Mormon History

Letter to Abraham Lincoln - 1863

Thomas J. Drake and Charles B. Waite to Abraham Lincoln

Friday, March 06, 1863

(Affairs in Utah Territory; with depositions by Francis Long and A. L. Harding)

From Thomas J. Drake and Charles B. Waite to Abraham Lincoln1, March 6, 1863



On Tuesday last, the third day of this month, a large meeting, comprising nearly the entire male portion of the inhabitants of this City, was held at the Tabernacle, nearly every Mormon resident, (and you are well aware that nearly all the residents are Mormons) having been previously notified to appear, through the machinery of the Mormon Church.

Some general idea of the character and proceedings of the meeting may be gathered from the Deseret News of March 4th, a copy of which we send you, by the same Express Bag, with this communication. But the report of the proceedings is dressed up for effect, and the report of the speech of Brigham Young, is entirely incorrect, but a small portion of his remarks is being given, and that the least wicked, offensive and traitorous. His speech was very incendiary and revolutionary.  For its true character, we beg leave to refer your Excellency to the affidavits of Francis M. Long, and A. L. Harding attached hereto.

We submit to your Excellency, that said Meeting, and said speech of Brigham Young, taken in connection with the previous condition of the Territory, has brought on a crisis in the affairs of this Territory, which, whether the Government is prepared to meet it at the present time, or not, will operate to suspend, for the present, all attempts to enforce the laws through the legally appointed civil tribunals of the country.

The Organic Act, we consider, for the present, entirely inoperative.

We have accordingly resolved, for the present, to make no preparation for holding any Courts, until we shall be properly supported by the military power of the Government.

We have accordingly telegraphed to the Treasury Department, not to place to the credit of the Marshall, nor to pay over to him the amounts estimated as necessary to pay the expenses of our Courts this spring, until further advised by us. This will save at least $5000 to the government, which if sent, will be expended among the Mormons, but resulting in no other earthly good, to them, the government or the country.

We do not, of course, feel called upon, at this time, to justify to your Excellency our course of action here, previous to the third of instant, but would merely say, in reference to the Bill for an Act of Congress, which was made, more particularly the pretext for the action of the meeting, that it was drawn with much care and consideration, and was such as we think your Excellency would approve. The right of suffrage, which it was pretended would be infringed upon, was actually extended, by the bill, taken as a whole, because, whilst the military officers were to be appointed by the Governor, nearly all the civil officers, who are, under the Organic Act, elected by the Legislature, would, under the bill, be elected by the people. It is only necessary to say, further, on this subject, that the bill was drawn to remedy defects in the Organic Act, and in preparing it, we had reference to the combined interests of the people of the Territory and of the whole Union.--

In justification of our action since the third instant, as indicated in this communication, we would state a very few facts:

The people of this Territory, by whom we mean the Mormon portion of them, constituting more than nineteen twentieths, of the whole number, are entirely under the control of an ecclesiastical monarchy, at the head of which, is Brigham Young, whose power is less limited and checked than that of any monarch in Europe. He has authoritatively stated, as shown by the affidavits already referred to that we must leave the Territory. Of course he will not permit justice to be administered in our Courts if he can prevent it. As a sample of his power in this regard, we refer your Excellency to the case of Judge Cradlebaugh, who, in 1859, made many efforts to bring to punishment the perpetrators of crimes, but was unable, even to get them indicted, although the Grand Jury were in session two weeks, and had before them the most explicit testimony.-- The judge, upon discharging the jury, told them they had failed to perform their duty, and caused an entry to be made upon his docket, explaining the difficulties he had been obliged to contend with, in endeavoring to administer justice, from which entry the following is an extract:

"To crown all, the grand jury, sworn to perform a high public duty, has lent itself as a willing instrument to this organized opposition to the laws of the country, and refuse to meet its obligations; A most willing inclination has been manifested to prosecute Indians, and other persons not Mormons, while Mormon murderers and thieves are allowed to go unpunished."

This, it will be remembered, was since the "Mormon War," so called, when it was vainly supposed by the people of the country, that this people had been brought to a sense of duty, and a willingness to obey the laws of the country.

The conduct of the people, at that time, may not appear so strange, when we look at the teachings they receive.

On the second of March, 1856, Jedediah M. Grant, who was then one of the first Presidency of the Church, used the following language, in a sermon preached at the Tabernacle, in this City, to an immense congregation:

"Last Sunday, the President, (Brigham Young) chastised some of the apostles and bishops, who were on the Grand Jury. Did he succeed in clearing away the fog which surrounded them? And in removing blindness from their eyes? No, for they could go to their room and again disagree, though to their credit it must be admitted, that a brief explanation made them unanimous in their action. Not long ago I heard, that in a certain case, the traverse jury, were eleven against one, and what is more singular the one, alone was right in his views of the case. Several had got into the fog, to suck and eat the filth of a gentile law court, ostensibly a Court of Utah, although I call it a gentile Court."

This sermon was published in the Deseret News, Vol. 6, No 1, dated March 12, 1856, on page 4. --

Since the passage of the Anti-Polygamy Bill by Congress,2 and in advance of any action in the premises by any District Court, the law is openly violated by the Church authorities. Brigham Young himself, has, within a few weeks, taken a young wife, after an assiduous courtship, lasting several months. Indeed, at an early day he sounded the note of defiance, on this subject, to the United States Government, in the following words:

"The Congress of the United States has lately passed a law, to punish polygamy in the Territories of the United States, and in other places, over which they have exclusive jurisdiction. In doing this they have undertaken to dictate the Almighty in his revelations to his people, and those who handle edged tools, unless they are skillful, are apt to cut their fingers; and those who hand out insult to the great I am, in the end, are apt to get more than they have spoken for."

