GEORGE Q. CANNON
HISTORY BEHIND ISSUANCE OF THE MANIFESTO
On the 19th of January, 1841, the Lord gave His servant Joseph Smith a
revelation, the 49th paragraph of which I will read:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any
of the sons of men, to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might,
and with all they have, to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies
come upon them, and hinder them from performing that work; behold, it behooveth me to require
that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings."
The Lord says other things connected with this, which I do not think it
necessary to read, but the whole revelation is profitable, and can be read by those who desire
to do so.
It is on this basis that President Woodruff has felt himself justified
in issuing this manifesto.
I suppose it would not be justice to this Conference not to say something
upon this subject; and yet everyone knows how delicate a subject it is, and how difficult it is
to approach it without saying something that may offend somebody. So far as I am concerned, I
can say that of the men in this Church who have endeavored to maintain this principle of plural
marriage, I am one. In public and in private I have avowed my belief in it. I have defended it
everywhere and under all circumstances, and when it was necessary have said that I considered the
command was binding and imperative upon me.
But a change has taken place. We have, in the first place, endeavored to
show that the law which affected this feature of our religion was unconstitutional. We believed
for years that the law of July 1, 1862, was in direct conflict with the first amendment to the
Constitution, which says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." We rested upon that, and for years continued the
practice of plural marriage, believing the law against it to be an unconstitutional one, and that
we had the right, under the Constitution, to carry out this principle practically in our lives.
So confident was I in relation to this view that in conversations with President Grant, and with
his Attorney General, ex-Senator Williams, of Oregon, I said to them that if my case were not barred
by the statute of limitations I would be willing to have it made a test case, in order that the law
might be tested. We were sustained in this view not only by our own interpretation of the amendment
to the Constitution, but also by some of the best legal minds in the country, who took exactly the
same view that we did--that this law was an interference with religious rights, and that so long as
our practices did not interfere with the happiness and peace of society, or of others, we had the
right to carry out this principle.
In fact, it is within six or eight months that, in conversation with two
United States Senators, each conversation being separate from the other, both of them expressed
themselves, though not in the same language, to this effect: "Mr. Cannon, if this feature that
you practice had not been associated with religion, it might have been tolerated; but you have
associated it with religion and it has aroused the religious sentiment of the nation, and that
sentiment cannot be resisted. So far as the practice itself is concerned, if you had not made it
a part of your faith and an institution sanctioned by religion, it might have gone along
unnoticed." I do not give the exact language; but these are the ideas that they conveyed to me.
Now, we were very confident that this law was an unconstitutional one. President Daniel H. Wells
will remember how he and I tried to get a case to test the constitutionality of the law during the
lifetime of President Brigham Young. We wanted to get Brother Erastus Snow. It is the last thing
that we should have thought of to put a man like he was in the gap if we had not been firmly
convinced that the law was unconstitutional and would be declared so by the United States Supreme
We telegraphed to Brother Erastus in the south, thinking that his case would
not be barred by the statute of limitations. He replied to us concerning it, and we found that it
was barred. Brother A. M. Musser proposed himself, if I remember aright, to be a test case; but
there was a defect in his case. We wanted this case, whenever it was presented, to be presented
fairly, that there should be no evasion about it, but that it should be a case that could be tested
fairly before the courts of the country. Finally, Brother George Reynolds was selected. I said
to myself, when I learned the result, "it is the last time that I will ever have anything to do
with a test case again which will involve the liberty of anybody." I was promised when he was
sentenced, by one high in authority and who had the right to make the promise, that he should be
released, when the circumstances were told to him; for they were laid fairly before him, and he was
told that the evidence had been furnished by Brother Reynolds himself, and that everything had been
done to make it a test case; the government had been aided in the securing of witnesses, and no
difficulty thrown in the way. Afterwards, on the second trial, I believe Brother Reynolds' lawyers
got frightened, and there was something occurred then that gave it a different appearance. But when
the facts were related, as I stated, to one high in authority, he promised me that George Reynolds
should be pardoned. There were those, however, in this city who were determined that he should not
escape imprisonment, and the prosecuting attorney wrote a letter which changed the mind of this high
official, as he afterward told me, and he declined to carry out that which I had received as a
promise. But even then there were circumstances connected with this decision that made us reluctant
to accept it.
