Brad: So to this point we’ve basically laid some important historical groundwork. We began in the 1880s on the Underground and ended last time roughly three decades later with the implementation of disciplinary hearings. These historical developments entailed some really difficult, complicated, entangled issues involving authority, priesthood, the relationship between polygamous and monogamous Mormons in the wake of the 1904 Manifesto, etc. The whole idea is that by the time we actually get around to the emergence of what we can today recognize as Correlation—that process doesn’t really make a lot of sense in a vacuum. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere, and the more we understand the issues that LDS leaders faced at the time in their efforts to transform Mormonism into a “modern” religion and church, and especially a post-polygamous church, the more the rise of Correlation will make a kind of historical and logical sense, as a particular response to a particular set of concerns and difficulties.
Daymon: So there is a lot of preparation we have to do, mainly because we don’t want to make the mistake of assuming that the Church was already Correlated, so all they had to do was formally introduce a new program called Correlation and since everyone was already Correlated, it just sort of seamlessly came into being from top to bottom. But if you work backwards historically, you see that you’re dealing with a very, um, uncorrelated group of people. Particularly by about 1910. By this point there are enormous amounts of confusion over priesthood, keys, authority, authorization, etc. Nobody’s exactly sure what priesthood is necessary to perform these sealings, and, more importantly, who has it.
Brad: And on a more basic level, it’s not at all clear what the nature of the relationship is between “mainstream”, monogamous Mormons and polygamous Mormons. Also, what the relationship of the latter is to something called “the Church.” When you look back at this stuff through the lens of today’s contemporary paradigm, it seems like it should have been rather simple: just excommunicate the people who don’t fall into line, end of story. But the reality on the ground was far from that simple.
Daymon: Well, it’s certainly not as simple as the president of the Church or Quorum of the Twelve think it will be. They’ve decided that this is going to be the new direction that Mormonism is going to take. But, as we mentioned in an earlier discussion, even within the Quorum of the Twelve, there was a great deal of suspicion and distrust, as well as uncertainty as to who was responsible for what.
Brad: Who, among my fellow quorum members, is involved in this enterprise that we’re supposed to be investigating and stamping out?
Daymon: Right. And it was pretty clear that the FP, and particularly Joseph F. Smith, didn’t want anything to do with any of it. He, I think by that time, was more or less powerless in the Church. Maybe that’s a strong statement to make, but the real strength that is running the Q12 is Francis Lyman.
Brad: And Lyman has some protégés or subordinates that are also emerging as powerful figures, like Heber J. Grant.
Daymon: Grant has always kind of done his own thing, at least up until this point, and he seems pretty well convinced that polygamy in the Church has to stop. And they can’t just keep issuing manifestos or public condemnations.
Brad: That doesn’t really work, because, as we discussed earlier, you have these competing discursive norms, particularly regarding the reading and interpreting of statements that circulate in public space. They’re being read differently by different groups, so there’s, again, this kind of irony that if you’re a Church leader who wants to jettison polygamy, adamantly and forcefully, once and for all, the more insistent you are, the more likely that your statements will be read by polygamists as an implicit kind of wink-wink endorsement of their continued, once-again-underground, in-the-wilderness practice of this eternal, celestial law.
Daymon: And it wasn’t just a matter of these guys being crazy or stubborn or obtuse or lustful—I mean, they may have been some or all of these things—but they certainly had plenty of evidence to back up their taking of rather broad interpretive privilege with regard to all of these publicly issued statements. Why wouldn’t they read them as a smokescreen meant to indemnify Church leaders? These statements, including the manifestos, are basically addressing “to whom it may concern.” Whereas in these secret meetings that polygamists are having, say, after a stake conference, there was plenty of evidence, and many more rumors to the effect that True Mormons would continue to practice this divine law, covertly if necessary, and with the secret, tacit approval of the FP and Q12. Any formal gestures that leaders are making about ending polygamy were just that: gestures.
Brad: Acts of self-protection. They would publicly distance themselves from it to provide cover not just for them but for the secret polygamists who would continue the sacred work.
Daymon: So by 1910-12, however, it’s becoming fairly clear that certain voices in the Q12 are going to carry the day and they are going to start excommunicating people, or at least discipline them in some form. Among them, Judson Tolman, a patriarch, was excommunicated for performing plural marriages. He was one of these ancient, almost Biblical patriarchs, an old old man who, I think, really wasn’t too sure what exactly was going on at this point, during his inquisition. But his replacement was a man named John Woolley.
