excerpt – Essential B. H. Roberts
To understand what motivates and helps to fashion the life of an individual, it is usually instructive to examine that person’s early experiences which can leave an indelible imprint on her or his later career. That observation is particularly true of Brigham Henry Roberts, whose dynamic leadership and intellectual command on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through a long life have stamped him as one of its most remarkable defenders and expounders of Mormon history and belief. He is remembered for his independence and honesty of thought, his scholarly and indefatigable pursuit of the evidence concerned with the origins of his faith, his physical and moral courage often in the face of life-threatening situations, and his extraordinary skills as a debater and orator in a day when such attributes brought wide recognition. What were the life events which contributed to the formation of this Mormon leader?
B. H. Roberts was born on March 13, 1857, in Warrington, Lancashire, England. His parents were Benjamin Roberts and Ann Everington, the latter an orphan early in life who, after five years of marriage, became a convert to Mormonism, and, later, her husband reluctantly followed her to become a member of the strange faith.1 But, as B. H. later wrote of his father’s membership, “it was a perfunctory thing to him and of doubtful credibility.”2 The difference between the faithful Mormon, Ann, and the doubting husband, Ben, was exacerbated by Ben’s long absences from home as he sought employment and his “unconquered intemperate habits and wild craving for independence.”3
The wife’s desire to join her fellow Saints in Utah finally came to a crisis when Ben sent some money to her to be used to transport the family to the city where he was then working. Seeing an opportunity to use the money for passage to the United States, and with at least the silent approval of local LDS authorities, Ann bought tickets for the ship journey for herself, six-year-old daughter, Annie, and a very sickly two-year-old, Thomas, who died during the journey across the plains. The oldest daughter, Mary, age eleven, was left in the care of a relative, Martin Pie, who operated a kiln producing chinaware where Mary was expected to earn her way by working in the plant. At age five, Brigham Henry was considered too young to be farmed out as a worker, and Ann found some guardians for him, a Mormon couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Tovey.4
From this time on, the father of the family disappeared from the history of his wife and children. B. H. recorded later, “Of my father I can remember but little, but some incidents were pleasant and favorable to my father’s character and genial good nature.”5 He then recounted how his father loved to sing and how Ben had rescued a young apprentice from being beaten by two fellow workers who were soundly thrashed by Ben when he “knocked one of them down by a blow of his strong right fist.”6 On another occasion Ben was confronted by a drunken rioter and quickly dispatched him by knocking “out his assailant.”7 To the old Brigham Henry writing his memoirs, these incidents seemed to give him some pleasure in remembering a father whom he had barely known.
B. H. had one lasting remembrance of his mother before she set sail for a new land. She knelt on the floor, put her arms around him, and explained why he had to be left behind under the care of the Toveys. Then she asked her five-year-old son “to promise that when I grew up to be a man I would come to her in ‘Zion. ‘” The little boy “with childish solemnity promised her that ‘I would come.'”8 Even at that time the mother doubted she would ever be able to obtain enough passage money for Mary and B. H. to join her in Utah. Both children may well have remembered her acknowledgment that she was abandoning them to an uncertain future in England.
During the next four years, the boy Roberts lived a Dickensian existence with Mr. and Mrs. Tovey. They fed him, clothed him, barely, and expected him to work in the stone sawyer trade which Mr. Tovey followed. The boy learned to sift sand, then carry it and water to the sloping board in a bucket on his head. He also helped polish marble slabs for fireplace mantels. At the end of these tiring days, he went home to a scanty meal and a bed on the bare floor without a blanket for cover.9
The itinerant Toveys also were heavy drinkers, frequenting taverns and bars where Roberts was left to sleep under the drinking tables hoping that the bouts of drunkenness would end so that he could return to “the wretched home which was all they ever seemed able to maintain.”10 On Sundays the scene usually changed as Brother Tovey took Henry with him to outdoor religious meetings where the older man conducted services as a remarkable preacher who could not read the Bible but had memorized texts read to him by his wife. Tovey carried a chair to these services upon which the boy was placed where he sang church hymns to introduce the preaching which followed. Mobs would occasionally drive Elder Tovey from his podium leaving Henry to find his way home with the chair in his arms.11 These events very early introduced Roberts to mob violence.
