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An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 by Horace Greeley (1860)


Salt Lake City, July 18, 1859.

Since my interview with Brigham Young, I have enjoyed opportunities for studying the Mormons in their social or festive and in their devotional assemblies. Of private social intercourse—that is, intercourse between family and family —I judge that there is comparatively little here; between Mormons and Gentiles or strangers, of course still less. Their religious services (in the tabernacle) are much like those that may be shared or witnessed in the churches of most of our popular sects; the music rather better than you will hear in an average worshiping assemblage in the states; the prayers pertinent and full of unction; the sermons adapted to tastes or needs different from mine. They seemed to me rambling, dogmatic, and ill-digested; in fact, Elder Orson Pratt, who preached last Sunday morning, prefaced his harangue by a statement that he had been hard at work on his farm throughout the week, and labored under consequent physical exhaustion. Elder John Taylor (I believe he is one of the Twelve; at all events he is a high dignitary in the church, and a man of decided natural ability) spoke likewise in the afternoon with little or no premeditation. Now, I believe that every preacher should be also a worker; I like to see one mowing or pitching hay in his shirt-sleeves; and I hear with edification an unlettered but devout and earnest evangelist who, having worked a part of the week for the subsistence of his family, devotes the rest of it to preaching the gospel to small school-house or wayside gatherings of hearers, simply for the good of their souls. Let him only be sure to talk good sense, and I will excuse some bad grammar. But when a preacher is to address a congregation of one to three thousand persons, like that which assembles twice each sabbath in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, I insist that a due regard for the economy of time requires that he should prepare himself, by study and reflection, if not by writing, to speak directly to the point. This mortal life is too short and precious to be wasted in listening to rambling, loose-jointed harangues, or even to those which severally consume an hour in the utterance, when they might be boiled down and clarified until they were brought within the compass of half an hour each. A thousand half-hours, Reverend Sir! have you ever pondered their value? Suppose your time to be worth ten times that of an average hearer; still, to take an extra half-hour from a thousand hearers in order to save yourself ten or fifteen hours’ labor in the due and careful preparation of a sermon, is a scandalous waste, which I see not how to justify. Be entreated to repent and amend!

The two discourses to which I listened were each intensely and exclusively Mormon. That is, they assumed that the Mormons were God’s peculiar, chosen, beloved people, and that all the rest of mankind are out of the ark of safety and floundering in heathen darkness. I am not edified by this sort of preaching. It reminds me torcibly of the Pharisee’s prayer: “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are—unjust, extortioners,” etc. I do not think good men delight in this assumption of an exclusive patent for the grace of God; and I am quite sure it is not well adapted to the transformation of bad men into good. It is too well calculated to puff up its disciples with self-conceit and spiritual pride. That Jesus Christ is about to re-appear on the earth in all the pomp and splendor of a mighty conqueror—that he will then proceed to take vengeance on his enemies (mankind in general, whether heathen or nominally Christians) and to glorify his elect (the Latter-Day Saints or Mormons) were treated by the Tabernacle preachers as propositions too self-evident to need demonstration. Having thus chastised his enemies and “gathered his elect from the four winds of heaven,” the Saviour is to reign over them here on earth for a thousand years; at the end of which period, they are together to be transferred to heaven. Of course, I had heard the like of this before; but it always seems to me a very gross and wooden perversion of the magnificent imagery whereby the Bible foreshadows a great spiritual transformation. The spirit of the Mormon religion appears to me Judaic rather than Christian; and I am well assured that Heber C. Kimball, one of the great lights of the church, once said in conversation with a Gentile—“I do pray for my enemies: I pray that they may all go to hell.” Neither from the pulpit nor elsewhere have I heard from a Mormon one spontaneous, hearty recognition of the essential brotherhood of the human race—one generous prayer for the enlightenment and salvation of all mankind. On the other hand, I have been distinctly given to understand that my interlocutors expect to sit on thrones and to bear rule over multitudes in the approaching kingdom of God. In fact, one sincere, devout man has to-day assigned that to me as a reason for polygamy; he wants to qualify himself, by ruling a large and diversified family here, for bearing rule over his principality in the “new earth,” that he knows to be at hand. I think he might far better devote a few years to pondering Christ’s saying to this effect, “He who would be least in the kingdom of heaven, the same shall be greatest.”