Brad: Ah-ha! The first appearance of a very, very important name. But before we move into a fuller conversation about the Woolleys, I want to re-emphasize a couple of things form our last discussion. First, the implementation of the courts, basically an investigative, potentially punitive, disciplinary body, composed of Q12 members who are trying to use the process, including threatened punishments, to sometimes bully rank-and-file folks to turn over the names of bigger fish, men higher up the ecclesiastical chain of command. It’s becoming a very messy, complicated enterprise, there’s all kinds of talking past one another, missed meanings, communicative breakdown.
Second, we have a very high profile act of discipline carried out against a very high profile individual, where in the wake of the public embarrassment of the Smoot Hearings, when all this stuff is forced in all its ugliness back to the surface, John W. Taylor, the former prophet’s son and an outspoken partisan of continued polygamy, is expelled from the Q12, but not stripped of either his priesthood or his apostleship or Church membership. I want to spend a bit of time here talking about Elder Taylor’s own experience of being summoned to appear at a disciplinary council of his own.
Daymon: Alright. So John W. Taylor, of course, had not been sustained as a Q12 member—they just omitted his name from the sustaining during the Church general conference—and was officially regarded as being “out of step with his brethren.” There was a lot of friction between Taylor and Francis Lyman, and Taylor and Smoot, and Taylor and Grant, Taylor and pick-a-name, really. He was clearly cut from the same cloth as his father, once his mind was set in one direction, he was not going to budge. And his mind was set on polygamy, and its continuation.
Brad. And it wasn’t just that Taylor had plural wives, it was that he was out authorizing new marriages.
Daymon: Certainly he has any number of means for defending himself against a charge that he is “out of step” or a rogue apostle. He was a key figure in establishing the colonies in Canada, which are clearly there in no small part for the continuation of polygamy. He also plays a role in Mexico. And he knows that other apostles and even church presidents are quietly going along with him. He’s got plenty of reasons for doing what he’s doing. The problem for him is that Lyman has, in time, finally managed to get a number of other apostles over to his side, against Taylor. They issue a number of subpoenas for him to appear before the Q12. At first he doesn’t respond. Eventually he shows up, and after cursing George A. Smith with health problems—and Smith did have ensuing problems with physical and mental health—and after demanding that Joseph F. call up the Council of Fifty in his defense—a request which Joseph F. basically scoffs at—after all this, Taylor is basically on his own. Cowley, who was his good friend and partner…
Brad: Also expelled from the Q12 at the same time…
Daymon: …right, they had both suffered the same indignities, but Cowley had already submitted.
Brad: He’d repented, admitted what he’d done, etc.
Daymon: And they actually didn’t have a lot of evidence against Cowley. Patriarch Tolman had said that he was involved. And while they probably had more against Cowley in terms of encouraging others to do it than they did against Taylor, Taylor is obviously taking new wives. Even after 1904. They had been slowly relocating the timeline for when new plural wives were and weren’t acceptable—of course 1890 was the official one, but no one really followed it, 1899 from Snow, but no one really followed that, 1904, 1905—so they keep sort of sliding the timeline for when you could last have taken a plural wife legitimately, closer and closer to the present. But Taylor was clearly not paying attention to any of these timelines. And throughout all these hearings with all these men of lower ranks, they had garnered a critical mass of suspicion and corroboration among the apostles that Taylor was really the guy behind all this. And it’s important to keep in mind as well that Taylor had real enemies in the Q12, for reasons that went well beyond polygamy. Finances were a big issue—Taylor was convinced that the majority of the trouble that had come upon the Church over polygamy was really because the Church was involved in all these business ventures, and that judgment was taken as a direct condemnation of Heber J. Grant and Lyman, as well as Joseph F.
Brad: Certainly Smoot.
Daymon: Yeah. So Taylor is taking an increasingly hard line that polygamy cannot be renounced, and he’s insisting that the only reason he’s in trouble is that these other guys were making a bunch of money, getting themselves entangled in finances, which, from his perspective, they never should have done.
Brad: Which in turn entangles them with other economic actors, which entangles them with American politics, and basically, from his point of view, the Church leaders are sliding pretty quickly toward apostasy. He sees himself as the only one with any kind of principles left, and this is not just about polygamy.