The fourth and last year with the poverty-stricken Toveys was especially difficult as the couple tried to rid themselves of their orphan boy. First, Mrs. Tovey attempted to enroll the boy as an apprentice in the shoemaker’s trade which meant he would be enrolled until age twenty-one in a tightly and legally restrained occupation. Realizing this would mean he would never see his mother in America, he ran away and lived for several months “as a gamin” in a nearby town until he was found by the Toveys who by this time had given up their plan to apprentice him. The second opportunity to shed their burden as child-carers came when John Tovey, on a drinking spree and in exchange for a shilling from a British military officer, agreed to deliver Roberts to the army to be trained as a drummer boy with an enlistment until age twenty-one. The next morning Brigham Henry ran away again until recovered and was then told that Tovey had given up his endeavor to make Henry a drummer boy.
The only other item of note in these four years of neglect and privation was that the boy begged Mrs. Tovey to read to him. It was during these sessions that he first heard the early history of his LDS faith, of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and especially the picture of John Taylor defending his prophet leader at Carthage prison. These stirring scenes of Taylor led to hero worship of the man by Roberts who subsequently wrote a very favorable biography of this future president of the Mormon church. Roberts later wrote, “Perhaps there was no more fruitful period of mind training that came to me than in those hectic days of my early boyhood.”12 He didn’t receive any schooling while living with the Toveys.
In the winter of 1865, the young Roberts learned at various church meetings of the possibility that he and sister Mary, whom he had not seen during the entire four years of his service with the Toveys, might be scheduled to go to America to rejoin their mother. The president of the LDS church, Brigham Young, was instrumental in having Mormon missionaries locate Henry and reunite him with Mary. The two left Liverpool on April 31, 1866, for a nine-week voyage to New York on board the S. S. John Bright. The two were fortunate in being assigned to the first deck and arrived without incident, except for the usual Atlantic storms, at New York City on June 6, 1866.13 Unfortunately, the teamster, whom their mother had entrusted to deliver a small amount of money, clothing, and bedding to the two youngsters at the emigrant camps they reached near Council Bluffs, Iowa, on June 19, 1866, failed to deliver these goods which would have ameliorated the rugged travel conditions they encountered.14
They were placed with Captain William Henry Chipman’s wagon train which left the emigrant encampment on July 13, 1866, a rather late date for crossing the plains before winter might catch them in the mountain snows. Without any bedding, Mary slept in the wagon box while Henry was forced to sleep under the wagon on the bare ground with only Mary’s petticoat for a covering. She would pass it to him at bedtime and retrieve it for daytime wear the next morning. As Roberts remembered, he “generally shivered through the night.”15
Another incident added to his lack of clothing and covering. Approaching the first crossing of the Platte River, he sought a shady spot and fell sound asleep “that had been denied me the night before on account of the cold.”16 Unaware of the noise of the wagons crossing the river, he finally awoke just as the last wagon reached the opposite bank. Waving vigorously, he attracted the attention of Captain Chipman on the other side of the stream. The wagon master shouted to know if he could swim. When the nine-year-old boy answered that he could, Chipman yelled to him to swim across. Removing his jacket and shoes, he started toward the other bank but began tiring, when the captain rode his horse into the river and told Henry to take hold of a stirrup to help him finish the swim. Now, bereft of his coat and shoes, he suffered from the cold even more at night, and his feet soon became black and cracked “through which cracks sometimes the blood oozed.” An additional misery were prickly pears whose spines were removed from his feet each night by the ever-watchful Mary. He was later to get some shoes “taken from the feet of a dead man at a burnt station? 17
Arriving in Salt Lake City on September 15, 1866, the two Roberts children wasted no time in getting to their mother’s home in Bountiful, a log house with a dirt roof, not exactly the beautiful house Henry had imagined. In his autobiography, he described what it meant to be reunited with his mother. “I felt that I had arrived, that I belonged to somebody, that somebody had an interest in me.”18 The nine-year-old boy at once found employment to help support the family, working for farmers and later making bricks. Eager to learn, by age eleven he had mastered the alphabet and was reading two years later, taught in a private school in a nearby home where he was soon “the head of the class.”19 In 1870 he finally paid for his passage from England, funded by the Perpetual Emigration Fund, by driving an ox team hitched to a scraper to help build the Utah Central Railroad between Salt Lake City and Ogden.
