Mormon History

Mormons Nervous About Bad Publicity - 1891

The Salt Lake Tribune

January 25, 1891


The Illustrated American of New York City is publishing a series of articles on Mormonism. The articles in the main are fair. From some authority the Illustrated American has received its information, and naturally it reaches the conclusion that the Saints have not, in any honest sense, abandoned polygamy. This is offensive to the Saints, but why it should be we cannot see. With them polygamy is a command from God, and all the change that the most enthusiastic Saint pretends has been made, is that the president of the church, as a man, not as God's vicegerent, advises against its present practice. We all know that it was only political pressure that brought around the advice, and when we come to analyse the words they do not advise much.

But something in the former articles must have stung the Saints deeply, because the News devoted a great deal of space to a reply, and it seems the matter was of so much importance that Apostle Grant and Delegate Caine went to New York to protest and to hint at libel suits. The Illustrated American speaks of the probity of the two gentlemen, says "their address is candid, frank and engaging," all of which we will let pass for what it is worth, only stating that we in Utah know both gentlemen better than does the Illustrated American editor. The article then proceeds as follows:

On the occasion of their visit to the Illustrated American they were excited. It was natural that they should be excited. They believed that a bitter wrong had been done to them and their church, and they used such words as "lies" and "liars" with a freedom bred of those traditions of plain speech left by Brigham Young to the Mormon community.

Apart from these flowers of language, the following is the substance of the conversation that passed between these gentlemen and the Illustrated American:

"We have called," said Mr. Caine, "to protest in a most vigorous tone against the articles on Mormonism which you are now publishing."

"Are they not true?" asked the Illustrated American

"They are such a mixture of truth and falsehood," replied the Delegate, "that they are infinitely more dangerous than a mere parcel of lies. I was in Washington when the first publication was made, and went from one newsdealer to another to buy your paper. So great had been the demand for it that the Washington edition was exhausted, and I had to make a long search before I could buy the copy which I have in my hand. Armed with it I came to New York, and, as you see, I have marked with a pencil those of its statements which we repudiate."

"But," said the Illustrated American, "the article is headed by a quotation from the message of President Harrison. Your grievance, if any, lies not against us, but against the President of the United States."

"Oh," said Mr. Caine, "you know what the President is! You know what church he belongs to. We cannot be responsible for what President Harrison believes or says about us."

With this summary dismissal of President Harrison, Mr. Caine went on to attack Judge C. C. Goodwin, whose article in Harper's Magazine was quoted on the same page. His attack was purely personal. He said that the readers of The Salt Lake Tribune, which is edited by Judge Goodwin, bought it because it was a good newspaper, not because they put faith in Judge Goodwin's editorial utterances. As to Mr. Goodwin's criticisms of Mormonism, and his disbelief in the abandonment of polygamy, "they are simply set down as Tribune lies, said Mr. Caine."

"But," urged the Illustrated American, "are not all recent writers on Mormonism in accord with Judge Goodwin?"

"They are either missionaries or members of a hostile church," said Mr. Caine, heartily supported in this statement by Mr. Grant. Indeed, nothing in this interview was more remarkable than the attitude of the envoys toward all other churches than the Mormon Church. Whatever comments appeared upon their community they instantly attributed to the machinations of rival sects. The whole matter was to them a feud of religion.

"President Woodruff," continued the Congressman, has lately made this declaration:

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I do hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws and to use all my influence with the members of the church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

"This would be excellent testimony," said the Illustrated American, "if we had not the best possible authority from Utah for saying that it is merely a feint."

"Your authority is the 'Old Mormon,'" said Mr. Caine, "and I don't hesitate to assert that the 'Old Mormon' is a myth. I don't believe that there exists such a person."

The similitude of Mrs. Prig's remarks about Mrs. Harris was so great that it provoked an involuntary smile.

"This may be fun to you," said the Delegate, "but it is death to us. I tell you that no Mormon, young or old, would dare to make such assertions as this imaginary Mormon makes. The discipline of our church is stronger than you may fancy."