Daymon: And even though later Fundamentalists would try to assume the mantle of his legacy and come to him trying to get him to be the prophet of their movement, try to get him to start a schismatic group, Taylor refused to do it. He never, as far as I know, spoke out publicly against any of these guys. He certainly never took the stance that the Gospel had been taken from the earth or the priesthood was gone or the Church was in apostasy, although privately he certainly had reservations about the course that the Q12 had taken with respect to polygamy as well as business and politics.
Brad: So Taylor finally shows up for one of these hearings to stand trial, you mentioned any number of “dramatic acts”—demanding the Council of Fifty be called up, cursing other apostles—but there’s another really important dramatic act on Taylor’s part, one which kind of brings the conversation to a halt, at least for a while.
Daymon: So he asks them and there’s some discussion about a supposed revelation, dated 26-27 September 1886.
Brad: From his father.
Daymon: Right. He says that he found this among his father’s papers when he died in 1887. Taylor had mentioned this revelation of his father’s before, and there had been revelations prior to 1886 that basically said the same thing. What they say, of course, is that the Lord will not revoke His commandment, His law cannot be removed from among the people, that they have and will always have to practice celestial, plural marriage. However you wanted to designate it—plural marriage, celestial marriage, the patriarchal order, the Works of Abraham, the new and everlasting covenant, the true order of marriage—this was the foundation for building up a radically different kind of religious community. Taylor, during the hearing, kind of plays this as his trump card. For him, this revelation explains everything that anyone needs to know.
Brad: So he has a copy of it with him.
Daymon: Yes. He had a copy of the original, but just a handwritten copy with him. This was news to some of the apostles, including, especially, David O. McKay. Some of these newer guys who had been brought in recently, with no experience on the 1880s Underground, and who were really on the vanguard of understanding these “new polygamists” as being apostates, or at least very, very confused.
Brad: These guys had never themselves been polygamists, didn’t understand the Underground.
Daymon: As far as they were concerned, what was said publicly was the true story.
Brad: Young Utahns. Not really cut from a crop that was steeped in pioneer era Mormonism, but part of a more modern-thinking generation.
Daymon: And at the bottom of it all, they have very different ideas about language. Someone who had grown up in one Mormon universe, say a close friend of John W. Taylor’s, wouldn’t have considered something like a cursing all that strange. Probably would have believed that it would really work. Nor would they have passed moral or ethical judgment on saying one thing in public but doing something else in private when necessary.
Brad: It wasn’t subversive or evil, just smart and strategic.
Daymon. Just necessary. But for these new apostles who are now encountering the wrath of John W. Taylor—he’s a firebrand anyway, but he’s really mad about even being trotted in there in the first place—and he’s alone facing the entire quorum. And in some sense he just takes it. He initially comes out of the encounter feeling vindicated, confident that he’s right.
Brad: He practically slams down the revelation on the table and says “well, what do you make of this?!” as he storms out of the room.
Daymon: It does weaken, at least for the moment, the firm foundation that many of the apostles believe their position to be grounded on. Really, that first day he comes out feeling pretty good.
Brad: He feels victorious, like he’s laid down a trump card that they simply cannot counter.
Daymon: And of course there are quorum members who knew that the 1890 manifesto was not, at the time, regarded as a revelation—Joseph F. Smith had said as much—so the fact that they now have in front of them something that has all the trappings of a legitimate revelation, addressed to John Taylor, from the Lord, clearly stating that this thing cannot ever be taken away. But Taylor’s momentum that day was mostly just a function of the surprise card-up-the-sleeve, as well as Taylor’s own personal charisma and rhetorical fire.
Brad: So he walks out swaggering, thinking the whole affair is over and done, but he’s going to have to come back for another hearing.
Daymon: They bring him back several times. And each time just seems to irritate him even more, like how is there even a question at this point? He figures that he’s got this revelation from his father, end of story.
Brad: And what happens is subsequent meetings isn’t that they come up with something to counter the revelation, no clever new counterargument, what happens instead is that they just sort of totally disregard it, pretend it’s not a part of the conversation.
