wants to write a letter to Joseph F. Smith in Hawaii. Being a good Undergrounder, he’s not going to say much of anything about what he’s up to, about what anyone else is up to who might also be on the Underground.

Brad: And he’s not going to ask any impertinent questions either.

Daymon: Certainly not, because that would immediately cue Joseph F. that this guy is not to be trusted. And even if he is to be trusted, the postal routes could not be trusted.

Brad: And he’s not going to sign his name.

Daymon: In fact they’re going to address each other with fake names. Even their very identities as social persons they’re going to hide from one another simply because of the possibility of surveillance. This awareness of constant, or at least potentially constant, surveillance comes to sustain the paranoia and justify the response of the Mormon creed, which of course is feeding, on a practical face-to-face interactional level, the ongoing groundwork for the ever-increasing paranoia and suspicion.

Brad: And of course the most relevant and interesting form of surveillance in this whole historical moment is self-surveillance.

A Brief on the Modern Subject, Mormon-style

Daymon: This becomes one of the key arguments, not unique to my work but a broad argument in anthropology, sociology, history, etc., that there’s a new kind of awareness with this modern subjectivity, that maybe goes back to Descartes, by which one becomes an individual self because one conducts surveillance on one’s own personality.

So there really is a splitting. Alongside the splitting of the foundations of the Mormon community economically speaking, there’s a course change at this time because of the railroad, mass-produced manufactured items coming in from the east, imports from the west, a political fracturing because polygamists are disenfranchised, they lose control of Salt Lake City to the “liberals” or the gentiles. You also have a breakdown in the social fabric of the Mormon family, which until now had served if not as the foundation then as one of the three legs of the foundation of Mormon society. When you can’t trust your wife with knowledge of where you are presently, this provides a new kind of consciousness or subjectivity, of self-awareness and awareness of one’s self as a part of a larger world.

Brad: And the deeper level of breakdown is that the Mormon Person becomes split. You now have an inner self, who you are on the inside, your interiorized person distinct from the outer self. And you have a body and the embodied interactions that make it possible to participate in certain public spheres—politics and economics—those are the realms where bodies participate and interact with other bodies. You have a body, and you have a mind that is separate. And the mind, at the very moment that our bodies become citizens that interact with the rest of the public sphere and society like proper citizens, our mind becomes the space into which Mormonism effectively retreats.

Daymon: What the US government offers is basically the equivalent of the Mexican colonies. Mormons can retreat, find refuge, in the mind or the imagination. And Mormons take up the offer whole-hog. We not only take it up, but it starts to take on a life of its own. Mormons at this stage don’t know who to trust, don’t know, in some sense, who they are, and this splitting of the generic Mormon person between mind and body becomes the practical division for the division between Church and State, between faith and practice, for later declarations that it is acceptable and right to believe in polygamy, to assent to a particular set of propositions concerning polygamy, its truthfulness, etc., but it’s not alright to engage in polygamous relationships that involve your body. Just as the economic and political and social relationships are changing, and their relationship to each other as mediated through linguistic practices begins to crumble, they can no longer trust people they formerly would have trusted with their very lives…

Brad: You can’t even trust words anymore. You can’t trust meaning. Someone could make a clear, plain-as-day statement, and it’s by no means clear whether they mean what they say or they mean the diametric opposite of what they say or anywhere in between.

Daymon: Mind/Body, Word/Meaning. As an example, Dan Bateman is working on a farm, and one of the Bishop’s sons comes and asks if they have any fat cows, and if they do, to leave them there and the Bishop will come and get them. Seems pretty straightforward, but upon reflection Bateman decides that he’s really supposed to up and flee because there’s a marshal on his way to arrest him. Everything could potentially mean, “you should run.”

Another example. John Taylor, on the Underground. He’s living in hiding with his bodyguards. His bodyguards are some of the most wildly paranoid people he could have found. They’re doing their best to protect the President, who really is the big fish that the government wants to capture and make an example of. They’re sitting in a parlor and the globe on a lamp in the room suddenly bursts. This gets interpreted as meaning that the Mormon people are going to be broken apart and fragmented. So they pack up their stuff and leave that same day. Off to another location where they can camp for a few days, until something else strange happens, something interpreted as meaning that they should run.

So you have here every individual Mormon becoming the center of an imagined universe, which is all pointing to him, and looking at him, as it were. There’s constant surveillance of your self, of your person, you’re constantly monitoring what you’re saying, and you can’t trust any of it because it’s all potentially fake or subterfuge or a smokescreen or a code.

