Mormon History

Open Letter to William S. Godbe - 1871

Daily Corinne Reporter October 7, 1871


(Written expressly for the Corinne Reporter and containing a
true and succinct account of the Reign of Terror in Utah. -- Ed.)

Argus on the New Movement -- He Settles the Question of Morality -- Grant Comparisons and Fine Deductions..

Salt Lake City, Oct. 12, 1871.    

An Open Letter to Wm. S. Godbe.

SIR: I write you over a nom de plume, but pledge you my open name whenever you demand it, in confidence, after you have fully and finally withdrawn yourself from the Utah institution miscalled polygamy. I beg you to overlook my blunt and uncouth manner of writing -- it is my style. Permit me to assure you that what I have to say shall be said in all brotherly kindness, without malice, and with a sincere desire to further the understanding of the truth. In your address of July 30th, in speaking of the comparative virtue of the Mormon people, you fall into the same error that Brigham Young has fallen, and from which he deduces his pet argument in favor of his peculiar institution, namely, the comparing of Mormon harems with the brothels of the world, which you substantially do. In this you are certainly wrong; because, first, those brothels are not institutions of any church. Prostitution has existed in all ages, and, probably, always will. It is common to all countries; but finds its natural home in great commercial centers where there is a great preponderance of men, and among polygamous nations where it assumes a form not fit to be mentioned. Second, they are liable to contain, and do contain Mormon girls as well as others. Ot is, however, but just to remark that of the whole mass of these poor cast-a-ways, but very few indeed were brought up under a careful Christian guardianship. Third, there is no Christian church that recognizes whoredoms as an institution of that church, nor in any other sense, except as the most abominable and most to be abhorred of all the dark ways of sin. From this you can see at once the unfairness of comparing polygamy with the lowest and most degraded type of fallen humanity, represented only by outcasts from virtuous society, holding the same to be a part of Christian monagamy. Fairplay suggests that the comparison to be made, should be between the marriage system of the Mormon church and that of some other church. To illustrate, I would say like this: Is there a higher standard of morality and virtue in the polygamy of the church of Brigham Young, than in the monogamy of the Presbyterian church? Does the polygamy of Mormonism endure to peace, quiet, contentment, and affection in the family circle in a greater degree than the monogamy of Catholicism? Does the polygamy of Mormonism tend to a holiness of heart and a genuine, practical Christian life, in a greater degree than the monogamy of Methodism? These are the just comparisons to [be] made, and, when made, polygamy goes to the wall.

Among the reasons you gave why a man should not put away his polygamous (not polygamic) wives, was one which greatly surprised me; namely, on account of his children. Now, sir, to my mind, the greatest and most fatal objection that can be raised to the "twin relic" is, the bringing up of children in polygamous households, and, in my opinion, any man in Utah living with more than one "wife," who has "outgrown" his faith in Brigham Young and his doctrines, should not hesitate a day to put away his concubines for his childrens' sake, if for no other reason. I use the term concubine, not as implying an impure woman, but because it is, after all, the proper one to be used in this connection, for the reason that in a full and proper sense, no woman can be a wife that is not lawfully so, and the common law, as well as the statute, restricts the marriage relation to one wife. The idea of bringing up children under the influence of polygamy, in which they see so many things they should not see, and hear so much they should not hear, is the most immoralizing feature of the institution. Here is matter for "serious thought."

Your long and elaborate discourse was clearly an apology for polygamy. But it was an ideal polygamy; and not the institution as it exists to-day in Utah. You treat it with faultless respect. You speak of love and affection as existing between a Mormon and his wives. Have you not heard the high expounders of Mormonism, time and again, publicly instruct the women not to love their husbands, because love was jealous and could not bear a rival? Polygamy is fatal to woman's love. To the concubine it is hell; to the lawful wife, despair! And your fine words -- "full force of religious influence," -- "lofty enthusiasm," -- "true affection," -- "free from sensuality," -- lived in amity together," -- "feelings of confidence and love," -- "the tendrils of her feminine heart entwined around his," are the veriest twaddle, and unworthy of one who has so far "out-grown" polygamy, as, at least theoretically, to have discovered its failure as an institution worthy of being perpetuated. Look at the old polygamist families of Utah. Not one of them -- no sir, however much they may seek to keep their troubles to themselves, and however pleasant and good-natured they may appear in public and before strangers, not one that has not a little hell of its own sufficient to burn and destroy the last particle of conjugal love, had any existed. Scarcely one that has not a feud of greater or less malignancy existing between the woman, and also the children, who naturally sympathize and take sides with their mothers. These feuds stir up and keep alive angry passions, and render a truly pious frame of mind impossible. There is neither love nor prayer in Brigham Young's religion. Yet you, with a disingenuousness unexpected in Wm. S. Godbe, leave these plain facts in the back-ground, introduce your ideal "Celestial marriage," make it to represent the real, then give to it an undisguised sympathy, and treat it with the gravest and most respectful consideration!