Daymon: They focus on what for them is the sticking point, which is that after 1904 you just can’t have new wives anymore. Period. Which he clearly did. And he didn’t deny it. So they had him on that. And of course they excommunicated him. And he dies, 5 or 6 years later, of cancer. And on his death bed he says that he’s going to tell the Lord to call Francis Lyman to account for what he had done. He had really ruined Taylor’s reputation, his standing in the Church and within Mormondom. As they had done to Moses Thatcher, to some degree even to B. H. Roberts, to Matthias Cowley. But Taylor really had suffered the brunt of it, and from his perspective he hadn’t done anything that he didn’t have approval to do, that he hadn’t been told to do. So Taylor will come to be held up as a martyr for polygamists, for fundamentalists, for all these guys who are being excommunicated through these courts of [deleted], and they’d often come in and ask him to head up their authentic Mormon movement.
Brad: These hearings, these courts and excommunications, just the sheer numbers are starting to make it clear to polygamist Mormons that Church leaders are no longer winking at them.
Daymon: And a lot of them weren’t excommunicated for taking plural wives, which nowadays would be called adultery. Joseph W. Musser, son of Amos M. Musser who had been an assistant Church historian working with Joseph F. and Joseph Fielding Smith as well as Roberts—Joseph Musser was one of these guys exposed by the Tribune as having taken a plural wife, he got hauled in front of the Q12, and gets “disfellowshipped”, but then sent on a mission to India.
Brad: So he wasn’t excommunicated.
Daymon: Not at all. I don’t know anyone who would regard being sent on a mission as a form of excommunication.
Brad: But he is out of the picture, so to speak.
Daymon: So the newspapers no longer have anything to crow about.
Brad: Now, we’ll be returning to Musser’s career shortly. But I want to return, now, you mentioned a patriarch named Tolman, exed for performing plural marriages. He’s replaced as patriarch by a man named Woolley.
Daymon: I don’t actually recall if he was excommunicated or just removed as patriarch. He was a very old man, and they probably didn’t excommunicate the poor guy. He was totally one of these old-school guys who was certain the entire hearing that he was just being rigorously tested. He put up a lot of resistance, which tended to enrage guys like Grant and Lyman, but in the end they went a bit soft on him. Now, Woolley, his replacement, will himself be called in front of the Q12 in 1914 and excommunicated for performing plural sealings in the Salt Lake Temple. This is four years after the initial bout of hearings had more or less run their course in 1910-11. And they find that, yet again, it’s the same damn story.
Brad: Literally the guy in the same position, playing the same role.
Daymon: And Lyman gets a statement from him to the effect that Lyman’s old nemesis, Matthias Cowley, is the one telling him to do this. So Woolley, at this point, has pinned everything on Cowley, as he was supposed to do, as Lyman wanted him to do, and it seems like once Cowley’s influence is curtailed, that’s probably going to be the end of it. There might be occasional pockets, but it’s going to cease being an endemic problem. And there’s this sense that the most stubborn generation is old enough that the problem will basically die with them. I mean, it’s been 3 or 4 decades now since the Underground, these guys are old. So at that point, it seemed like Fundamentalism as we now know it, had died before it was really born. They had managed to stamp it out.
Brad: John Woolley is super old, and seen as representative of the last, aging holdouts.
Daymon: He’s one of the last of the originals. He was one of John Taylor’s bodyguards on the Underground.
Brad: So back then he had been a part of the Underground in the most profound sense, including this mysterious 1886 revelation about plural marriage. He shared Taylor’s really recalcitrant thinking, was a witness to all of it, but he’s just getting so old that Church leaders just think that this will all sort of die a natural death. What people don’t anticipate, however, is what happens with the next generation. Because Woolley has a son.
Daymon: So John Woolley’s son Lorin Woolley comes to him later and says, “dad, you didn’t really get your authority to perform sealings from Matthias Cowley, did you?” And he says, “well, no I guess I didn’t.” So now the pertinent question is, “where did John Woolley get his authority?” So John Woolley goes and issues an affidavit saying that he wasn’t of a sound mind when he made his admissions to Francis Lyman about Cowley. This doesn’t really redeem Cowley’s reputation at this point, but at least some of the formal evidence against Cowley is in question. But the question still stands: Where did John Woolley get the authority to perform sealings? And Lorin Woolley kind of rides to the rescue with the solution, a new story…
Brad: A story that ties to John W. Taylor’s trump card.
In Part 5 we’ll discuss the rise of Mormon Fundamentalism.