There’s only one person who can really fix meaning firmly, and that’s the newly empowered territorial judge. The judge can at any point step in and say, “this is what is real, this is what is really going on.” And what the judges all tell us is real is the Mind. The Mind becomes a real space now, in the 1880s, in ways that it had never previously been in Mormonism. It is a distinct realm in which you can operate, and in which you can even obtain exaltation—because of a belief, rather than because of practices or habits or relationships.

Brad: It’s real in both this mystical religious sense, beliefs and salvation, etc., but it’s also real in a more material and social sense in that there is now a separate individual—the judge—who is empowered not only to clinically describe what exists in a person’s mind, to sort of pin it down and neatly map it or diagram it, but also based on that to, say, send somebody to prison, or acquit somebody, or impose a fine, or break up a family, to dictate social reality and very real consequences. All this is sponsored by this newly discovered, legible terrain called the Mind.

Daymon: You might say that the judge acts as a kind of new god, who can designate what is real, what is allowed to be created, who can say “let there be light.” Because all of this is going on in the realm of language as it represents the Mind. That perfect relationship between language and the Mind becomes fixed—sealed might be a more proper term—in the courtroom.

Brad: Except, of course, people who are using language deliberately to obscure or conceal what exists in the mind.

Daymon: This model of a continuous person who has a reservoir of memories that they seamlessly draw from, this is something that Mormons at the time don’t really accept, understand, and they certainly don’t exemplify. The thing is that the Mormon, the kind of ideal Mormon up until this time, doesn’t really draw a distinction between the spirit and the flesh. Certainly not between mind and body. But what they’re compelled to do in courtrooms is to retreat into the Mind in order to keep their bodies out of the territorial pen.

Brad: The idea that they could somehow consciously, freely remember but then un-remember some crucial piece of information doesn’t really reconcile itself with the notion that the Mind has this perfect, transparent, reflective contact with reality and our experiences.

Daymon: But the Mormons are saying, “We can erase whatever we want on this blank slate and provide whatever else we want.” This is just taken, by outsiders, as a lie.

Brad: The strategy of self-imposed forgetfulness won’t get you nearly as far when you’re resisting a charge of cohabitation rather than polygamy.

Daymon: Well, it certainly doesn’t keep very many of these guys out of prison. What it does do, however, is it allows newspaper writers back east and in Salt Lake to publish transcripts of these really pretty ridiculous sounding testimonies that show all these Mormon women forgetting, for example, who their children are, when they were born, who their husband is, when they got married, who married them. And this really made for a lot of laughs at Mormons’ expense around the country.

There’s a kind of general awareness that Mormons and deception go hand in hand. That there’s a kind of seal placed between Mormons and deception. Mormons, for their part, simply frame this as minding their own business. It’s their creed and really an essential part of their identity.

Brad: And defending the Kingdom and the true order of priesthood come hell or high water…

Diverging Views of Language

Brad: Language is not presumed to be a transparent reflection of mind. The focus is on the strategic uses of language and the pragmatic effects of language on social reality, on deploying strategies that will bring about desired pragmatic ends.

Daymon: A common example of this “pragmatic” view of language is the oath. People had to take oaths when they entered the courtroom, but more importantly there were oaths that they had taken on in the endowment house or in the temple; or even outside the temple where a sealing might have been performed. Oaths concerning their obligations to their spouses, to priesthood holders, to the Kingdom, to their children, and to God, angels, etc. The awareness that language had a creative power was really, I think, pretty robust among Mormons at this time, going clear back to at least Nauvoo. Particularly those Mormons who had gone down the ideal path, which included endowments, being sealed, and living the true order of marriage, celestial marriage, plural marriage. Language, I think, is conceived foremost among Mormons in terms of its socially creative power. Not it’s reflective or referential power, but its ability to create something entirely new through the binding power of priesthood or something else that brings it into being.

Brad: And one of the most significant effects of this period—the 1880s, the prosecutions, the Underground, trying to sustain the Underground, the courtroom interactions, newspaper accounts—is to unhinge or destabilize this creative power of language, or at least of Mormon language. The old view of language as something to be used strategically, primarily in terms of its pragmatic effects, comes to be seen in these public spheres like newspapers and sermons as morally illegitimate. And a new ideology—where language does and must reflect mind—begins to get taken up by Mormons.

