Correlation: An Uncorrelated History (Part 3 — Courts of Love)

Read installments 1 and 2 in the series here and here. Seriously. Read them. Before you read this. Also, read Daymon’s dissertation here.

(click to read)

Discursive Division Becomes Cultural Schism: Smoot Hearings

Brad: We rounded out our last conversation by noting the difficulty that any Mormon at this time faced in trying to reliably pin down an agreed upon meaning from public statements regarding plural marriage. Is there still polygamy in Mormonism? WHo knows? And the manifestos aren’t clarifying anything, really. We talk about one group, about one strategy for reading the Manifesto, which is reading it not at face value; but there’s an entire other group of Mormons out there—and these, of course, are simplistic, over-generalized divisions—but you’re going to have plenty of Mormons who are going to take it at face value, to accept it as accurately reflecting the will and mind of God. We are no longer meant to practice plural marriage.

Daymon: And of course as long as they read it that way, they’ll have no shortage of anecdotal evidence to look at and say, “See, this proves that this is what it means.” They can point to this new manifesto, to this newer manifesto, to talks and sermons which make it pretty clear, that is, if you don’t have an Undergrounder’s capacity for inverting the meaning of words, that we don’t practice polygamy.

Brad: The same speech, the same words, the same little bits of discourse can be reasonably read and interpreted with opposite meanings and practical implications by these two different Mormon communities.

Daymon: Yes. It can be read as a warning about excommunication, or an encouragement toward exaltation. These both exist side-by-side, simultaneously within what we would describe as Mormon culture or Mormonism, up until at least 1910 and maybe in some parts of the American West up through the 1920s or 30s.

Brad: In the first couple decades after the 1890 Manifesto, there’s really no clear division. It’s not as if you can take one group and their reading and say, “They’re wrong, they’re fundamentalists, they’re a break-off group.” They’re all Mormons. They’re all part of the same Church, of the same community, at least in a certain sense, though a fragmenting community. There’s this key division that works itself out on the ground level of culture.

Daymon: And this is another ironic part of the story. When Joseph F. Smith issues his second manifesto in 1904-05, this is again taken as encouragement by some and discouragement by others. There’s really no possible way that by issuing public statements the leaders are going to be able to control polygamy, either to keep it going, or to stop it. It’s really running on its own rails at this point. This is an aspect of culture that I had a particular interest in trying to reconstruct in my analysis.

Brad: The inability to assert control will not be for lack of effort. In addition to issuing manifestos and making public statements of condemnation, Church leaders are going to deploy new, more aggressive strategies. The new approaches come in response to a kind of national PR disaster, in the form of the Smoot Hearings. Reed Smoot is elected to the US Senate in 1903, and the Senate refuses to grant him a seat on the grounds, basically, that he’s a Mormon. This refusal is directly tied to polygamy, to rumors and evidence that it’s still going on, that there are new marriages being authorized and performed, that Church leaders are lying about it and can’t be trusted, that Mormons are untrustworthy, that Smoot is bound by oaths of loyalty to the Church that will interfere with his oath of loyalty to the Constitution. There are any number of reasons why Smoot is not to be trusted, at least from the perspective of an already suspicious outsider in Washington.

From an inside perspective, Smoot is a monogamist, he’s one of the apostles who comes down on the side of getting rid of polygamy and distancing the Church from associations with it, of excommunicating polygamist Church members—he’s anti-polygamist in a certain sense. Still, from the perspective of people in the Senate, all Mormons are painted with the same brush. Smoot is called to testify in Washington several times. President Smith is also called to testify. On his way out, Smith is confident, even excited. He’s going to have his testimony written into the records of the US government, where it will stand for all time. But the actual testimony is really a disaster.

Daymon: There’s some good recent work that’s been done on this. There’s a University of Utah student named Jonathan Moyer who just finished a dissertation on this subject. Really interesting work on the politicking that surrounded the hearings, their impact on the Republican Party, on the operations of the First Presidency. Smoot really uses his sort of strange status as a senator without a seat and an apostle without a testimony and somehow manages to gain an immense amount of power in both spheres, Church and State. And of course D. Michael Quinn’s work is really the starting point for all these types of questions involving the manifestoes and polygamy. My interest, however, is really, How does this thing run on its own from a cultural perspective? What effect does the Hearing have at the level of Mormon culture?

What you have here in various mass media, the sermon, the newspaper, the rumor, is the public circulation of the debacle. Smoot is on the front page of newspapers, local and national, and they make a great deal of hay out of the fact that the Mormon President testifies that, for example, he receives some vague kind of inspiration but no revelation, that he’s living a lifestyle in contradiction with the laws of his own Church, that he can’t remember the names of all his wives and children. This leads to a flurry of letters from rank-and-file Mormons to apostles and to President Smith himself, asking, What exactly is the Church’s position here? This is a really interesting phenomenon, that people would write private letters trying to clarify what is going on in the public sphere. And some of the people who write letters might eventually find themselves pulled aside at a stake conference by a visiting general authority and maybe invited to take a plural wife. Or they might be told, Why don’t you go and talk to so-and-so. And so-and-so directs them to bring their prospective plural wife and meet secretly with the stake patriarch. So polygamy continues, and no matter how many statements get made or arguments go on in the Quorum of the Twelve, it’s very difficult to convince people like John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley that polygamy really is finished and that Mormons will no longer be practicing it.