His home life became more uncomfortable and unsettled when, in his thirteenth year, his mother married Seth Dustin, the father of three grown sons by another marriage and who were “ignorant in their manners, boisterous in their conduct.”20 The new stepfather became involved in a silver mining venture in Dry Canyon near the town of Ophir in the west Oquirrh range. Henry, at age fourteen, was sent to work at this mine doing various camp jobs—cooking, carrying water, or whatever could be performed by a young boy. He spent three years in this rough atmosphere among the miners, many of whom “were vile and of the deepest criminality. … I absorbed much that was injurious to character building.”21 In later life he rarely said more than that about this period of his life.
Under urging from his mother, he returned to Bountiful and apprenticed himself for three years to a man named James Baird to learn the blacksmith trade, an occupation his grandfather and father had followed.22 It is interesting to recite the dictionary definition of blacksmithing and compare it to the muscular prose that Roberts later adopted as a writer—”a smith who forges iron usually by repeatedly heating it in a furnace and hammering it on an anvil.” Those who have read some of Roberts’s writing cited in this book will recognize his penchant for the recital of facts in tremendous detail to support his historical conclusions.
It was agreed with Baird that the “young blacksmith” could attend school during the three months of winter, and so began the sparse formal education that Henry was to receive. He joined the Young Men’s Club of Centerville, enjoyed the small library it owned, soon became its president, and began to develop the skills of public speaking and debating for which he was to become famous in the annals of the LDS church. He also started a “prodigious reading program” in such solid tomes as Hallam’s Constitutional History of England, Edward Gibbons’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Calvin’s two volumes of Institutes, Dowlin’s History of Romanism, and Edersheim’s two volumes of Jesus the Messiah. This selection emphasizes Roberts’s early interest in history and theology During these three years of blacksmithing with the attending winter schooling, he also began his first attempts at writing, although he admitted that his lack of spelling proficiency “was the source of much humiliation.” 23
With his three-year term as a blacksmith apprentice completed by the spring of 1877, he took a job as a ranch hand for a company in the cattle and dairy business in Weber Canyon. While he was engaged in this work, the Davis County leaders, impressed by his determination to get an education and by his obvious leadership qualities, arranged for him to enter the University of Deseret to complete its two-year curriculum. Located in an old adobe house at the corner of present 100 North and 200 West streets in Salt Lake City, the university offered what today would be the equivalent of a high school course for students enrolled in the normal school for teachers. Completing the two-year courses in one year, Roberts graduated as valedictorian under the expert guidance of Dr. John R. Park. Because he could not afford lodgings in Salt Lake City, he might well have claimed that his generation, in the words of the old joke, “walked to school every day, uphill, barefoot, in the snow, twelve miles each way.” But, in Roberts’s case, the old absurdity was true, he “walked daily eleven miles” from his home in Centerville, although occasionally he would “hitchhike” a ride home on a hay wagon which was returning from delivering a load in the capital city. He always considered his extemporaneous address as valedictorian to have been a complete failure but was also humiliated by the old brown sack suit of clothes he was forced to wear because of his penury, a real “mortification.”24
One of the “foolish things” he did while enrolled in Deseret University was to marry “without any forethought” about how to provide for a family. On January 31, 1878, he married Louisa Smith, and the union eventually produced seven children.25 To meet his obligation to Davis County, he taught school for two years and managed to support himself and new wife on a schoolmaster’s pay. But this period of his life was interrupted by a call from his seventies quorum to provide a missionary for two years’ service to his church. Roberts was the only member to volunteer but had no means to support himself until the bishop of his LDS ward finally undertook the project of outfitting him and providing travel money to his mission destination. The new missionary left for his field of church work in Sioux City, Iowa, on March 29, 1880.26
From the start, he and his missionary companion met opposition and violence toward the gospel message of Mormonism. In a vacant store room which they were able to rent, the first meeting resulted in a small mob attacking the place by assaulting the door near the speaker. After several attempts to crash through the door failed, Roberts lost his patience and said aloud, “D___ the door.” He concluded, “Fortunately, however, this was not heard by the congregation.”27 The event is worth recording because it epitomizes the lifelong struggle he had in controlling his temper and the influence of his rough early life on a career devoted to religious work.