Daymon: It’s taken up more wholeheartedly or aggressively by what they call in newspapers, “Young Utah,” a segment of the Mormon population who were largely not polygamists, not a part of the Underground, not accustomed to using language in evasive ways that were necessary to preserve their families, to preserve their own freedoms. These were very literate people, they read the newspaper reports that appear to be objective linguistic accounts, with photographs that literally capture and are clear, accurate representations of reality. And, in the papers, you also have reports detailing the contents of people’s minds.

Brad: And here more than anywhere else the conception of language as necessarily, accurately, and sincerely reflecting mind is paramount.

Daymon: When you read the most detailed transcripts, you’ll very rarely find a Mormon talking about beliefs; and generally very reluctant to talk about or describe their states of mind. What you do find in the newspapers is a kind of slippage, where what was once regarded as a report or description of an act of speaking is now a report of an act of thinking. For us in the modern world the distinction is almost irrelevant, a matter of hair-splitting.

Brad: There’s no distinction. You speak what’s in your mind.

Daymon: Whether you say “so-and-so said this” or “so-and-so thought this” is really just a rhetorical or stylistic distinction but not a substantive one, today. In the 1880s, whether you’re dealing with what a person says or what a person thinks determines who goes to jail and who doesn’t, whose family gets broken up and whose doesn’t. So if you can show that so-and-so thinks these people are married, then this guy’s probably going to go to jail. If you can only show that so-and-so heard that they are married, that’s technically hearsay. Speech can’t be a factor in the judge’s or jury’s decision making process unless it can be reframed, slipped into something where what is spoken has a presumed identity with what is believed. Sincerity strings together the moment of speaking and the moment of thinking, eliminates perjury, and if the government can tie together words and thoughts, then they can throw every polygamist they can get their hands on into prison.

Brad: Let’s go back to this “Young Utah,” this younger Mormon generation with fewer and shallower ties to polygamy. For these Mormons, concealing their identity with evasive language was not bound up with their identity as Mormons. They’re not mind-your-own-business Mormons. They’re freely taking up these more modern ideas about language and mind. They’re a new linguistic community, so to speak. And you still have this other community, old-school Undergrounders and their kin, and their whole foundation for the kinds of communication and interaction that can generate durable social bonds is fragmenting. Their linguistic and ideological norms of interaction are really quite different from Young Utah’s. They consciously use language strategically, there’s never a presumption that language reflects either mind or reality.

Daymon: And both communities depended upon some awareness of the existence of the other group. So the strategy of concealing one’s state of mind through language requires the person deceived to believe that language really does reflect one’s state of mind. This is why the Mormon creed is very useful but also very dangerous and potent in terms of dividing Mormons against other Mormons. On the other hand, assuming that language reflects my state of mind means that it is now possible to throw you in jail for perjury, rather than for simply having a particular notion of language that is prevalent among your Mormon cohorts. The two strategies work together and depend upon each other in a kind of dialectical fashion. One generates the possibility for the other. And this becomes the context and the setting for reading, and re-reading the content and effects of Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 Manifesto.

After John Taylor dies in 1887

Brad: The Manifesto shows up in the minutes of the meetings of the apostles. And you mentioned before the kinds of distrust developing in the Quorum, how the fragmentation of the larger Mormon community was present, perhaps even more profound, within this group. There’s division, mistrust, uncertainty, paranoia. Many of them have spent the better part of the previous decade on the Underground. The paranoia affects every aspect of their lives, including, perhaps especially, their interactions with other apostles, particularly of the non-polygamist variety. And it is into this environment that what the notes refer to rather vaguely as simply a “document” is introduced.