Brad: And as a consequence of the PR nightmare of President Smith’s testimony that is causing so much embarrassment for the Church and for Smoot, the Senate ends up informally demanding a pound of flesh. And the First Presidency and Quorum decide to take dramatic, if symbolic action, to signal their commitment to ending polygamy. Once again, this is a signal that cuts in both interpretive directions.

Daymon: Yes. They remove Taylor and Cowley from the Quorum of the Apostles, but they’re not excommunicated, they’re not stripped of their priesthood, they’re not even stripped of their apostleship. They’re still regarded as apostles, just not members of the central governing body. And this is taken by most observers as a transparent bending of the knee and confessing of the tongue that, at least publicly, they’re going to submit to the will of the American people and their representatives in Congress.

Brad: But it’s taken by this smaller group, old-school polygamists and Undergrounders who are discretely, and with the help of some of the apostles in question, initiated into a kind of new Underground—it’s taken by this community as meaning, “Well, this is just a public charade. Clearly these guys still have their priesthood, they still have their authority, they still have their apostleship, their status as special witnesses, their power to seal. They’re still authorized to authorize plural marriages.”

Daymon: And most people probably understood it as an unfortunate necessity, if not a charade. But a lot of people weren’t aware of the rumors of Taylor and Cowley secretly performing plural marriages. So the official story is that they are removed from the Quorum because they are out of harmony with their brethren. This naturally leads to all kinds of speculation and rumors, and the simple story is that they refused to go and testify in Washington, help out their fellow apostle, poor old Elder Smoot.

Brad: They wouldn’t go before Congress and bow a knee.

Daymon: Right. But if you’ve heard the rumors about Taylor performing plural marriages and taking additional plural wives, rumors which at this point are pretty well verified, you’re going to give a completely different reading of this entire chain of events. So even though the intended effect of expelling them from the Quorum is to curtail polygamy, it actually creates a sort of resurgence of secret polygamy among those who are, wink-wink, in the know.

The Schism At Last: Polygamist Hearings

Brad: So the apostles who at this point are really committed to getting rid of polygamy once and for all, they develop a new strategy, a strategy for actively and aggressively going after polygamists, and in particular for going after individuals who are continuing to authorize and perform the new sealings. So they begin to employ in 1909 what we call euphemistically—“courts of love.” Today, there are high councils in every stake that conduct these things, and it’s a standard form of Church discipline. At the time, it was just a group of apostles conducting these hearings. And what they would do is, based on a rumor, usually a pretty well-founded rumor that someone had taken a new plural wife since the second manifesto, they’d bring this person in and start to ask him questions.

Daymon: Francis Lyman is really spearheading the initiative, and Heber J. Grant is a very active participant—for him it’s a matter of public respectability, and it’s related to his business interests and the need to put a stamp of respectability on Mormonism to get his interests on a firmer financial footing and to reduce his debts. So in 1909 they start to pull in these old patriarchs. They’re trying to establish a kind of chain, to call people in one by one, and try to compel people to disclose co-conspirators, to name names.

Brad: The courts weren’t really about getting convictions, about finding some old man who had taken a plural wife and excommunicating him. They were about finding some old man who had taken a plural wife and threatening him with excommunication as a way of getting him to reveal the name of either the sealer or, better yet, if possible, of the apostle—the “rogue” apostle—who authorized the new marriage.

Daymon: And this is another great irony. If they were really just interested in excommunicating polygamists, they could have done that easily. But they would instead threaten excommunication and then say, “Well, if you name a few names, we might be willing to relax justice a bit and show forth some mercy, maybe we’ll just disfellowship you, let you stay in the Church, keep your priesthood.” They would engage in these kinds of negotiations with these basically rank-and-file Mormons. Few of them had any really significant callings or positions. A few were sealers or stake presidents, mostly they were just temple workers.

Brad: But what they’re really trying to do is get them to turn state’s evidence.

Daymon: Of course, if you’re trotted before these apostles, who’ve all taken oaths, who are the representatives of the Lord, who hold the keys of His Kingdom, and you yourself have spent the past decade or so of your life secretly living an Underground kind of lifestyle—

Brad: —and believing all the while that these apostles are secretly approving and encouraging what you’re doing—

Daymon: If not themselves actually living the same way your are. So what would you do when dragged in front of them? Most of them thought that it was a test of their loyalty.

Brad: These hearings play out almost like an Abbot and Costello routine. There’s an almost comical, though admittedly tragic, kind of communication breakdown. If, for example, Heber J. Grant is just ruthlessly grilling you with questions, demanding that you disclose names, you think that your loyalty is being tested, that you are being tested, and the harder he pushes, the more certain you are that it’s all a test.

Daymon: So of course you aren’t going to say anything.

Brad: Maybe you’ll even say, “I think I’m being tested here.” And Grant will say, “You aren’t being tested, just give us the name!” And you just think all the more that you’re being tested.

Daymon: So the defendant will present himself as prepared to die in defense of this sacred oath he has made to protect this sealer, that he would never, never reveal his name. They took these oaths as seriously as people take the Endowment prohibitions. So it would take many, many meetings with these guys before would finally be convinced—usually it would take excommunication or some other serious punishment to get these guys to finally name a name. And then the apostles might find out that he had named the wrong name, that he had brought in some individual that had nothing to do with the sealing in question. Or they would name the names of dead apostles.

Brad: Like Wilford Woodruff, Jr.