When their missionary work in the city brought violence and little positive results, Roberts and his companion turned to the rural areas of Iowa where they tried to recruit new members while “traveling without purse or scrip” such requests for food and lodging being the accepted means by which Mormon elders sustained themselves on missions in the United States during the 1800s and early 1900s. [This editor followed the practice as late as 1934 on his mission to the Cumberland Mountains of East Tennessee.] Often, when requests for a night’s lodging were turned down, Roberts was left with “nothing for me to do but to commit myself to the Lord in prayer, make a pillow of a valise, and lie down to such pleasant dreams as might come.”28 His bed might be the floor of a schoolhouse or often on the ground, behind some bushes. On one occasion he struck back at a man who denied him food and shelter by actually following the religious and vengeful ordinance of washing his feet “against one who had rejected me.”29
When the harsh Iowa winter brought on a serious sinus infection, Roberts was transferred to Tennessee, arriving there the first part of January 1881. His months in Iowa had sharpened his debating skills as he was confronted by various ministers of opposing faiths. He had come to admire the discourses of a famous Mormon intellectual leader, Orson Pratt, whose preaching “made you think of a column of Roman soldiers marching by in stately regular fashion.”30 He tried to compose his public speeches in such organized fashion until by February 1881, as he prepared for a series of debates in Lebanon, Tennessee, he was described by the local newspaper editor as having “a good eye and face and is a natural orator.”31 He was twenty-three at the time.
Roberts’s most noted public appearance as a debater occurred over a three-day period in Lebanon, February 5-7, 1881, when he was challenged by a Campbellite (Church of Christ) minister, Parson Alsup, to defend the Book of Mormon. The crux of the argument centered around Alsup’s claim that the gospel taught to Abraham was not the same as that preached to the world after the ministry of Jesus Christ. Roberts’s argument that it was the same gospel lead a member of the audience to announce “that Alsup had left Abraham in hell and I had dared to get him out.”32 Roberts was so successful in the debate defending the Book of Mormon story that Christ had preached to the people of the American continents after his resurrection, that over sixty people joined the local Mormon church branch within a few weeks after the arguments ended.
After his missionary experience in Tennessee, he returned to his home in Bountiful in May 1883 to shear sheep for a while and then to teach school again. But his obvious leadership ability soon brought him an assignment in March 1884 as president of the Southern States Mission, with headquarters in Chattanooga and a hundred elders to supervise in eleven southern states.33
The most dramatic event of this church mission was the killing of two of the elders at Kane Creek in Lewis County, Tennessee, on August 10, 1884, forever after known in LDS history as the Tennessee Massacre. [The first item in this book is Roberts’s detailed account of the tragedy.] On that Sunday a party of about fifteen drunken members of the Ku Klux Klan captured and killed missionaries John H. Gibbs and William S. Berry and two local members of the LDS church. Several other elders were fortunate to escape the assassins. When President Roberts learned that the bodies of the two missionaries had been buried near Kane Creek, he was determined to exhume them and send them back to Utah. Disguised as a tramp with his face and hands smeared with soot, he was successful in this effort despite threats to his life. One of the local church members had said to him, “You are a young man. You have only one life, and if you go into that Kane Creek section of Lewis County, you will be killed.”34 Later he was so proud of the disguise he had worn, he had a picture taken which became one of his prized possessions. In one other incident related to the danger to life of his missionaries, Roberts ordered one of them to obtain a shotgun and if threatened by a mob “to turn the shotgun loose in their very faces.” His superior in the mission field “cautioned me not to be impulsive.”35
Granted a vacation from his strenuous activities in the south, he spent the winter of 1884-85 in Utah where he began seriously to consider entering into plural marriage, which “law of God” he “had not obeyed.”36 After securing Louisa’s consent, the two agreed that he should propose marriage to Celia Dibble, seven years younger than he. Celia had been prepared by Louisa for the proposal, accepted at once, and Roberts then left to resume his mission in the Southern States without consummating the marriage. An exchange of letters helped to establish a loving relationship between the two.37 Celia became the mother of eight children.