Daymon: Initially many of the apostles react to the document as a possible test. They feel like their commitment and loyalty to true Mormonism and the new and everlasting covenant is being tested. Will they stand up, or will they bend. So the first time Woodruff presents this thing, everyone says “no way, absolutely not.” And he basically says, well great, this was really just a test anyway. But then months later another similar document shows up in the minutes again. And the apostles’ foundation of coherent solidarity is beginning to weaken and crumble with time. They’ve adopted a strategy of trying to get statehood, they’re sending money to newspaper editors and lobbyists like Leland Stanford to try to work the back channels. The accounting books for the Church have mysteriously vanished. Everything is either really uncertain, or just plain falling apart. Nobody trusts George Q. Cannon. No one really trusts Joseph F. Smith. Wilford Woodruff seems to be the only one that’s uniformly trusted, in part because he wasn’t very powerful. Nor, for that matter, does he seem all that interested in obtaining more power in relation to fellow apostles. He’s kind of guileless, really. He’s also probably not the brightest guy in the Quorum, and everybody knows this. Once they reorganize the First Presidency with Woodruff as president, all kinds of new strategies become possible. Cannon’s power increases. Joseph F. is aware of this and also aware of rumors that Cannon is trying to keep him, Smith, out of Utah so that Cannon can keep running the Church and the territory. So the breakdown of trust runs from the rank-and-file Mormons all the way up to the First Presidency. This is a period of rich confusion, and it’s a confusion which, in the 1920s, so-called new polygamists will look back to in order to start their new movement.

Brad: There’s another important political or judicial development here, and that’s the SCOTUS ruling that basically says that properties can now be seized by the federal government that are used for primarily ecclesiastical purposes, whereas before, in part due to lack of statutory clarity, temples had been basically off limits.

Daymon: And there had been a few decisions leading up to this one. Decisions involving the nature of unlawful cohabitation, involving Mormon immigration, and then in May of 1890 the big decision comes, which ratifies the disincorporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And of course if the corporation no longer exists, which the court has ruled it doesn’t, then who is going to own the property? Certain individuals can hold certain properties, but who owns the temple? The Salt Lake temple is still not complete and the Church had taken on massive debts to try and finish it. You can’t just deed this thing to George Q. Cannon or Joseph F. Smith, you can’t just stick it into your pocket or a bank account and flee the territory. The temple really becomes this anchor point that the government can use to exercise all kinds of leverage against Church leaders. And of course this is what Wilford Woodruff describes in conference in 1891, what led him to sign, if not necessarily write, the Manifesto. It’s all about the temples.

Brad: He’s having visions, not all that paranoid it turns out, of federal authorities conducting raids on temples, violating the sanctuaries. The Manifesto is couched as this moment of decision, as this kind of two-paths thing.

Daymon: He describes one path that the Lord had shown him as remaining on their current course, holding their ground, and the government taking the temples and all the work for the dead would stop. He’s shown another path whereby if they give up polygamy and obtain statehood, at least officially and publicly, if they can convince the world that they’ve moved past polygamy, they can hold onto the temples and continue vicarious work for the dead. So in some sense, Woodruff makes, and encourages the Saints to make, this sacrifice for the dead, rather than for the living. The living are asked to sacrifice what is regarded at that point as a fundamental requirement for exaltation. They’re discouraged from participating in illegal marriages, and Woodruff regards this as a sacrifice they are making on behalf of their kindred dead. The metaphysics and theology of this changes over time, but that really doesn’t concern me as a linguistic or historical anthropologist. My real concern here is, What does the Manifesto do? Not whether it’s “true” or sincere or whatever—important questions no doubt—but how do Mormons interpret this thing and what are the consequences for Mormon society and Mormon life? And there’s no single answer to how this is read, because it’s read differently by anyone who can get a copy of it. You can’t really track that historically.

Brad: But there are certain things that are clear, like, for example, we know how Congress read it.

Daymon: And there are general trends. Many, many Mormons, with good reason, regarded it as basically a smokescreen or a strategy.

Brad: Certainly polygamists and former Undergrounders would have read it in that light.

Daymon: No question. On the other hand, Joseph F. Smith and most of the apostles seem, at least initially, to have taken it basically at face value.

Brad: And by face value, you mean literally, that President Woodruff would no longer encourage Mormons to participate in illegal marriages.

Daymon: Right. Now the other question here is how much power or influence did Woodruff really exert over controlling sealings that were being authorized and performed? There is a real confusion over what happens to the authority to perform a sealing ceremony. Where does it reside? Who has it? Who can give it to someone else? Can Woodruff, as head, control all the sealings in the Mormon Kingdom? Of course he can’t, doesn’t even make a pretense at it, and so you get a continuation of sealings.

Brad: And in fact, in the minds of most Mormons who are interested in continuing plural marriage at this time, the most reasonable reading of the Manifesto would be a vehicle for publicly protecting and granting deniability to Woodruff and the apostles. They saw Woodruff simply removing himself from the equation, so to speak, for his own protection. He would no longer be authorizing plural marriages precisely so that they could continue to take place without the Church’s enemies crushing the whole enterprise.