Daymon: Or Merrill, some of these former apostles who were obviously polygamists but now dead. And by this time you also had new apostles like David O. McKay, part of this crop of very intelligent, very ambitious…

Brad: Monogamist…

Daymon: Yes. McKay comes across as remarkably humane in the minutes of these hearings. And one of the things he does is to say, “Well, what if I just mention some names? You can just signal without actually using words to disclose their identities. Then you wouldn’t be violating your oath that you would never speak the name of this person.” So they could, e.g., scratch their ear or something if the questioner got the name right. But, of course, this probing of the mind is taken by the defendant as a test of his loyalty.

Brad: And there’s another almost cinematic, comical quality to some of the hearings. It’s entirely possible that you, as the person being questioned, have the name of an apostle in your head that you’re refusing to disclose, who authorized the marriage—it’s entirely possible that the apostle asking you there in the hearing to reveal the name is the selfsame apostle whose name you are protecting.

Daymon: Or maybe he’s sitting next to the apostle doing the questioning. So it wasn’t as if you could just whisper the name or signal the identity of the apostle without obviously and quite directly violating one of these oaths you had taken and considered sacred. Maybe in one of the hearings one of the apostles like Lyman or Grant is really pressing pretty hard, and Ivins will step in with, “Well, we really don’t need to answer that question right now, why don’t we take a break“; a kind of good cop thing. And the during the break Ivins would pull the guy aside and talk to him privately.

So it was this very, very complicated and, in some ways, darkly humorous historical sequence of events that will eventually lead, inexorably, to a clearer and more forceful rejection of polygamy and polygamists. It’s really just entirely too complicated for a church that is trying to embrace mass-audience texts as its principle format for organizing its religion.

Summary and Looking Forward

Brad: So, to recapitulate, I think there are two take away points from the discussion so far. The first is very general and we’ve already discussed it quite extensively, but it’s the notion that the Underground and the shift away from plural marriage is accompanied and really underpinned by a more fundamental shift, a shift of Mormonism away from the realm of social relationships and into the realm of the mind. It’s hard to overstate how critical this shift is to all these other questions we’re discussing. We’re really talking about laying the key groundwork for modern Mormonism, the modern Church, and for Correlation.

Daymon: What exists and goes on in the mind can get you sent to jail, can keep you out of jail…

Brad: Can get you sent to heaven.

Daymon: Right, by the time of these hearings, these courts of love, the widespread argument is that your mental status can vault you into heaven, if you just believe in polygamy.

Brad: The second point is that by the time of these hearings, these courts, around 1910, the same strategies that were once deployed two decades earlier to resist the surveillance power and punitive authority of the federal government are now being deployed by members of the Church against the leaders of the Church.

Daymon: So the division within Mormonism is coming into much clearer view at this point. There’s a clear division about who is the real Mormon. And it’s clear that a certain segment is going to visibly occupy the public sphere and offer their reading of what really makes a Mormon a Mormon. And so this link between the increasing embrace of and movement into the realm of the public mind for one group of Mormons becomes, by 1910, a central feature of one branch.

Brad: And it should be noted that when we speak of two groups or two Mormon communities, at this point, the real distinction is not between who believes what or who practices what. It’s a distinction that involves more fundamental relationships and ideologies that are grounded in language and language use.

Daymon: And that deeper, more fundamental distinction is what will ultimately drive the fragmentation of the pioneer Mormonism of the nineteenth century into, really, two completely new kinds of religious groups. They’ll both call themselves Mormons, but they’ll both be different, not only from each other, but from the Mormonism of 1900 and certainly the Mormonism of the 1880s.

Brad: On the one hand, you’ll have a group that will refer to themselves as mainstream Mormons, and mainstream here will have two meanings. Mainstream in the sense that they’re not “weird” Mormons, and in that they’re a part of the broader American mainstream. So you’ll have this new phenomenon of mainstream Mormons, and you’ll have the self-styled fundamentalist Mormons.

Daymon: And they will both claim, with some good reason, to be the legitimate inheritors of Joseph Smith’s legacy.

Brad: And once the division is clearly irreconcilable for both parties, they each begin to construct or reconstruct a historical narrative of how they got from the 1880s to the present.

Daymon: And this is why these linguistic points must be kept at the forefront of the historical conversation. Each group increasingly relies upon the same notions of language that pushed them into these separate and distinct cultural spaces in the first place. Notions of secrecy or transparency, about the inherently deceptive or sincere nature of public statements, about the possibility of firmly fixing and controlling the meaning of something, the relationship of language to mind, etc. They really begin to use these competing linguistic and communicative frameworks to write their own history from this point backwards. That process will figure centrally into our conversations about Correlation and Fundamentalism, both of which kind of emerge alongside and in a dialectical relationship with each other.

Brad: Whether you’re a mainstream Mormon and that history runs through a particular vision of John Taylor to Wilford Woodruff and all the way up to President Grant, or you’re a fundamentalist Mormon whose history runs through a rather different vision of Taylor and in a very different direction, through different individuals and across different social histories, in either case, you develop inside a cultural strategy for squaring your narrative with both the history that you have access to and with the social reality of your historical present.