I was undeceived with regard to the Book of Mormon. I had understood that it is now virtually discarded, or at least neglected, by the church in its services and ministrations. But Elder Pratt gave us a synopsis of its contents, and treated it throughout as of equal authority and importance with the Old and New Testaments. He did not read from it, however, but from Malaechi, and quoted text after text from the prophets, which he cited as predictions of the writing and discovery of this book.

The congregation consisted, at either service of some fifteen hundred to two thousand persons—more in the morning than the afternoon. A large majority of them (not including the elders and chief men, of whom a dozen or so were present) were evidently of European birth; I think a majority of the males were past the meridian of life. All gave earnest heed to the exercises throughout; in fact, I have seldom seen a more devout and intent assemblage. I had been told that the Mormons were remarkably ignorant, superstitious, and brutalized; but the aspect of these congregations did not sustain that assertion. Very few rural congregations would exhibit more heads evincing decided ability;. and I doubt whether any assemblage, so largely European in its composition, would make a better appearance. Not that Europeans are less intellectual or comely than Americans; but our emigrants are mainly of the poorer classes; and poverty, privation, and rugged toil, plow hard, forbidding lines in the human countenance elsewhere than in Utah. Brigham Young was not present at either service.

Do I regard the great body of these Mormons as knaves and hypocrites? Assuredly not. I do not believe there was ever a religion whereof the great mass of the adherents were not honest and sincere. Hypocrites and knaves there are in all sects; it is quite possible that some of the magnates of the Mormon Church regard this so-called religion (with all others) as a contrivance for the enslavement and fleecing of the many, and the aggrandizement of the few; but I cannot believe that a sect, so considerable and so vigorous as the Mormon, was ever founded in conscious imposture, or built up on any other basis than that of earnest conviction. If the projector, and two or three of his chief confederates are knaves, the great body of their followers were dupes.

Nor do I accept the current Gentile presumption, that the Mormons are an organized banditti—a horde of robbers and assassins. Thieves and murderers mainly haunt the purlieus of great cities, or hide in caverns and forests adjacent to the great routes of travel. But when the Mormon leaders decided to set up their Zion in these parched mountain vales and cañons, the said valleys were utterly secluded and remote from all Gentile approach—away from any mail-route or channel of emigration. That the Mormons wished to escape Gentile control, scrutiny, jurisprudence, is evident; that they meant to abuse their inaccessibility, to the detriment and plunder of wayfarers, is not credible.

Do I, then, discredit the tales of Mormon outrages and crime—of the murder of the Parrishes, the Mountain Meadow massacre, etc. etc.—wherewith the general ear has recently been shocked? No, I do not. Some of these may have been fabricated by Gentile malice— others are doubtless exaggerated—but there is some basis of truth for the current Gentile conviction that the Mormons have robbed, mained, and even killed persons in this territory, under circumstances which should subject the perpetrators to condign punishment, but that Mormon witnesses, grand jurors, petit jurors, and magistrates determinedly screen the guilty. I deeply regret the necessity of believing this; but the facts are incontestable. That a large party of emigrants —not less than eighty-from Arkansas to California, were foully massacred at Mountain Meadows in September, 1857, more immediately by Indians, but under the direct inspiration and direction of the Mormon settlers in that vicinity—to whom, and not to the savages, the emigrants had surrendered, after a siege, on the strength of assurances that their lives at least should be spared—is established by evidence that cannot (I think) be invalidated—the evidence of conscience-smitten partakers in the crime, both Indian and ex-Mormon, and of children of the slaughtered emigrants, who were spared as too young to be dangerous even as witnesses, and of whom the great majority have been sent down to the states as unable to give testimony; but two boys are retained here as witnesses, who distinctly remember that their parents surrendered to white men, and that these white men at best did not attempt to prevent their perfidious massacre. These children, moreover, were all found in the possession of Mormons—not one of them in the hands of Indians; and, though the Mormons say they ransomed them from the hands of Indians, the children deny it, saying that they never lived with, nor were in the keeping of savages; and the Indians bear concurrent testimony. So in the Parrish case: the fanlily had been Mormons, but had apostatized—and undertook to return to the states; they were warned that they would be killed if they persisted in that resolution; they did persist, and were killed. Of course, nobody will ever be convicted of their murder; but those who warned them of the fate on which they were rushing know why they were killed, and could discover, if they would, who killed them.