Daymon: Right, Woodruff was now going to mind his own business, and if everybody would just mind their own business, everything would be fine. Right?

Everything is Not Fine

Brad: And there are apostles who read the Manifesto this way too, who see it as a way to protect the president of the Church, protecting him from direct complicity in and awareness of what’s going on, but at the same time continuing to live this higher law. And foremost among the apostles who interpret it this way is John W. Taylor, son of the deceased prophet. And the younger Taylor not only carries his father’s charismatic mantle, but he’s also wildly popular in Mormondom. He’s known as the “People’s Apostle,” he’s young, brash, a real firebrand, an unapologetic critic of federal power.

Daymon: Taylor really comes into his own by the turn of the century. He’s an important figure during the 1890s, but Cannon is really running the show. Again, to summarize, by the time of the issuance of the Manifesto, you really have two kinds of Mormonism. The key differentiating factor is: How do they interpret language? Not, Do they all understand English—that is, of course, an interesting issue at the time—but do they understand official language as reflective of a state of mind?

Brad: Or of the mind of God.

Daymon: Right, do they read this as an issue of sincerity or morality, or do they read it as strategic, as something that you should be doing because it is necessary to protect people? It’s going to keep people out of jail, it’s going to keep families together. Whether or not you call it a “lie” was something that, certainly for Undergrounders, entailed a great deal of moral gray area.

Brad: If you’re an Undergrounder it’s entirely possible and reasonable for you to read the Manifesto as both strategic, insincere, an act of public subterfuge, but also revelatory.

Daymon: And true. Because Woodruff said that he was told—not necessarily that he dictated God’s voice, but he was told—to issue it.

Brad: So for an Undergrounder the question is, Is it possible that the Lord told President Woodruff to issue a statement that was a smokescreen to protect those who continued to live the true order of priesthood and true order of marriage? And the answer was, of course!

Daymon: And you’re told to follow the example of the prophet, and the prophet is setting the example by hiding on the Underground, and all the apostles are saying you’ve got to mind your own business and do whatever you need to do to stay out of jail, within reason. Language can be used in acts of forgetfulness regarding things that might send other men to prison. It only makes sense that you would carry the analogy out, and conclude that the Lord, of course, must be very adept at using this kind of Underground style of speech and interaction.

Brad: This creates a really important dynamic, which is that speech, and especially public speech for public consumption, and particularly public speech that comes from these high Church leaders who are also fellow Undergrounders, and especially, especially speech that condemns or discourages polygamy—such speech events will be read by polygamists as carrying a meaning that is the opposite of what they say on their face, as an encouragement rather than a discouragement.

Daymon: By 1905 this is going to cause all kinds of problems for Mormons. They’re hearing from some apostles that polygamy is no longer to be practiced, that no more marriages should be performed, but they’re also hearing rumors on the side that so-and-so just got married again.

Brad: And that such-and-such apostle approved it.

Daymon: Right, or even performed it, or there are hints that maybe he did, because of course you wouldn’t disclose who had actually performed it. So the combination of all the rumors and hints with the concealing of the identity of the sealer actually gave a lot of credibility to these other rumors out there that it’s John W. Taylor, or it’s Matthias Cowley, some rogue apostle who’s actually going around doing this. Well, is he a rogue apostle or is he really doing the work of the Lord?


Tune in next time as our conversation shifts attention to the Smoot Hearings and the development of Mormon “courts of love.”


  1. Again, I have nothing to say but: This is great. And also: Thanks a lot for making me spend 10 minutes doing this instead of work.

  2. TaterTot says:

    This is fascinating! Thank you!

  3. Shoot, Brad. You used that word “prolegomenon” again! Now I’m going to have to go look it up. I initially thought it might be a character from Battlestar Gallactica, but now I’m thinking not.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    pro “before” legomenon “that which is said.,” a prolegomenon is a set of prefatory remarks or a formal essay introducing either a larger work or a particular subject.

  5. “The Mind becomes a real space now, in the 1880s, in ways that it had never previously been in Mormonism.”

    Hmmmm. I’m not sure I agree with this point, but I am going to have to think it over a bit.

  6. Moniker Challenged says:

    Keep it up. Every installment reveals another piece in the puzzle of old-timey Mormon perceptions and reasoning that I’m finding invaluable.

  7. My father is a result of this confusion, and, consequently, so am I. We can thank Elder Taylor for making a difference.