It is a fact which can not be unknown to you, the polygamous wives in Utah are the hardest worked set of women in America. Even in polygamous Turkey, a man can not marry a second wife until he has endowed the first with property, in her own right, sufficient to support herself and her children. But here women have been sealed to men without regard to their ability to support either them or the lawful wife; and, what is more, the women have been both publicly and privately taught to labor for their own support, the support of their children, and for the support of their husband! There are men now loving in Salt Lake City and county who commenced life here by domiciling two or perhaps three women in a single room, who, by the united labors of the family, by the most pinching economy, and by the rise in the value of real estate are now in comfortable circumstances. If there be a hardship in breaking up olygamous households, it would be in such cases. Yet, as the romance (!) of "celestial marriage" has, with them, long since passed away, as they have never seen a day without strifes, discords or heart-burnings of some kind, as there is no prospect of domestic happiness in their present relations, where is the hardship in an honest man saying to those "spirituals;" Our family arrangements are unlawful; are not right anyway; I will support you and the children until you marry, which latter you are free to do; and if you marry, you can, if you choose, send my children to me, and I will support and educate them, or I will now deed you a certain property and give you the children, but for our mutual good the apparent relation of husband and wife can no longer exist between us. Thus by his voluntary effort he can do an act of justice to those women and their offspring which under other circumstances he may not be permitted to do. As an illustration, let us suppose that Mrs. Godbe should prefer, before the court, a charge of adultery against you, her husband, and pursue it to conviction and imprisonment. It would be a short way to a divorce with the estate and the children all hers. Then poor Hagar and Ishmael would be at the mercy of Sarah, with a bottle of water for an inherotance.

Grave duties sometimes require sacrifices. Yet a sacrifice to a requirement of right, and especially to a clear appreciation of duty gives pleasure rather than pain, because it propitiates and satisfies the conscience. In this connection I make bold to say that there is not a polygamist in Salt Lake City, who can think at all, but what realizes upon his conscience and within his heart that "celestial marriage" has been in principle a wrong unto himself, and in practice an unmitigated outrage upon his "wives." Then, as for the woman, by such voluntary act put away, do you think they would break their hearts about it? Not at all. Why, sir, if polygamy in Utah were put an end to to-day, and without any preparation, by the submission of the Mormons to the laws of Congress, while it would perhaps create an indifferent sort of pain in some instances, would give any amount of satisfaction to the deceived, enslaved, over-worked "spirituals," and would be, O what a triumph to a multitude of lawful wives (including your own) who have for years borne a burden of wretchedness impossible to describe! It is a waste of time to speculate upon how these extra women are to geta long without Abraham. The great majority of them have more than paid their way thus far, and, if need be, can still sustain themselves. I am aware that there are women in Utah who, in the presence of others, will deny my propositions, while in secret communion with their conscience will weep bitter tears in acknowledgement of their orrefragable truth. I know a most excellent lady, a "spiritual wife" of one of the high dignitaries of Brigham's church, who, on a certain occasion, manifested great zeal in defense of her position. I afterward asked her why she was so earnest in her remarks to that Gentile. (She knew my sentiments.) She replied: "How could I do otherwise when my honor was called in question?" Then added, as the tears started, "Yet something tells me all the time that I am not living right!" If you have any sympathy for those wretched women, so unfeelingly placed in a false position, express it for them as they now are, and waste no time in speculating as to what their future condition will be, because when freed from their present enslavement they will stand in little need of your sympathy.

I congratulate you that you have taken a position against the continued practice of polygamous sealings. I do so the more earnestly because it is the first practical step as yet taken against that abomination, and will prove to be the entering wedge that will burst the rotten log wide open. Yet, allow me to inquire, is it any more of a crime against woman, against morality, against the law for a man to take a concubine to-day than it was when the law against polygamy was first published? You certainly know that immediately after the promulgation of that law, Brigham Young took another concubine, and paraded her through the streets, took her to the parties, to the theater, through the Territory, and boasted of this open defiance of the law, and by his example created quite a revival in the sealing business. It became a common thing to see the lechers hasten with new victims to the sealing altar expressly (of they were to be believed) to show their contempt of the act of Congress. Now, why should not all such parties be held to the same account as those violating the law at the present time? There is more matter for "serious thought." Upon the whole, Mr. Godbe, it will be well to understand that in this entire matter, we are dealing not with questionable sentiments, but with an ugly fact, and that in this as well as in other matters, honesty os the best policy. It is clearly... [best]... to at once and forever do away with his unlawful manner of living, making such provisions as may be ample or within his power for the support of those who must be put away.
                    Respectfully,                     ARGUS.