The vital fact in the case is just this: The great mass of these people, as a body, mean to be honest, just, and humane; but they are, before and above all things else, Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons. They devoutly believe that they are God’s peculiar and especial people, doing His work, up-building His kingdom, and basking in the sunshine of His peculiar favor. Whoever obstructs or impedes them in this work, then, is God’s enemny, who must be made to get out of the way of the establishment of Chirist’s kingdom on earth—made to do so by lawful and peaceful means if possible, but by any means that may ultimately be found necessary. The Parrishes were apostates; had they been allowed to pursue their journey to the states, they would have met many Saints coming up the road, whose minds they would have troubled if not poisoned; and they would have told stories after reaching their destination which would have deepened the general prejudice against the Saints; so the up-building and well-being of Christ’s kingdom required that they should die. The Arkansas emigrants slaughtered at Mountain-Meadows, had in some way abused the Saints, or interposed obstacles to the progress of God’s work, and they were consequently given over to destruction. Far be it from me to hint that one-fifth, one-tenth, one-twentieth, of the Mormons ever bore any part in these bloody deeds, or even know to this day that they were perpetrated. The great body of the Saints undoubtingly believe all the current imputations of Mormon homicide and outrage to be abominable calumnies. Many of the highest dignitaries of the church may be included in this number. But there are men in the church who know that they are not calumnies—who know that Gentiles and apostates have been killed for the church’s and for Christ’s sake, and who firmly believe that they ought to have been. I grieve to say it, but I hold these more consistent and logical Mormons than their innocent and unsuspicious brethren. For if I were a Latter-Day Saint, undoubtingly believing all opposers of the Mormon Church to be God’s enemies, obnoxious to His wrath and curse, and powerfully obstructing the rescue of souls from eternal perdition and torture, I should be strongly impelled to help put those opposers of God’s purposes out of the way of sending any more immortal souls to everlasting fire. I should feel it my duty so to act, as a lover of God and man. And I confidently predict that not one Mormon who has killed a Gentile or apostate under a like view of his duty will ever be fairly convicted in this territory. No jury can be drawn here, unless in flagrant defiance of territorial laws, which is not mainly composed of Mormons; and no such jury will convict a Mormon of crime for any act done in behalf of God’s kingdom—that is, of the Mormon church.

I ask, then, the advocates of “popular sovereignty” in the territories to say what they propose to do in the premises. How do they intend to adapt their principle to the existing state of facts? They have superseded Brigham Young, with a full knowledge that at least nine-tenths of the people of Utah earnestly desired his retention as governor. They have sent hither a batch of judges, who would like to earn their salaries; but the Mormon legislature devotes its sessions principally to the work of crippling and fettering these judges, so that they shall remain here as mere dummies or be driven into resignation. Their juries are all drawn for them by Mormon officials, under regulations which virtually exclude all but Mormons from each panel; it is a violation of all the laws of Utah to cite in argument before any judge or jury here the decisions of any court—even the supreme court of the United States—but the courts of Utah; so that even the Dred Scott decision could not lawfully be cited here in a fugitive slave case; in short, the federal judiciary, the federal executive, and the federal army, as now existing in Utah, are three transparent shams—three egregious farces; they are costing the treasury very large sums to no purpose; and the sooner the governor, marshal, judges, etc., resign, and the army is withdrawn, the better for all but a handful of contractors. “Popular sovereignty” has such full swing here that Brigham Young carries the territory in his breeches’ pocket without a shadow of opposition; he governs without responsibility to either law or public opinion; for there is no real power here but that of “the church,” and he is practically the church. The church is rich, and is hourly increasing in wealth; the church settles all civil controversies which elsewhere cause lawsuits; the church spends little or nothing, yet rules everything; while the federal government, though spending two or three millions per annum here, and keeping up a fussy parade of authority, is powerless and despised. If, then, we are to have “popular sovereignty” in the territories, let us have it pure and without shams. Let Brigham be reappointed governor; withdraw the present federal office-holders and army; open shorter and better roads to California through the country north of Bridger; and notify the emigrants that, if they choose to pass through Utah, they will do so at their own risk. Let the Mormons have the territory to themselves—it is worth very little to others, but reduce its area by cutting off Carson Valley on the one side, and making a Rocky Mountain territory on the other, and then let them go on their way rejoicing. I believe this is not only by far the cheapest but the safest and best mode of dealing with the difficulties already developed and daily developing here, unless the notion of “popular sovereignty” in the territories is to be utterly exploded and given up. “Popular Sovereignty” in a territory is a contradiction in terms; but “popular sovereignty” in a territory backed by a thousand sharp federal bayonets and a battery of flying artillery, is too monstrous a futility, too transparent a swindle, to be much longer upheld or tolerated.

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