Daymon: And, as we’ve seen in this discussion, the really slippery part is that none of these documents—certainly not the ones that carry the greatest significance—speak for themselves. They’re always subject to the usually valid but very different interpretations of the folks that are constructing these histories. There are separate logics that govern how these texts and documents are to be interpreted. And for each group, that logic also furnishes them with a measure of recruitment potential. So each can now begin to tell the story—where they came from and why they and they only carry the legitimate brand of Mormonism. They can now each convince people not only that if you believe a story, then that makes you into a true believer, a true Mormon who knows, deep down, the Truth—in a seamless line of historical continuity that culminates with You; but also that you ground this faith in a view of language that also undergirds either the story that the fundamentalists tell, or the story that is going to be told by Correlation. And it’s a story, not just about past prophets, plural marriage and the like, but about You.

Part 4, coming soon, will feature a court-of-love showdown for the ages. Stay tuned.


  1. Oh, and special thanks to Captain Hamer for furnishing this installment’s artwork!

  2. Mark Brown says:

    And thanks to you and Daymon, Brad.

    These posts are fascinating. I like how they are both requiring me and helping me to re-think some things I thought I had already underrstood.

  3. Good stuff. Thanks for this, gentlemen.

  4. looking for a name says:

    I love the series – I wake up every morning hoping for another installment.

    Taking the Manifestos at face value, what was the expectation of those already practicing plural marriage? Continue in their current marriages, but refrain from any further marriages? Renounce all plural marriages, even those already performed? Something else?

    Given the important role that the Quorum and FP play, I find myself wondering who was practicing polygamy and who was not. It seems like this is an important piece of contextual information in trying to interpret individual statements. The OP mentions a few (e.g. Smoot, Taylor, and Cowley) – what about the others?

  5. Matt W. says:

    I have a question:

    You say Disciplinary Councils started at this time, but we have records of all sorts of disciplinary councils from the time of Joseph Smith where people like Rigdon and Cowdry were excommunicated. What is the difference?

    And where did this “Court of Love” Euphemism come from? (Which typically only anti-mormons use, in my experience. I’ve always thought it was some thing the picked up on from one case of some stupid stake president, rather than a widespread church usage)

  6. Your parody of the the WW letter to John Caine is in poor taste.

    I think I am less on board with some of the conclusions in this section. Particularly the ideas that “[The Manifestos] can be read as a warning about excommunication, or an encouragement toward exaltation. These both exist side-by-side, simultaneously within what we would describe as Mormon culture or Mormonism, up until at least 1910 and maybe in some parts of the American West up through the 1920s or 30s.”

    I don’t think that any of the major players believed this. Taylor specifically, I think, just believed that they were wrong and he was right. I think a lot of the schismatic Mormons were with him there.

    Moreover, I think it is important to note how widespread post-1890 polygamist marriages actually were. We are not talking a 50:50 split here. I realize that nailing down how many participants there were is difficult (I just recently found evidence for an example that is not in the popular registers), but I think even conservative estimates will be a few hundred.

  7. Yeah, the “court of love” thing is anachronistic to this time period. And though DAMU folks use it sarcastically, it is not uncommon among contemporary and popular Mormon parlance. The piece suffers for its use in the title because of that.

  8. The argument about the existence of the two cultures neither presupposes nor implies anything like a 50/50 split demographically speaking. It’s quickly becoming an overwhelmingly monogamist culture. By the time we get to the actual rise of a distinctively separate movement known as Mormon Fundamentalism, the numbers will be very, very few.

    The fake manifesto is not meant as a skewering of WW, but as a demonstration of the problems of reading these texts. We’re making denotationally explicit the implicit but very real interpretive pragmatic problems beneath the surface of what seems like the straightforward, plain, clear language of the actual manifestos. In terms of locating meaning, this (admittedly over the top and outlandish) fake text more closely approximates how the manifestos were read by polygamists and by those who were confused about PM’s actual status within Mormonism at the time.

    lfan (#4), Mike Quinn’s work, linked in the OP, is the definitive treatment of post-manifesto polygamy, particular among high-profile Church leaders.

    “Courts of Love” is indeed an anachronism for what at the time were typically simply called “Church courts,” but it’s meant to designate these particular ecclesiastical courts, and not the modes of arbitration and litigation dating to Joseph Smith’s lifetime, as the actual antecedents, in form and operation, of today’s disciplinary councils. The anachronism, though, is hardly relevant to the arguments we’re building here.

  9. Brad: re:antecedents, but since Smith’s Courts are the antecedents to these courts, isn’t that sort of irrelevant. Your text makes it sound like no one was excommunicated and there were no church courts before this time. There clearly were. Maybe the form and style of those courts changed at that time, and that change is still manifest today (though these courts you describe here sound nothing like any disciplinary council I have been in, so I am assuming there was another transformation later on)

  10. The linked talk (given 33 years ago) refers to LDS disciplinary proceedings using several titles: the Church court system, Church courts, bishop’s court, and high council court. The term “court of love” is never used as a title.

    It is used once as a description in the following sentence: “As has been stated on many occasions, these are courts of love, with the singular objective of helping Church members get back on a proper course.” In other words, it is describing the ideal tone of the proceeding, not naming or giving a title for proceeding. That is contrasted with a different description given later in the talk that Elder Simpson rejects: “Undoubtedly, many in the Church regard the bishop’s court and the high council court as courts of retribution. Such is not the case …” Neither “court of love” nor “court of retribution” is a title used in mainstream LDS discourse to refer to LDS disciplinary proceedings.

    So the problem with using “courts of love” in this post as a term describing LDS disciplinary proceedings (or meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve in the early 20th century) isn’t that it is anachronistic. It is that it misrepresents LDS disciplinary proceedings and, more significantly for a post that hangs its hat on how people use or misuse language, it misrepresents how LDS use language to refer to them. If you so obviously misrepresent how LDS use language, don’t expect me to take your argument seriously.