Since that time the history of proceedings is before you and before the world.
We have felt as though this command of God was of such importance to us, involving so many serious
consequences, that we should do all in our power to have the world know the position that we occupied.
There may be men among us who believed they would be damned if they did not obey this, accepting it as
a direct command from God. Therefore, you can understand how tenaciously we have protested, and how
vigorously we have endeavored, as far as we could, to make public our views upon this subject.
I suppose there are two classes here today in this congregation--one class who
feels sorrow to the bottom of their hearts because of the necessity of this action that we have now
taken; another class who will say: "Did I not tell you so?" "Did I not tell you it would come to
this?" "Did I not say to you that you ought to take advantage of and comply with this years ago,
instead of enduring that which you have suffered since that time?" There may be men here today who
pride themselves on their foresight, and who take credit to themselves because they foresaw, as they
allege, that which we have done today, and would lead others to believe that if their counsel had been
adopted, if the views that they presented had been accepted by the people, it might have saved very
serious consequences to us all and left us in a better position than that which we occupy today. But
I, for one, differ entirely with this view. I believe that it was necessary that we should witness
unto God, the Eternal Father, unto the heavens and unto the earth, that this was really a principle
dear unto us--dearer, it might be said, in some respects, than life itself. We could not have done
this had we submitted at the time that those of whom I speak suggested submission. We could not have
left our own nation without excuse. It might have said, "Had we known all that you tell us now
concerning this, we should have had very different views about this feature of your religion than we
But now, after the occurrences of the past six years have been witnessed by this
entire nation and by the world, and by God the Eternal Father and the heavenly hosts, no one can plead
as an excuse that they have been ignorant of our belief and the dearness of this principle to us.
Upwards of thirteen hundred men have been incarcerated in prison, going there for various terms from
one or three months up to years. They have gone there willingly, as martyrs to this principle, making
a protest that the heavens and the earth should bear record of, that they were conscientious in
espousing this principle, and that it was not for sensual indulgence, because if sensual indulgence had
been the object we could have obtained it without such sacrifices as were involved in obedience to
this law--without going to prison, without sustaining wives and children, without the obloquy that has
been heaped upon us because of this action of ours. If licentious motives had prompted us, we could
have secured the results in a cheaper way and in a way more in consonance with universal customs
throughout our own land and all Christendom. But the sacrifices that we have made in this respect bear
testimony to the heavens and to the earth that we have been sincere and conscientious in all that we
have done, and that we have not been prompted by a desire to use women for lustful purposes, but to
save them, to make them honorable, and to leave no margin of women in our society to become a pray to
lust, so that every woman in our land should have the opportunity of becoming a virtuous wife and an
honored mother, loved and respected by her offspring and by all her associates.
If no other result has attended what may be termed our obstinacy, these results are, at least, upon record, and they never can be blotted out. The imprisonment of these men, the sufferings--the untold, unwritten, yea, the unmentionable, it may be said, sufferings--of wives and children, they are recorded in heaven and are known to men upon the earth, and they form a chapter that will never be blotted out.
Latter-day Saints, there has been nothing lost in the five years that have just passed. We have lost no credit. There has been no honor sacrificed. We can look God in the face--that is, if we are permitted to do so, so far as this is concerned, we can; we can look the holy angels in the face; we can look mankind in the face, without a blush, or without feeling that we have done anything unworthy of our manhood or of our professions and the faith that God has given unto us. This all of us can do; and if no other result has followed what may be called our obstinacy than these which I now describe they are grand enough to pay us for all that we have gone through.