These words were used in a sermon preached by him in this City, on the 6th of July last, to several thousand people. It is published in the Deseret News, Vol. 12, No 6, dated August 6, 1862.

In conclusion, we would say, that knowing the critical condition of the country, we have endeavored to avoid or postpone this condition of things, and have been as conciliatory, in our language and conduct, as was possibly consistent with our self respect and our sense of duty.

But this crisis has been precipitated by Brigham Young, and his advisers.

Judge Waite has been stopped upon the street, and his life threatened if he did not resign, and he has been notified that the Judges should not hold any Courts. And we now notify your Excellency, not, of course, because of the notice just spoken of, but for the reasons set forth in this communication, that the administration of justice is suspended in this Territory. And that, we shall not attempt to hold any Court in two of the Districts of the Territory, until we are properly supported by the military power of the government, which we consider, as at present advised, to be at least Five Thousand men, well armed, equipped and provided.

This is our conclusion, unless your Excellency shall otherwise advise.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

Thomas J Drake

Associate Justice Sup Court

U. S. U. T.

Charles B. Waite

Associate Justice Do.

Great Salt Lake City

U. T. March 6, 1863


United States of America)

Territory of Utah ... ) ss.

Francis M. Long, being first duly sworn, says, he resides in Salt Lake City, in said Territory, with his family.--

That he was present at a meeting at the Tabernacle, in said City, on Tuesday, the third day of the present month. He sat where he could hear nearly every thing that was said. I Heard distinctly every thing said by Brigham Young, except a few opening remarks.

In that speech Brigham Young said, speaking of Governor Harding,3 "this man, who is sent here to govern the Territory -- man did I say, thing I mean," &c. "A nigger-worshipper -- a black-hearted abolitionist, is what he is and what he represents. And that I do naturally despise."

Speaking of the Judges he said, "Judge Waite and Judge Drake are perfect fools and tools for the Governor." "If they could get the power, as they want to do, to try have the marshal choose jurors of cut-throats, black-legs, soldiers, and desperadoes, from California, and we were to be tried by such men, what would become of us."

He also said, speaking of the war, "This thing is coming to pass, just as Brother Joseph said, thirty years ago; that the South would rise against the North, and the North against the South, and that they would fight until both parties were destroyed. And for m my part, and I give it God speed. For they have spilt the blood of the prophet." To which the audience responded.

He further said that Governor Harding wanted to have the telegraph torn down, and the mails stopped, b and turned by the way of Panama.

He said to the people, "Do you acknowledge this man Harding as your governor?  Voices. "No, you are our governor." "Yes," said he, "I am your governor."

"Will you," said he, "allow such a man to remain in the Territory?" Voices. "No! Put him out." "Yes," said he, "put him out."

He said in substance, that the Governor and the two judges before named, must leave the territory. That if they would not resign, and if the President would not recall them, the people must attend to it.

His speech was very inflammatory, and but a small part of what he said, is reported in the Deseret News. And further this affiant saith not.

Francis M. Long

Sworn and subscribed to before me, this 5th day of March A. D. 1863

Charles B. Waite,

Associate Justice Sup.

Ct of U. S for Utah Territory.

[ Enclosure:]

United States of America)

Territory of Utah. ... ) ss

  Attila L. Harding being first duly sworn, says he says he was present at said meeting and the above statement is correct so far as it goes. Brigham Young said: I will let him (Harding) know who is Governor, I am Governor, if he attempts to interfere with my affairs woe, woe unto him, at the same time shaking his fist with great indignation which was responded to with loud applause by the crowd and answers yes you are Governor. Brigham Young wound up his harangue by stating what Joseph Smith told him thirty years ago; that these prophecies were bound to come true, he hoped they would Said he would like to live in peace with the Government of the United States but that he had no desire to live with a people who had brought ruin and disgrace upon their own heads; that he wouldn’t live with or have any thing to do with the United States, that he would have a free and independent Government to himself where he could enjoy his civil and religious liberties. This was responded to with long Amens and loud applause by the crowd

A. L. Harding

Subscribed and sworn to before me this 6th day of March A D 1863.

Charles B Waite Associate Just. Sup Ct. U S Utah T.

[Note 1 Drake and Waite were associate justices of the Utah Supreme Court, who found themselves in a most difficult situation. Though it has been said that Lincoln could not afford to be preoccupied with disaffection in Utah, that he "had little interest in conducting more than one crusade at a time," (Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 170); nonetheless relations between Federal officials in the territory and its Mormon population were volatile. A Federal force had been brought into Utah to guard the overland stage line and the transcontinental telegraph, and its presence was provocative to a population already feeling bruised by Federal hostility toward polygamy, and by the memory of a recent previous occupation by Federal troops during the Buchanan Administration. For the territorial governor's perspective, see Stephen S. Harding to William H. Seward, March 11, 1863.]

[Note 2 An anti-polygamy law was indeed passed by Congress in 1862, but it was not enforced for over a decade.]

[Note 3 ID: Stephen S. Harding, an Indiana lawyer, abolitionist and politician, was appointed governor of the Utah Territory in March 1862. Harding came into conflict with Brigham Young and was removed by Lincoln in June 1863. Lincoln appointed Harding the Chief Justice of the Colorado Territory in July 1863.]