  11. Whatever you need to help you not take the argument seriously, Dave.

  12. “I don’t think that any of the major players believed this. Taylor specifically, I think, just believed that they were wrong and he was right.”

    J. Staples,

    Does the OP imply that the major players were intending the ambiguity? Isn’t the point, especially in light of the earlier two installments, that the confluence of legal pressure, polygamist members’ reaction to that pressure, and the situation at the time of the manifesto(s) was what allowed some people to read ambiguity where perhaps none was intended?

  13. Dave, your claim that “court of love” misrepresents LDS usage just isn’t true. I heard it frequently — at every single disciplinary council — while I served as a member of a branch presidency recently.

  14. #13—I think you are right that the OP does not imply that the ambiguity was intended. However, that is certainly the direct, primary implication of the accompanying artwork/letter. Sure, the subsequent explanation says that it is attempting to make explicit what some people might have been seeing in the letter, but it does it by putting the implications in the conscious, deliberate pen of the letter-writer.

  15. blt, I agree that there were people who did view this ambiguity. The trials make that clear, and Daymon’s analysis is very helpful way to understand what is going on. But we are throwing around a lot of binaries: old and young Utah; excommunication and exaltation, etc. I think it is important to note that not all participants fit neatly into these categories.

    You have a Young Utah person in 3rd tier church leadership who has never been on the underground, but takes a second wife after the manifesto. Or a young woman who becomes a third wife in 1904. Or an apostle who clearly understands the will of the council, yet defies them because he simply believes differently. These are all important perspectives to remember.

  16. JNS, I echo your understanding of the term “courts of love” being used in current disciplinary hearings pretty regularly as a descriptive term.

    Stapley, it’s been a while since I read Quinn’s Dialogue article about post-manifesto polygamy, but I was under the impression that while the practice continued in secret for a few years after the first manifesto, that by the time of the 1904 manifesto, it had slowed to a handful of plural marriages that seemed to still have any legitimacy. By 1910, I thought that pretty much any plural marriages taking place were considered a reason for excommunication.

    I seem to recall also that the original 1890 manifesto, when read aloud and voted upon in the Tabernacle, was anything but a unanimous vote, and that there were vocal shouts from the congregation expressing their unhappiness.

  17. Far be it from us to use generalities in a conversation about a dissertation…

  18. kevinf, that is a fair rough sketch of of the relative frequency of post-manifesto polygamist marriage.

  19. As this series goes forward, I am interested in the concept of unanimity. President Kimball’s careful efforts to get a unanimous decision to end the priesthood ban is in sharp contrast to what was going on during this transition period from 1880 to the 1920’s. The fact that Wilford Woodruff would go forward with the manifesto knowing that a number of the apostles did not agree with it, or viewed it as public posturing to obscure that the practice was still going to continue, speaks to the difficulties of changing such a central church practice as plural marriage, or the PH ban as well. David O. McKay could not begin to get a unified quorum of the 12 regarding the ban, so it took a couple more decades and a different president of the church to bring it about.

  20. Brad, as I mentioned, the generalities are helpful. Just pointing out what I see as other helpful perspectives.

  21. I know, Stapley. I should have included an emoticon in my last comment. ;)

  22. John Taber says:

    My theory is that President McKay felt he had the right to lift the priesthood ban, but knew exactly what would happen if he did without unanimity. After all, he’d been through that kind of turmoil a few decades earlier as an Apostle.

  23. By the way, Dave, there’s another talk by Elder Simpson that is titled “Courts of Love,” reported in the July 1972 Ensign. But that isn’t a super contemporary source. How about a publication still in regular use, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism? The entry on disciplinary procedures says: “Because the fundamental purpose of Church discipline has always been to save souls rather than only to punish, formal disciplinary councils are considered “courts of love,” marking the first step back to full harmony with the Lord and his Church, rather than the last step on the way out of the Church.”

  24. There, see? Now that we’ve settled this semantic quibble, you all have permission to take seriously the arguments of the post.

  25. The question of “how many polygamists” after the Manifesto is not really relevant. They were apostles, among whom was Woodruff’s own son Abraham. Both the U.S. government and the local papers didn’t think there were but a few rogue polygs out there. One might call them “wrong,” but this is not really to take a historical stance or anything that attempts to understand, charitably, once living people and the confusion of the early 1900s. My goal was to understand why post-Manifesto polygamy existed among rank-and-file and leaders. To dismiss them as a minority, or wrong, is surely easy, and also imposes a post-1930 reading and misses the point of the conversation, but, ironically, enacts the truth of it, as we’ll see later. Or, you could read the dissertation and argue with it, rather than a very brief, informal discussion of it.

  26. Dream on, Brad.

  27. Cynthia,

    My read on the artwork is that it was not intended as a parody of the letter. Rather, I read it as an example of how it may have been read by a Mormon who’d come up through the times outlined in the previous posts. If I’m right, then certainly this could have been made more clear by, say, juxtaposing the actual language of the letter with the sort of Lloyd Christmas “so you’re saying there’s a chance” version.
    I certainly could be wrong.


    You’re certainly correct that the binaries aren’t clean-cut, although it’s probably safe to say that from this time forward, the two groups are going to diverge more and more.