But the time has come when, in the providence of God, it seemed necessary that something should be done to meet the requirements of the country, to meet the demands that have been made upon us, and to save the people. President Woodruff and others of us have been appealed to hundreds of times, I might say;--I can say for myself, that I have been appealed to many scores of times to get out something and to announce something. Some of our leading brethren have said: "Inasmuch as we have ceased to give permission for plural marriages to be solemnized, why cannot we have the benefit of that? Why cannot we tell the world it, so as to have the benefit of it? Our enemies are alleging constantly that we still practice this in secret, and that we are dishonest and guilty of evasion. Now, if we have really put a stop to granting permissions to men to take more wives than one, why should not the world know it and we have the advantage of it?" These remarks have been made to us repeatedly. But at no time has the Spirit seemed to indicate that this should be done.
We have waited for the Lord to move in the matter; and on the 24th of September, President Woodruff made up his mind that he would write something, and he had the spirit of it. He had prayed about it and had besought God repeatedly to show him what to do. At that time the Spirit came upon him, and the document that has been read in your hearing was the result. I know that it was right, much as it has gone against the grain with me in many respects, because many of you know the contest we have had upon this point. But when God speaks, and when God makes known His mind and will, I hope that I and all Latter-day Saints will bow in submission to it. When that document was prepared it was submitted. But, as is said in this motion that has been made, President Woodruff is the only man upon the earth who holds the keys of the sealing power. These Apostles all around me have all the same authority that he has. We are all ordained with the same ordination. We all have had the same keys and the same powers bestowed upon us. But there is an order in the Church of God, and that order is that there is only one man at a time on the earth who holds the keys of sealing, and that man is the President of the Church, now Wilford Woodruff. Therefore, he signed that document himself. Some have wondered and said, "Why didn't his Counselors sign? Why didn't others sign?" Well, I give you the reason--because he is the only man on the earth that has this right, and he exercised it, and he did this with the approval of all of us to whom the matter was submitted, after he had made up his mind, and we sustained it; for we had made it a subject of prayer also, that God would direct us.
There never was a time in this Church when I believe the leading men of this Church have endeavored to live nearer to God, because they have seen the path in which we walked environed with difficulties, beset with all manner of snares, and we have had the responsibility resting upon us of your salvation, to a certain extent. God has chosen us, not we ourselves, to be the shepherds of His flock. We have not sought this responsibility. You know Wilford Woodruff too well to believe that he would seek such an office as he now fills. I trust you know the rest of us sufficiently to believe the same concerning us. I have shrunk from the Apostleship. I have shrunk from being a member of the First Presidency. I felt that if I could get my salvation in any other way, I prayed God that He would give it to me, after He revealed to me that I would be an Apostle, when I was comparatively a child; and I have had that feeling ever since. These Apostles, all of them, feel the responsibility which rests upon them as leaders of the people, God having made us, in His providence, your shepherds. We feel that the flock is in our charge, and if any harm befall this flock through us, we will have to answer for it in the day of the Lord Jesus; we shall have to stand and render an account of that which has been entrusted to us; and if we are faithless, and careless, and do not live so as to have the word of God continually with us and know His mind and will, then our condemnation will be sure and certain, and we cannot escape it. But you are our witnesses as to whether God is with us or not, as well as the Holy Ghost. You have received, and it is your privilege to receive, the testimony of Jesus Christ as to whether these men who stand at your head are the servants of God, whom God has chosen, and through whom God gives instructions to His people. You know it, because the testimony of the Spirit is with you, and the Spirit of God burns in your bosoms when you hear the word of God declared by these servants, and there is a testimony living in your hearts concerning it.
Now, realizing the full responsibility of this, this action has been taken. Will it try many of the Saints? Perhaps it will; and perhaps it will try those who have not obeyed this law as much as any others in the Church. But all that we can say to you is that which we repeatedly say to you--go unto God yourselves, if you are tried over this and cannot see its purpose; go to your secret chambers and ask God and plead with Him, in the name of Jesus, to give you a testimony as He has given it to us, and I promise you that you will not come away empty, nor dissatisfied; you will have a testimony, and light will be poured out upon you, and you will see things that perhaps you cannot see and understand at the present time.