  8. J. Stapely, I’m not sure what you make of the quoted portion, but the question is not really, of course, whether “the mind” existed previous to 1880s. Let me clarify: What I’m saying is that “the mind” becomes an acceptable place (discursively) for living one’s religion, either as a refuge or a default because the actual practices become forbidden. A “polygamist in mind only” becomes possible as a Mormon option.

  9. Sorry, “Stapley”. Because religion becomes a “mental” activity, it is subject to discursive practices, and this is what causes all the confusion in newspapers and rumor; and, we’ll see, provokes theological conundrums in the early 20th C.

  10. This gives me new insight into the manifesto and the polygamous splinter groups still with us today, thanks for the time and effort to present it here.

    But the shift in core worldview and mindset you describe seems hard to believe given the relatively little time the underground and its mentality existed. If that situation lasted several generations so that children would have been born, raised and raised their children operating under those constraints I’d be willing to accept such a fundamental shift but really, 20 years isn’t really that much time.

    I’m also having a hard time undertanding the Young Utahns. You say their ties to polygamy were fewer and shallower, but wouldn’t their ties be even greater given that they were born and raised in that environment? If their parents weren’t polygamous their immdiate family probably contained it and their resected leaders absolutely embodied it. How could that kind of lifelong and intimate exposure to polygamy create a Young Utah that was so distanced from it?

  11. Like others, I am fascinated to see where you take this from here. I have something in mind, and I can’t wait to see if I’m right.

  12. Daymon, That makes sense. You see the legacy of that as late as George Albert Smith’s administration. There are some FP/Q12 meeting minutes during this period, as I remember, that make that quite explicit.

  13. Complete tangent, but it occurs to me after reading Part 2, that LDS novelist John Brown’s debut work “Servant of a Dark God” dramatizes this state of being a “[rebel/dissident/keeper of the higher law] in the mind only” quite well — and the dissonance and drama that happens when a) a member of the younger generation discovers that the rest of his family has been living a different life in their mind and b) everything gets flushed out in to the open. This being high fantasy there are some material culture components to it as well, but much of it is discursive.

    I can’t speak authoritatively here, KLC, but it doesn’t seem that odd to me. In fact, if we look at Mormons as immigrants back in to U.S. culture (and it seems to me that that’s not that wild of a leap to make in post-pioneering, post-railroad Utah) then it totally follows the pattern that immigrant families tend to take. The Younger Generation, especially the educated, wealthier, less marginalized (less “on the run”) members of the ethnic group are quick to distance themselves from the more embarrassing, outmoded practices of their elders and provincial cousins.

  14. This all makes having a prophet a little paradoxical – Hey guys, guess what, we have an oracle of God, His mouthpiece here on earth. One caveat, we don’t really know if what he’s saying is explicit, or implies the opposite, or . . . .
    Wow, this would have been a hard time to be Mormon.

  15. In general, this is one of the areas that tends to shake my faith. Not the polygamy per se, I am at peace with that (don’t necessarily have a testimony of it or against it, just at peace for the time being) But I have a real hard time trying to reconcile the opposition of the US Government.
    Let me explain my difficulty: When Lehi brought his family to the promised land, they were promised that they would live in peace and prosperity as long as they were righteous. They would be persecuted and war with each other when they stopped being righteous.
    Similarly Israel was promised that in their righteousness they would prosper, but in their wickedness they would perish. Jesus himself prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and weeping for them in their iniquity.
    If poligamy was being practiced in righteousness, the way God intended, why was the whole of Mormondom so persecuted in their righteousness. Why was it after the persecution started that Wilford Woodruff would receive revelation to stop instead of before (this statement is the core of my angst with this issue – I have very similar thoughts about Blacks/The Priesthood and their conspicuous delay from the civil rights movement)? Isn’t the purpose of a seer to see, to help the righteous avoid future tribulation?
    Now I realize that the sun rises and sets for the righteous and wicked alike. Many times bad things happen to good people. However, I’m not talking about isolated incidents, I’m talking about the whole of the Kingdom of God, and I don’t think the “Bad things happen to good people” argument makes as much sense when applied to the whole of the Kingdom of God.

  16. Wm, I can see your point. But the sense I got from reading the dialogue is that the Young Utahns were distanced from polygamy not by choice but by circumstance which might not be a correct interpretation.