  28. blt, I think that’s essentially right — in my reading, the image is an attempt to jar us into occupying the mindspace of someone who has lived through the underground and is now faced with a spat of manifestos. It’s also got satirical content to some extent, I think, but satire is not inherently wrong.

  29. I’ve read the dissy, Daymon. My quibbles with it, are more in the area of historiography, but I still find it very useful and use it in Kris’s and my forthcoming paper on the shift in liturgical authority among Mormon Women. But I agree, that the number of polygamists doesn’t matter to the extent that we want to understand them. In understanding them as a group, however, I do tend to think that it is important to be able to contextualize them among broader Mormonism, as I imagine you do as well.

  30. And, in this case, satire, particularly of the outlandish variety, ensures that no readers could possibly read it as an actual historical document.

  31. Lloyd Christmas “so you’re saying there’s a chance” version.


  32. The Smoot hearings, which spurred the 1904 Manifesto from J.F.Smith, seemed to revive polygamy. It certainly led to many letters to the FP about polygamy, and it led to certain apostles being sent around to teach the truth of the 2nd Manifesto. Among those apostles? J.W. Taylor, who was, of course, still looking for wives even as he preached against polygamy. (His son wrote a beautiful biography of JWT, called Family Kingdom). There is precedent for this public-private misfit, preserved in our own D&C where plural wives signed an affidavit that monogamy alone was sanctioned by the Church.

    A few facts: the Mexican colonies were created to preserve polygamy, and did just that at least until 1910. Even ‘Young Utah’ apostles like Ivins performed plural marriages as late as 1906 in the colonies. And sometimes Ivins would be required to discipline the polygamists thereafter. If you are confused about the status of polygamy, you are quite in-line with most Mormons until 1910, 1920, even in the 1930s, as we’ll see. Church leaders continued to insist polygamy was done, meaning, they saw it as something Mormons doubted and so reiterated it regularly.

  33. And, in this case, satire, particularly of the outlandish variety, ensures that no readers could possibly read it as an actual historical document.

    Wait…huh? It isn’t real? Brad, show me your TR, and I will believe you.

  34. A good treatment of how messy it really is to draw an end date for Mormon polygamy is Carmon Hardy’s Solemn Covenant book. Really there isn’t a hard-and-fast end date, but rather a messy unraveling of one era into another. Quinn’s treatment turns out to be a bit too conservative.

  35. J. Stapley, my suggestion about reading was general, not particular, sorry.

    Most post-M polygs were not exed. So, yes, the courts of love (dare I say?) did work quite differently then. The Quorum and Stake Councils often fought over exing their own. The gesture was important, however, because it answered the Trib’s call to act against polygamists. By the way, J. Musser was sent on a mission to India for his polygamy, and he was caught a-marrying in 1914.

    On Historiography: The post-M polygs are important because they exist, and exist in newspapers, rumors, church meetings, and possibly, next door. They provided something for those who insisted one manifesto or another was definitive, something to react against, and it’s the reaction by certain church leaders, not all, which takes the LDS Church in a new direction.

  36. Nice catch, JNS. I linked Hardy’s work in the first two posts, but neglected to here. Really indispensable.

  37. Right about providing a hard deadline for polygamists to pack up and leave the “mainstream” church. As we’ll see, much confusion existed until the 1920s and 1930s, a solid generation or two after the 1890 Manifesto. The difference was, by these later decades a space was created that sucked the confusion from the LDS “mainstream”, a valuable service provided by “Fundamentalists” that made being LDS a good deal simpler. But we’re getting ahead of the story…

  38. OK, so when you say “court of love” here, just to be clear, you are in no way using it in a derogatory of fantastical fashion, but you really just think that’s the best term you can use?

    And you really think these meetings wherein a person is questioned, corrected, chastised and asked to report on others is the source of modern disciplinary councils, rather than previous courts and scriptural mandate, like in the D&C?

    If this is all clarified in a later section, I can wait, but I’m a little skeptical. (But I am also really looking forward to more)

  39. Matt W., I’m not sure about your question regarding ‘the source of modern disciplinary councils’. The CoL’s (fill in as needed) are of concern to me only as a gesture, as the disciplined were previously named in the Trib, and the results of the hearings were quickly written up and published. It’s the effects on Mormon readings of polygamy, and, by implication, statements from leaders (for or against polygamy) that I trace. Whether they are the source of later disciplines, or connected to earlier ones, is not my concern. That is an interesting historical question, of course, the trajectory of discipline in Mormonism, but I can’t answer it.

  40. JNS (#24), the term is in scare quotes, suggesting to the perceptive reader that the author does not consider the term a proper reference or name for LDS disciplinary proceedings.

    Brad, thanks for reminding my why commenting at BCC is a waste of my time.

  41. Yes, I’d say that picking semantic nits as a pretext for refusing to engage analytically is a profound waste of time.

  42. Dave, I’m pretty sure there are other useful ways to read the text here. For example, the perceptive reader might note that the courts under discussion involve a two-way negotiation in which the members being interrogated are given opportunities to reconcile with the church in exchange for only partial disavowal of polygamous activity. Given the hard/soft dual nature of these proceedings as talked about in the dialogue, it strikes me as at least possible that the “courts of love” phrase was used because it has a parallel hard/soft duality built in — courts are typically an element of coercion, love is typically the opposite.