I pray God to bless all of you, my brethren and sisters; to fill you with His Holy Spirit; to keep you in the path of exaltation which He has marked out for us; to be with us on the right hand and on the left in our future as He has been in the past.
Before I sit down I wish to call attention to one remarkable thing, and it may be an evidence to you that the devil is not pleased with what we have done. It is seldom I have seen so many lies, and such flagrant, outrageous lies told about the Latter-day Saints as I have quite recently. I have not time to read the papers, but I have happened to pick up two or three papers and glance at them, and the most infernal (pardon me for using that expression) lies ever framed are told. It seems as though the devil is mad every way. "Now," says he, "they are going to take advantage of this, and I am determined they shall have no benefit of it; I will fill the earth with lies concerning them, and neutralize this declaration of President Woodruff's." And you will see in all the papers everything that can be said to neutralize the effect of this. To me it is pretty good evidence that the devil is not pleased with what we are doing. When we kept silence concerning this, then we were a very mean and bad people; and now that we have broken the silence and made public our position, why, we are wicked in other directions, and no credence can be attached to anything that we say. You may know by this that his satanic majesty is not pleased with our action. I hope he never will be.
EARNEST PRAYER BEFORE THE LORD
I want to say to all Israel that the step which I have taken in issuing this manifesto has not been done without earnest prayer before the Lord. I am about to go into the spirit world, like other men of my age. I expect to meet the face of my Heavenly Father--the Father of my spirit; I expect to meet the face of Joseph Smith, of Brigham Young, of John Taylor, and of the Apostles, and for me to have taken a stand in anything which is not pleasing in the sight of God, or before the heavens, I would rather have gone out and been shot. My life is no better than other men's. I am not ignorant of the feelings that have been engendered through the course I have pursued. But I have done my duty, and the nation of which we form a part must be responsible for that which has been done in relation to this principle.
The Lord has required at our hands many things that we have not done, many things that we were prevented from doing. The Lord required us to build a Temple in Jackson County. We were prevented by violence from doing it. He required us to build a Temple in Far West, which we have not been able to do. A great many things have been required of us, and we have not been able to do them, because of those that surrounded us in the world. This people are in the hands of God. This work is in the hands of God, and He will take care of it. Brother George Q. Cannon told us about the lies that are abroad. It is a time when there have been more lies told about Mormonism than almost any other subject ever presented to the human family. I often think of what Lorenzo Dow said with regard to the doctrine of election. Says he: "It is like this: You can, and you can't; you will, and you won't; you shall, and you shan't; you'll be damned if you do, and you'll be damned if you don't." That is about the condition we as Latter-day Saints are in. If we were to undertake to please the world, and that was our object, we might as well give up the ship; we might have given it up in the beginning.
But the Lord has called us to labor in the vineyard; and when our nation passes laws, as they have done, in regard to this principle which we have presented to the Conference, it is not wisdom for us to make war upon sixty-five millions of people. It is not wisdom for us to go forth and carry out this principle against the laws of the nation and receive the consequences. That is in the hands of God, and He will govern and control it. The Church of Christ is here; the Zion of God is here, in fulfilment of these revelations of God that are contained in these holy records in which the whole Christian world profess to believe. The Bible could never have been fulfilled had it not been for the raising up of a prophet in the last days. The revelations of St. John could never have been fulfilled if the angel of God had not flown through the midst of heaven, "having the everlasting Gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come." Was that angel going to visit New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and the world, and call the people together and preach to them? Not at all. But the Lord raised up a Prophet. The angel of God delivered that Gospel to that Prophet. That Prophet organized a Church; and all that He has promised in this code of revelations (the Book of Doctrine and Covenants) has been fulfilled as fast as time would admit. That which is not yet fulfilled will be.