His last and principal task in Tennessee was to arrange railroad passage for a number of new Mormon members to escape the mob violence in the south by moving them to the San Luis Valley in the state of Colorado. He was helped in this by Jonathan Golden Kimball, the mission secretary whom he somewhat dismissed as being “plumb fidgety about resisting a mob” and with the shepherding of the new Saints to Colorado as being “demoralizing to Elder Kimball’s nerves.”38 The two were later colleagues as presidents in the Council of Seventy.
Returning home from his mission, he obtained employment in the editorial office of the Salt Lake Herald in an attempt to earn a living for his growing family. But this was not to last as federal officials soon learned of his polygamous marriage and issued a warrant for his arrest. He was placed under a bond of $1,000, but to escape a possible sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $500, Roberts was advised to leave the next morning for Liverpool, England, where he would be safe from federal authorities and would be made editor of the historical Millennial Star. He was successful in evading his would—be captors and arrived in Liverpool to begin a two-year career as editor of the newspaper.39
Much of his time during 1886 and 1887 was spent in debating with an apostate Mormon named William Jarman, who had been touring England and Wales attacking the Mormon church while his followers engaged in disrupting LDS conferences by breaking down the doors at meeting places and destroying the contents inside. Roberts decided to challenge Jarman, who then announced that he “would haunt me out of England.” Instead, Roberts eventually gained control of the various Jarman meetings by exposing the questionable credentials of the man who claimed to have lived in Utah where he had observed an overnight snowfall of thirteen feet and had been forced to live among the pine trees of the craggy Rocky Mountains where myriads of lions and tigers roamed the slopes. Many times Roberts’s life was threatened, but he was able to escape the mobs with police protection when the enraged crowds tried to rush him “to get me under their feet:” a favorite tactic which would have meant the end of the indomitable Mormon elder. The riotous meetings continued for some time with Roberts ever present to challenge Jarman until, at one meeting, Roberts was able to read a telegram to the crowd, a message which disclosed that the anti-Mormon Jarman had once been incarcerated in an insane asylum. This series of debates, an 1880s English version of being thrown to the lions, stamped Roberts as the strong and fearless defender of the Book of Mormon and Mormonism.40
He did not spend all of his career in England in debating but spent much time in the “celebrated Liverpool Picton Library” where he made “an immense collection of notes about evidences of American antiquities and archaeological works which provided external evidences for the Book of Mormon.”41 These materials later became some of the evidence he used in his 1909 three-volume New Witnesses for God to attempt to prove the historicity of the Book of Mormon. This set of books he considered to be one of his major historical treatises until the 1920s when his privately held Studies of the Book of Mormon, finally published in 1985, revealed that by then he held serious doubts about the book’s origins based on even more recent archaeological discoveries.
When he was released from his mission to England in September 1888, he returned home to become the editor of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association magazine, the Contributor, and to be rewarded for his forceful defense of the LDS church in the British Isles by being sustained as a member of the First Council of the Seventy. To avoid forfeiture of the $1,000 bond placed in his behalf on the charge of co-habitation two years earlier, he surrendered himself to the court and was sentenced to five months in the Utah State Penitentiary and a fine of $400.
In prison his early experiences in the rough mining camp of the Oquirrh Mountains, his work as a blacksmith, and his obvious leadership ability and easy familiarity with a class of men different, in most respects, from his church associates, made him instantly “popular among the ‘toughs.'”42
Some of these hardened criminals began to confide in him with their stories of adventure outside the law, and he reciprocated by giving them cigars and food specialties which outside friends brought him, sometimes slipping these prized articles under the doors of the “sweat-boxes” to which many of these incorrigibles were banished. He even took a number of their letters hidden in his clothing when he was released from prison to be delivered to their loved ones outside, an act “Had I been searched and the letters found upon me, I would have been returned to prison for months for violating prison rules.”43 He took some pride in this act of deception for the “toughs” he had befriended.