  43. Matt W. says:

    THanks for the clarification Daymon:

    I think I read too much into this statement from Brad:

    “So they begin to employ in 1909 what we call euphemistically—“courts of love.” Today, there are high councils in every stake that conduct these things, and it’s a standard form of Church discipline. At the time, it was just a group of apostles conducting these hearings.”

    I took that to be him saying this is where Disciplinary Councils originated and that in my mind, I tied this into the origin of correlation, with disciplinary councils being a component thereof. From your Comment #40, I can see that is definitely not the case. I am so sorry.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  44. No worries, Matt. One of the pitfalls, I suppose, of this kind of off the cuff dialog (and perhaps a bit of careless transcription).

  45. And, as subsequent conversations I think will make clear, the modern process of Church discipline is at best peripheral to the rise and historical development of Correlation. The impulse to control originates, in part, in the semiotic chaos of these hearings, but it’s not a control enforced formally in modern DCs.

  46. Susan W H says:

    This continues to be a fascinating discussion, Brad and Daymon. I look forward to the next installment.

  47. Matt, no problem, the text yet again proves, like every blog, that meaning of a single passage is a difficult thing to match up person to person. I thought the passage you quoted was ambiguous also, but assumed that no one would read Brad as saying disciplinary hearings began in 1910. Our fault.

  48. Dave,
    Waste of time? Learning? I’m confused.
    You made a comment about “mainstream LDS” usage, and were proven incorrect by natives claiming such affiliation and personal experience. Seems to me that if you find learning about reality a waste of time, that isn’t anyone’s problem so much as yours; a lamentable one, too. And if efforts to make truth by proclamation, rather than by offering proof, are confounded on BCC, that is the highest praise for the blog. I’m glad to have my work discussed here.

  49. Harold Dwyer says:

    As a point of personal curiosity if Brad or Daymon know, my ancestor Marriner Merrill seems to have gotten a pass and remained in the 12 when Cowley and Taylor are forced out. As I understand it, he took a wife in 1901 and performed marriages in Logan up until 1905 (the same year Taylor and Cowley get the boot). Is there any reason Merrill was not on the outs as well? As far as I know he took his support of polygamy to his grave in 1906. Was he too old? Too well entrenched? Is my timeline wrong? Sorry to thread-jack, but curious to see if you knew.

  50. Harold, I imagine that if Merrill had been in good health, and persisted in his activities, he would have joined Taylor and Cowley.

  51. FWIW, ever since the change in terminology from church courts to disciplinary councils (roughly 1989 or 1990), I have rarely heard the term “courts of love” used by Church leaders (I don’t believe it is used in correlated literature anymore).. In fact, I cannot recall an instance of my local leaders using it since then, but I am sure it has occurred within my hearing. I do not live in JNS or kevinf’s stakes, so I cannot speak for usage there.

    Over at RfM, the term “courts of love” continues to be used quite regularly as a derogatory term (the quotation marks usually imply that the councils are about anything but “love”).

    Inasmuch as the most common place where many of us see the term “courts of love” used in quotation marks is RfM (for those of us who read it), and inasmuch as it is no longer an appropriate “correlated” term, one could draw the conclusion that the term “courts of love” is here used in a derogatory way.

    And this becomes an example, I think, of a thesis of these posts, that while language matters, sometimes the intention of the language (or the perceived intention) matters more. And sometimes unambiguous language can become ambiguous, in the eyes of the reader.

    And thanks for clarifying that “courts of love” is not used here as a sly reference to the RfM interpretation.

  52. Harold,
    Regarding Marriner, he was subpeonaed to appear before the U.S. Senate, but was able to decline due to ill health and age. Taylor and Cowley just refused to show up, and thus were the low hanging fruit, like, I suppose, a concern over the word “Courts of Love”.

  53. Just because a term isn’t “correlated” (words are not correlated, however, by the Correlation Department) is no reason to assume its use, or assumed intended use, somehow is “derogatory.” “Mormon” of course was a derogatory term some time back, and remains so for many in U.S. religious communities. Most of the words we use on a daily basis are not “Correlated,” if only because Correlation requires vocabularly appropriate to a sixth-grade reading level. Inasmuch as one could, in fact, draw any conclusion from any word, if one is so inclined, one could find hidden meaning about speakers, intent, righteousness, in any word (see: underground; manifesto). The patrol of usage here is an instance of self-correlation, of course, of hyper-conservative censorship of vocabularly (or “register”) due, perhaps, to a fear of offending some higher-up leader, or of the way a word positions one in some imagined community, a process we will discuss eventually in this very series!

  54. Brad and Daymon,

    Good series. Looking forward to the next one. Nothing to add.

  55. Daymon, well said. Of course, all of this is an error given that correlation really means (X_i – bar(X))(Y_i_ – bar(Y))/SD(X)*SD(Y).

  56. JNS: gargle, spit. (grin)

  57. Ignorant Sage says:

    Like many others, I’m finding these posts incredibly illuminating. Many thanks.

  58. Stephanie says:

    If the church could survive all of that, then it can surely survive these last days. Interesting stuff. Thanks!

  59. Butch Bowman says:

    The more I learn about polygamy, the more I think Emma Hale was a better prophet than her husband or any of his successors.

  60. “Smoot really uses his sort of strange status as a senator without a seat and an apostle without a testimony and somehow manages to gain an immense amount of power in both spheres”.

    I know almost nothing about Smoot. I was interested by this sentence, though. Do you think you could explain how Smoot was “an apostle without a testimony”? Is there evidence that he was ‘apostate’? Is that even what you meant to say?