Brethren and sisters, it is our duty to be true to God and to be faithful. Make your prayers known unto the Lord. The Lord has told us what He will do concerning many things. He will fulfill His word. Let us be careful and wise, and let us be satisfied with the dealings of God with us. If we do our duty to one another, to our country and to the Church of Christ, we will be justified when we go into the spirit world. It is not the first time that the world has sought to hinder the fulfillment of revelation and prophesy. The Jewish nation and other nations rose up and slew the Son of God and every Apostle but one that bore the Priesthood in that day and generation. They could not establish the kingdom; the world was against them. When the Apostles asked Jesus whether He would at that time restore again the kingdom to Israel, He replied: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." He did not say it would be established then; but He taught them to pray: "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." It is a long time since that prayer was offered, and it has not been fulfilled until the present generation. The Lord is preparing a people to receive His kingdom and His Church, and to build up His work. That, brethren and sisters, is our labor.
I want the prayers of the Latter-day Saints. I thank God that I have seen with my eyes this day that this people have been ready to vote to sustain me in an action that I know, in one sense, has pained their hearts. Brother George Q. Cannon has laid before you our position. The Lord has given us commandments concerning many things, and we have carried them out as far as we could; but when we cannot do it, we are justified. The Lord does not require at our hands things that we cannot do.
This is all I want to say to the Latter-day Saints upon this subject. But go before the Lord and ask Him for light and truth, and to give us such blessings as we stand in need of. Let your prayers ascend into the ears of the God of Sabaoth, and they will be heard and answered upon your heads, and upon the heads of the world. Our nation is in the hands of God. He holds their destiny. He holds the destinies of all men. I will say to the Latter-day Saints, as an Elder in Israel and as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are approaching some of the most tremendous judgments God ever poured out upon the world. You watch the signs of the times, the signs of the coming of the Son of Man. They are beginning to be made manifest both in heaven and on earth. As has been told you by the Apostles, Christ will not come until these things come to pass. Jerusalem has got to be rebuilt. The Temple has got to be built. Judah has got to be gathered, and the House of Israel. And the gentiles will go forth to battle against Judah and Jerusalem before the coming of the Son of Man.
These things have been revealed by the prophets; they will have their fulfilment. We are approaching these things. All that the Latter-day Saints have to do is to be quiet, careful and wise before the Lord, watch the signs of the times, and be true and faithful; and when you get through you will understand many things that you do not today. This work has been raised up by the power of Almighty God. These Elders of Israel were called from the various occupations of life to preach as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost. They were not learned men; they were the weak things of this world, whom God chose to confound the wise, "and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." We are here on that principle. Others will be gathered on that principle. Zion will be redeemed, Zion will arise, and the glory of God will rest upon her, and all that Isaiah and the other prophets have spoken concerning her will come to pass. We are in the last dispensation and fulness of time. It is a great day, and the eyes of all the heavens are over us, and the eyes of God Himself and all the patriarchs and prophets. They are watching over you with feelings of deep interest, for your welfare; and our prophets who were slain and sealed their testimony with their blood, are mingling with the Gods, pleading for their brethren. Therefore, let us be faithful, and leave events in the hands of God, and He will take care of us if we do our duty.
I pray God that He will bless these Apostles, Prophets and Patriarchs, these Seventies, High Priests and Elders of Israel, and these Latter-day Saints, who have entered into covenant with our God. You have a great future before you. You have kept the commandments of God, so far as you have had the opportunity, and by receiving the Gospel of Christ and being faithful your reward is before you. Your history is written and is before you. I will say that this nation, and all nations, together with presidents, kings, emporers, judges, and all men, righteous and wicked, have got to go into the spirit world and stand before the bar of God. They have got to give an account of the deeds done in the body. Therefore, we are safe as long as we do our duty. No matter what trials or tribulations we may be called to pass through, the hand of God will be with us and will sustain us. I ask my Heavenly Father to pour out His Spirit upon me, as His servant, that in my advanced age, and during the few days I have to spend here in the flesh, I may be led by the inspiration of the Almighty. I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me nor any other man who stands as the President of this Church, to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. God bless you. Amen.