Perhaps at this point it can be worthwhile to emphasize once again what was indicated in the initial paragraph of this introduction that the early life experiences of Brigham Henry Roberts forever stamped him as a man of rough independence, fearlessness in defense of his principles, and accomplished as a debater and orator. By the time he had served his jail time, he was recognized by many in Utah as an individual of strength, decided opinions, and combatively willing to take on anyone who opposed his views. His entry into politics by the fall of 1888 in supporting the nomination of Democrat John T. Caine as a delegate took him to counties throughout the territory where he canvassed tirelessly for his candidate. As he wrote, rather immodestly but accurately, “my reputation as political advocate received immense impetus.”44
After some years of interspersing his Mormon leadership activities with political activism, he returned from a church conference to discover that he had been elected to the Utah State Constitutional Convention of March 1895 as a delegate from Davis County. By the time of the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890, he was now the husband of three wives, having married Margaret Curtis in April 1890. He was thirty-three at the time, seven years younger than Margaret. The convention met for sixty-six days as the fifty-nine Republicans and forty-eight Democrats debated the legal apparatus which would determine the course of the new state of Utah.
Roberts has been ever remembered as opposing equal suffrage for the women of the state, arguing on pragmatic grounds that the constitution might not be approved because President Grover Cleveland was opposed to granting women the right to vote. In three long speeches to support his point of view, at one point he declared that his opponents were playing to political advantage, not even using “Bull Sense.”45 He then apologized for using the expression. He also received opprobrium for opposing the adoption of an amendment prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Utah. He favored submitting the proposition to a vote of the people later as the best way to settle the question. Leaders of his church who supported the admonitions of the LDS doctrine in the Word of Wisdom against strong drink never understood his position in the matter. At this point one again might question if his early years in the mining camps influenced in any way his views.46
In June 1895 Roberts was nominated by acclamation at the Democratic convention to run for the U. S. House of Representatives. Immediately, he was embroiled in controversy when Joseph F. Smith of the First Presidency of the LDS church, and a staunch Republican, charged that he and Moses Thatcher, another Democratic nominee, had entered this political race without getting permission from church authorities. The issue of church and state was raised at once, and the ensuing hot discussion throughout the state may have influenced the outcome of Roberts’s candidacy when he lost by 897 votes out of 40,229 votes cast. The LDS church then adopted a “Political Manifesto” which declared that any church official who desired to run for political office must first receive permission from church leaders. Roberts signed the manifesto despite his belief there “had been good grounds for suspecting ecclesiastical intention to control the political affairs of the state.” His approval of the manifesto angered many of his gentile supporters, some of whom crossed “the street to avoid meeting with me.”47
Roberts’s political supporters were determined to get him elected to a national office, and he was not averse to accepting the Democratic nomination for Congress in the fall of 1898. The chief issue of the campaign was the propriety of his running for office when he was still married to three wives and had been once imprisoned for cohabitation. The Enabling Act for statehood had prohibited polygamous marriages but had not prohibited those already engaged in plural marriage for running for political office. Roberts was elected by almost a 7,000-vote margin. National opposition to placing him in Congress resulted in petitions with almost 7 million signatures being presented to the House of Representatives, although the New York Times, among other newspapers, asked for and printed his defense of his action to be seated. Susan B. Anthony, among many other individual supporters, published a letter in his behalf. He was granted fifty minutes for a speech before the house and then a second opportunity to defend his case, but the final vote on his seating was 268 in opposition, fifty in favor, with thirty-six not voting.48 This action effectively ended Roberts’s political career; henceforth he would be a religious leader and a writer and historian.