  17. The dissertation was a fun read, and helped me broaden my own views about behind-the-scenes Mormon theological discussions of the early 20th century. Looking forward to a bit of discussion about post-1970 correlation. Thanks guys.

  18. Stephanie says:

    How widely available are the minutes from meetings of the apostles? I find that surprising. At what point in history do the minutes become unavailable?

    This is a wonderful post (definitely worth neglecting my kids for a few more minutes over), but it also makes me more confused about polygamy than ever. Is polygamy the eternal law and the Manifesto was just written for political reasons? Or was polygamy a temporal commandment, and the Manifesto took care of ending it? Is that ever resolved? The prevailing thought today seems to be that we believe in polygamy as a higher law, which would indicate option 1. I believe the answer is option 2. But we still don’t really know, do we? Argh. My head hurts.

  19. Hopeful Dad says:

    Brad & Daymon, just plain outstanding. You’ve put a whole lot of context on what I have been trying to understand about the 1890 -1904 Post-Manifesto period. Looking at it in this way, the remaining Underground Mormons must have been knocked totally off balance as things progressed in the run up to the Second Manifesto, which was less of a “We really, really mean it this time”, and more of an alignment of language as a true reflection of the Mormon concept of thought. I can make all sorts of conjectures about how this is all heading up to the Correlation movement, but look forward to the rest of this series.

    As to the deceptiveness of language during the Underground, I’m trying to remember where I heard that children of polygamy were taught to respond to any adult that they didn’t know asking about their fathers, by saying “For all I know, YOU might be my father”.

  20. Stephanie, FP/Q12 minutes are generally not available. Selected Collections has a lot of great meeting minutes up to early Utah. In Utah, you generally have to go off of peoples diaries, and there are some really great record keepers (e.g., Woodruff). During the manifesto period, you had a number of folks keeping good diaries, including folks like AH Cannon (BYU), F.D Richards (Selected Collections), JH Smith (Signature). Journal History has some surprising inclusions during this period as well. GQ Cannon’s diaries are apparently very rich, but they are in the FP vault and their publication is slated but not definitive. After 1904, diaries are pretty scant and you have stumble upon excerpted copies of minutes or transcripts that have made their way out to researchers for various reasons. Quinn’s papers apparently has a lot of excerpts, e.g.

  21. Steve G. says:

    #10 KLC

    I wonder if a comparison could be made to the OD2. How much quicker was the younger generation to drop the whole “blacks were less faithful in the preexistence” than the older generation after OD2? I can see the younger generation in 1890 being quite relieved and ready to close the chapter on polygamy for good.

  22. Just a comment on the question of time it takes for a radical cultural shift. The shift was “discursive” because on the Underground Mormons learned something about language which was not so easily excused among non-Undergrounders. The term Young Utah comes from newspapers, and they were proclaimed as having abandoned the old ways. YU is a stand in (for me) for a simpler way of viewing language, as transparently meaningful, or “sincere”. You can see, then, that all the Manifestos served to accelerate the cultural change, because one group was as certain of their interpretation of “official texts” as was their opposing group. The discursive divide was forced by the public announcements. Otherwise, yes, it probably would’ve taken several generations to shift in so radical a way.

  23. Regarding meeting minutes: most are available from this period, or can be reconstructed reliably from apostles’ journals.

  24. Stephanie, about the status of polygamy as it relates to one’s afterlife: It depends on who you ask. Woodruff said (in private) the cessation was temporary, and that because polygamy was an eternal law, it had to return (if it actually left). The Manifesto never ended that Law. In public, of course, he said it was gone and done, and left it that. The question is what is the value of public or private statements from prophets, and your post nicely positions the next round of discussion.

  25. Steve, the comparison with OD2 is apt. Many Mormons left the Church then, too, because they refused to reconcile the content of one prophet’s sermon with that of another’s. In this case, however, it would be like Kimball thereafter secretly forbidding ordinations of Africa-descended Saints, while McKonkie had secretely been ordaining them since the 1960s; AND was himself secretly a black man. That’s how confused it was, and you can imagine that Young Utah was happy to pick a single course where truth could be read from the size of the audience addressed.

  26. How do you compare this situation with recusants in England or the Huguenots after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes?

  27. Brad, you were right. I do find this fascinating. Thanks.

  28. #15 152 — You raise interesting questions, but the persecution for polygamy among the Utah saints certainly wasn’t new; they’d endured persecution in New, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, as well. Not sure presence of persecution is evidence pro or con of the righteousness of the practice. (Not sure that it’s not, either.)