  61. jenni,
    Smoot said as much when he was made an apostle. He only went to the temple once before that date. Quinn has some good resources here, as does Jon Moyer’s dissertation (linked previously). Hugh Nibley had a much harsher assessment of Smoot (he caddied for Smoot), which was excised from his published works. I don’t say he was apostate, though he was very pragmatic and ambitious.

  62. Daymon (#49), you can’t establish mainstream usage by a couple of anecdotes. If it’s anecdotes you want, DavidH’s (#52) are better than JNS’s and support my point. Sure, some Mormons use the term in informal conversation, but it’s not a usage sanctioned within the mainstream LDS Church. The term is, at present, most popular and most widely used by people criticizing or ridiculing the Church. It is not a term you hear used on Sunday. The fact that the best references JNS pulled up in actual LDS sources were from two generations ago supports my point, not his. Brad (#12) seems to agree with this general point by giving a snarky quip rather than an actual response to my comment #11.

    The series is quite interesting, as are the parts of your dissertation that I’ve read. My “waste of time” remark is about commenting at BCC, not your series of posts.

  63. Dave,
    I don’t think it’s a waste of time. I can’t speak for you, but my ornery attitude in our exchange was largely a result of off blog issues I was dealing with and for which I made you a scapegoat. I do think we both could have done a much better job at making the interaction productive, but I offer sincere apologies for being a real ass.

  64. Dave, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism is not generations old; it’s widely used in the present. Why are my personal experiences worse than DavidH’s? I can see two plausible answers:

    1) You don’t like me, for reasons I have never worked out.

    2) DavidH’s perceptions fit with yours, which are in my experience out of sync with institutional church usage.

  65. Regarding the idea that “court of love” is unsanctioned usage among mainstream Mormons, is there evidence of this? Can anyone find a GA talk or an Ensign article instructing us to avoid the term?

  66. Thanks for the comment, Brad. Carry on the fine series.

    JNS, DavidH’s personal experience seems to cover a longer timespan than yours. That’s why his anecdote appears more persuasive than your anecdote. But I don’t think assessing the persuasiveness of this or that anecdote is going to settle the usage question.

    I don’t see how you can use the 1993 Encyclopedia of Mormonism article to support your contention. That article uses the term only once, USING SCARE QUOTES. Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of scare quotes: “In this application, quotation marks are placed around a single word or phrase to indicate that the word or phrase does not signify its literal or conventional meaning.” It seems pretty clear the quotes around the term in the EOM article were intended to signal the term was NOT a standard (i.e., conventional) reference to an LDS disciplinary proceeding, as the term bishop’s court might be. Which is what I’m saying, not what you’re saying.

  67. Dave, your reading has lead boots on! The text, which as we all know was published with full cooperation and facilitation of the church, says “formal disciplinary councils are considered “courts of love.”” The text specifically says that the councils are courts of love; you’re using punctuation to invalidate the express content of the sentence.

    Regarding timespans, that might be relevant if we were discussing whether people in the early 1990s, say, used courts of love more than they do now. But we’re not — we’re just talking about whether Mormons use the term in institutional contexts now. My evidence — as well as that of some others, both in this thread and in private conversation — suggests that at least in some parts of the church the term retains substantial currency. The anecdote proves that much.

  68. By the way, it’s at least plausible that the EoM quotes involve the use-mention distinction and not scare quotes.

  69. Steve Evans says:

    Dave, if we can’t turn to anecdotes as an indicator of usage, all hope is lost. I’ve heard the term used many times by faithful members in a non-pejorative way. I agree that it doesn’t appear to be a popular, correlated term – but I don’t think it’s exclusively used by antimormons, either. That several people have heard it in faithful contexts would seem to establish this.

    Also, this is a pretty lame thing to be arguing about, isn’t it?

    PS – totally agree that commenting here is a waste of time.

  70. But, Steve, it’s at least a fun way to waste 10 minutes while eating soy nuts and pondering the next draft of a paper…

  71. I now favor “courts of [deleted]”.
    I think the question of usage is probably a ‘both-right’, in that for some the term has pejorative connotation, and for others, neutral. That it has few supporters of positive connotation probably has more to do with the referent (hardly a positive experience for anyone involved) than the usage patterns. “Mainstream usage” is the problem, in that there is not space where that referent can be heard speaking; one can pull on this resource, that speaker, but the term ought not be used to sanction usage. If Dave feels like the term is negative, meaning, positions the speaker-writer relative to an imagined righteous axis, then fair enough. But there’s no reason to imagine one’s imagining maps out to reality, and thus, positions contraries as fringe, out-dated, etc.

  72. Aaron Brown says:

    For what it’s worth, I typically associate the phrase “courts of love” with a certain Paul Toscano’s hymn. Here’s Toscano’s lyrics, meant to be sung to “Court Your Blessings,” or “When Upon Life’s Billows”:

    “Summon all those members who have done research
    On the doctrines and the history of the church,
    Who’ve collected journals or whose thoughts seem odd,
    Mentioned plural marriage, or taught Adam-God

    Excommunicate them one by one,
    Or disfellowship them.
    It’s such fun.
    Church tribunals,
    Given from above,
    Even when in error
    They are courts of love.”

    But hey, maybe it’s just me. And I’m afraid this doesn’t shed definitive light on the debate surrounding this phrase.


  73. I enjoy Toscano’s hymns, Aaron. Thanks for the happy memory.

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