While it will not be possible to examine Roberts’s voluminous publications in detail in this introduction, a listing of some of his more important books will provide a glimpse into his wide-roving literary interests.49 After returning from his Millennial Star assignment in 1888, he wrote his only work of fiction, Corianton: A Nephite Story, patterned after the narratives in the Book of Mormon. Turning next to history, he completed a trilogy: Outlines of Ecclesiastical History: A Textbook (1893); The Missouri Persecutions (1900); and The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo (1900). In 1892 he wrote his only biography, The Life of John Taylor, the church president who was his alter ego. Asked to revise and publish the journal of Joseph Smith, he produced the six-volume History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, completed over a period of years from 1902 to 1912. He neglected to differentiate between materials written by Joseph Smith and those recorded by the prophet’s secretaries but did attempt to present the facts “related by the persons who witnessed them” and to permit the reader “to form his own conclusions.”50
As already indicated, he had done some serious research in Liverpool concerning proofs for the Book of Mormon and, after his political defeat in Washington, now devoted time to completing his defense of the book. A lawyer, Theodore Schroeder, who had practiced in Utah, began a series of written attacks on Book of Mormon claims with a series of four articles in the American Historical Magazine, later known as the Americana. The editor of the journal allowed Roberts to reply with four responses. In addition, and as chairman for nine years of the Mutual Improvement Association (MIA), he wrote a number of manuals attempting to prove the Book of Mormon to be a truthful document. They were finally published, in three volumes, under the title, New Witnesses for God, in 1909. Volumes II and III were devoted to a presentation of the external and internal evidences’ supporting the historicity of the book. Roberts acknowledged that “the incident of its coming forth and the book are facts of such importance that the whole work of God may be said in a manner to stand or fall with them.” He nevertheless concluded that the evidence he had presented was sufficient, “both in quality and quantity,” to convince any rational person of the truthfulness of this Mormon scripture.51 By 1921-22 he began to reconsider this claim as he discovered new archaeological evidence and came to a new appraisal of the role of Joseph Smith in formulating the book.
Of more enduring importance today is Roberts’s six-volume A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Completed by 1915, the work was not published until 1930 because Mormon church authorities lacked the $50,000 required to print the books in 1915. The history had its origin in the four articles by Roberts in Americana in answer to Schroeder’s attacks. The editor of the magazine published Roberts’s further articles on the history of the church at the rate of about forty-two pages per month over the period from 1909 to 1915. Roberts confessed that writing the history by following the truth “justly, firmly, and without hesitation” was “a task of supreme delicacy:” but he was determined to do his best. One friend, David McKenzie, was so startled by Roberts’s approach that he one day informed the author, “Well, I have read your story in this month’s Americana [;] Aye Mon the frankness of it, … How dare you do it Mon.” Roberts always thought the six-volume work was a “masterpiece” for the history of the LDS church in the nineteenth century.52 It is still much used by scholars, especially for its purpose as reference material.
The incident which lead to Roberts’s revived interest in the origins of the Book of Mormon came on August 22, 1921, when an investigator of Mormonism asked an explanation for five questions raised by the book: (1) the great diversity in Indian languages which supposedly occurred over the short period after the disappearance of the Nephites in about 400 A.D.; (2) the mention of horses in the book; (3) the accounts of the use of steel before it had been developed; (4) the accounts of “swords and scimeters” before the latter term had ever appeared in literature; and (5) the use of silk by the Nephites. Roberts, as the acknowledged church expert in this field, was asked to answer these five items.53
Roberts’s investigations in reply resulted in a treatise, “Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study,” of eighty-six printed pages. At his request, the First Presidency of the church granted him two days, and later a third, to present his “Difficulties” to them, the Twelve Apostles, and the Council of Seventy. The resulting discussions were disappointing to Roberts because no answers were advanced to the further questions he was now raising. In a letter to President Heber J. Grant on December 29, 1921, he hoped that “from the inspiration of the Lord as it may be received through the appointed channels of the priesthood” solutions might be found to the problems now so evident in the account of the Book of Mormon.54
Frustrated and somewhat disillusioned by his discussions with church leaders, he determined to pursue his investigations of the latest archaeological and other scientific evidence concerning the origins of the American Indians and these findings as they related to the Book of Mormon. As a result, he produced, in the winter and spring of 1921-22, a volume of 169 printed pages entitled Studies of the Book of Mormon. In this penetrating examination, he concluded that (1) a book printed in 1825 by the Reverend Ethan Smith, with the title View of the Hebrews, was probably available to Joseph Smith who could have used it as a “ground plan” for his theme and organization of the Book of Mormon, (2) Joseph Smith had an “Imaginative Mind” that could have helped him as he wrote the Book of Mormon, (3) certain internal inconsistencies exist in the book, and (4) conversions in the history of the Nephites are similar to conversions to certain Christian churches in the times and neighborhood when and where the Book of Mormon was produced. The tome was so controversial and cast so many questions on the Joseph Smith story that Roberts never submitted it to church leaders but kept it in his private possession where it remained until his descendants released it for publication by the University of Illinois Press in 1985 and under the auspices of the University of Utah Research Foundation. It is now available in a paperback edition from Signature Books.