    As for the OP, this is fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

  29. Thanks Daymon and Brad. I’ve been hearing about this dissy for awhile now, but haven’t taken the time to read it. You’re doing some great stuff here, and I think one of the greatest contributions is that you’re providing a framework that combines the 19th and 20th centuries, rather than accepting the facile and artifiicial 1890 date historians normally use when constructing historical narratives. And I think the presentist approach–identifying a question dealing with the contemporary church and then working your way backward–is one of the most effective ways of showing how the past shapes the present. I’m looking forward to seeing how you tie it all together.

  30. “He’s also probably not the brightest guy in the Quorum, and everybody knows this.”

    It seems that this is nearly a quote from some other author I have read. Granted, this blog is not the place for copious footnotes, and Woodruff’s IQ is not your main topic; however, I would like to know the basis for this statement before it becomes “true” by virtue of its oft repetition. Can you provide a source?

  31. ricke,
    It’s not an argument that Woodruff’s woefully incompetent, and it’s an inference. It isn’t as if any fellow apostles wrote in their diaries, “Brother Woodruff isn’t the brightest guy in the quorum.” But all of the controversies generated in the aftermath, e.g., of Taylor’s death involving G. Q. Cannon took for granted the presumption that if WW became President, he would keep GQC in the FP and Cannon would run things from there. This has been examined in some detail in, among other places, Ron Walker’s piece on the 1880s succession crisis and some of the antipathy toward GQC inside the Q12.

    For an analogous example, think about arguments that it was really Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, running the show during 2001-08. Regardless of the degree to which you buy such claims, they presume a certain comparative lack of intellectual horsepower on the part of GWB. So, without ever explicitly, say, calling WW incompetent, the conflicts in the Q12 during this period suggest that most of the quorum members took for granted that WW would be something of a pawn in the struggles between the real power players. If they thought WW was, in fact, the brightest guy in the quorum, most of the anxiety about GQC’s influence would have abated.

    Nobody’s concerned, regardless of political persuasion, that Joe Biden’s currently running the country.

  32. Brad, I can appreciate the analogy, but it may be a pejorative stretch to say that Woodruff’s willingness to acquiesce to GQC’s administrative influence reflected a “comparative lack of intellectual horsepower.” It might be equally justifiable to conclude that Woodruff was not very not assertive, or that he didn’t relish conflict, or that he often didn’t feel very well, etc. I wonder how Thomas G. Alexander would characterize Woodruff’s intellectual capacity based on his research for Things in Heaven and Earth, which I intend to read soon.

  33. Orson Whitney said Woodruff was no more fit to lead the church than a dog, while JW Taylor said he had the brains of a child. Such things were said with WW present, during the debates about whether he should become president. He was hurt by this, obviously, as you’ll find in his nine volumes of journals. But they didn’t seem to care. I could find the references, but seriously, this isn’t a debate about WW’s brains. It was an aside, and any serious reading of the Q12 diaries and letters makes their opinion of WW clear. How Thomas Alexander would “characterize” WW’s brains is a non-starter, as far as the history is concerned. He knows WW a bit less than apostles who lived with the actual WW, and whose opinions, right or wrong, shaped the 1880s Church.

  34. also: Ricke, the source for the comment you quote was me, by the way. If you’d like to see the actual sources, journals, letters, etc., on which I base my reading, please read the dissertation.

  35. Orson Whitney said Woodruff was no more fit to lead the church than a dog, while JW Taylor said he had the brains of a child. Such things were said with WW present, during the debates about whether he should become president. He was hurt by this, obviously, as you’ll find in his nine volumes of journals. But they didn’t seem to care. I could find the references, but seriously, this isn’t a debate about WW’s brains. It was an aside, and any serious reading of the Q12 diaries and letters makes their opinion of WW clear.

    Wow – that is some of the frankest negative assessment of a church leader, by other church leaders, that I’ve ever read. I don’t know for sure what to make of it, really.

  36. I’m working my way slowly through all these posts on Correlation – having copied and pasted them into one document and printing them all out – coming to 52 pages of material (without the comments).

    Very interesting stuff – but I also realize my knowledge of Church History just isn’t the same as that of some others. There are things that are just assumed/accepted that I’m only beginning to consider because I’m reading them here.

    Just the same, thanks for putting this together.

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