Mr. Caine went into detail in support of this theory that the "Old Mormon" did not exist. He found in the "Old Mormon's" story these statements: "I was arrested with Joseph Smith." "I put my head out of the window of the jail." "I expected to be shot the next moment."

"Why," said Mr. Cain," there was nobody arrested with Joseph Smith except his brother. There was nobody in jail."

For a decision of this point we refer our readers to Colnel Hay's account of the killing of Joseph Smith; to the story of "Early Mormon Days," recently published by Charles Scribners Sons; and to any standard work on the subject.

"Then," said Mr. Grant, "this old Mormon asserts that George A. Smith rode on a fleet horse ahead of the emigrant train which was massacred in Mountain Meadows. Are you aware that Smith was a man weighing 290 pounds, and could hardly have found a horse to carry him?"

Here we refer our readers to a graphic account of the Mountain Meadows massacre published many years ago by the Chicago Tribune. the correctness of its facts has never been disputed. Mr. George A. Smith's adiposity may have increased in later years, but, as the "Old Mormon" remembers him, he was capable of riding fleet horses.

And that was absolutely all the evidence by which Messrs. Caine and Grant supported their very serious accusation that the "Old Mormon" did not exist -- an accusation which is likely to offend him deeply.

"The truth of the matter," continued Mr. Caine, "is that, in spite of all that we assert, nobody believes that we have abandoned polygamy. The President does not believe it. The Utah Commission does not believe it. I appeared before the Utah Comission. They told me that they had the proof of forty-two polygamous marriages recently contracted. Said I, 'Gentlemen, produce your proof.' They have not produced it yet. They cannot produce it. Why? They have no proof."

"No proof whatever," echoed Mr. Grant.

"Now," said Mr. Caine, "your publication will be read by a hundred people to one who will see the report of the Utah Commission. We have a right to reputation. We demand it."

"You must not demand anything with threats," said the Illustrated American. "We are publishing these articles after long deliberation and investigation. We stand ready to support them in a court of law."

"No, no," said Mr. Caine, "we make no threats: we will consider what course to take. What we want you to print is, that we deny that polygamy has not been actually abandoned; we deny that any policy of deception is being counseled; we deny that Brigham Young or any Mormons in authority aided or abetted the Mountain Meadows massacre; we deny that the Mormons mean to go to war with the Unoted States; and we deny that they have any intention of leaving Utah and emigrating to Mexico. Will you publish these denials?"

"We will publish them with pleasure," said the Illustrated American, as its Mormon visitors rose to go.

And we here keep our word. We repeat that Messrs Caine and Grant are men of the highest standing in the Mormon community, and would impress any listener, however skeptical, by their air of sincerity and by their enthusiasm for the creed to which they place their trust.

At the same time we cannot agree with the New York Sun, which, in an editorial published after the visit of Messrs Caine and Grant, sums up their views under the title, "Is Mormon Polygamy Ended?" The Sun believes that Governor Thomas of Utah and Judge Zane of that Territory, will support it in the belief that plural marriages are "buried, never to be resurrected."

"There is ground for believing," cries the Sun, glowingly, "that the last of avowedly polygamous marriages in Utah has already ocurred. Civilization has conquered."

The report of the Utah Commission, we believe, will show a different state of things. Governor Thomas and Judge Zane, we are sure, will be found less hopeful than the Sun imagines. The Mormon problem was never so bodly tangled as now.

And, while waiting for the unraveling of its complications, the Illustrated American merely wishes to say that it will gladly respond to any libel suit which the Mormon Church wishes to bring against it.

The Saints will not sue the Illustrated American. That is all a bluff. For months they have been bluffing about their strength, but they dare not make a test case to be fairly tried in court.

Note: The Salt Lake Herald, Deseret News, and Salt Lake Times all responded to this article in the Tribune, with caustic comments. History would show the Illustrated American to have been maliciously wrong or artfully misguided in several of its 1890-91 assertions against the Mormons. However, since LDS plural marriages did continue in secret, for several years after Woodruff's "manifesto," that magazine proved to be more or less correct in its published disbelief on that particular subject. For the official LDS reply to the magazine, see President Woodruff's Jan. 9, 1891 letter.