Roberts’s most provocative conclusion is found on page 231 of the printed work which discusses the roles of three anti-Christs portrayed in the Book of Mormon. He then asserted of these false prophets: “they are all of one breed and brand; so nearly all alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and underdeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit points to Joseph Smith as their creator. It is difficult to believe that they are the products of history, that they come upon the scene separated by long periods of time, and among a race which was the ancestral race of the red man of America.”55
One other of Roberts’s books needs mention, a book on theology The Truth, The Way, The Life. Although Roberts thought this was one of his most important works, noted philosopher Sterling M. McMurrin was quoted as saying that the book was “completed before his death but which the church refused to publish. It includes some of Roberts’s speculations on pre-Adamites—a notion which, in my opinion, is nonsense.”56 Most scholars of the subjects agree that Roberts was a better historian than a theologian, although some of his other writings on religion compare favorably with the works of such commentators as Elder James E. Talmage and Elder John A. Widtsoe.
The ever-active Roberts could not only sit at a desk and write but was always looking for action, as a debater or public speaker or in any way that might test him physically as well as mentally. World War I offered an opportunity he could not resist, and at his request, Governor Simon Bamberger, a good political friend, appointed him as Chaplain of the First Utah Light Field Artillery, known usually as the 145th Artillery Unit. When the 145th was scheduled for active duty, Roberts was able, with the help of Senator Reed Smoot, to be transferred from the reserve to active duty, with the restriction that he must be successful in qualifying for service by completing the six-week course at Camp Taylor, in Louisville, Kentucky, for officers and chaplains. Surprising many at home and in Kentucky, the over-sixty grandfather passed the tests including the vigorous physical requirements. The 145th sailed for France and was ordered to the front on November 9, 1918, but failed to reach the battle area by November 11 when the Armistice was proclaimed. The disappointed Roberts could assuage his regret at missing action by later writing, “That was not our fortune and added, “I am happy to know it was not our fault.”57
One last call to active duty in his church, apart from his normal responsibilities in the Seventy Council, came immediately after his discussion with his superiors over Book of Mormon difficulties. His constant and relentless search for answers to such vexing problems as the historicity of the Book of Mormon must have been disquieting to church leaders who were most accustomed to the obedience of those of lesser rank and members who ranged from passivity to almost adulation. At any rate, he was offered (if that is the right verb) the job as editor of the Deseret News or president of any mission in the United States. He at once chose the Eastern States Mission where he served from May 1922 to May 1927. While in New England, he continued his search for materials concerned with the origins of the Book of Mormon and added to his personal library a number of books such as Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, and Elias Boudinot’s A Star in the West. His missionaries remembered him as almost a martinet with his insistence that they use every possible moment to proselytize for their church.58 During the last years of his life, he suffered from diabetes but remained active as a speaker and writer until his death on September 27, 1933.
Brigham Henry Roberts has left a legacy as an LDS church leader and scholar. In a 1969 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the late premier Mormon historian, Leonard Arrington, published the results of a survey he had taken to try to identify the leading intellectuals in Mormon history. He polled a large number of individuals, both Mormon historians and others outstanding and intellectually brilliant in other fields. His question asked these people to choose the “five most eminent intellectuals in Mormon history.” As a result of the responses, Arrington then listed in priority order the selected twelve individuals. The top five, in order of precedence, were (1) B. H. Roberts, (2) Orson Pratt, (3) Joseph Smith, Jr., (4) Sterling M. McMurrin, and (4) James E. Talmage.59
Author and historian Stan Larson repeated this exercise in 1993, sending questionnaires to 152 individuals, of whom 94 replied. The only restriction was that those asked to respond were “not to vote for him—or herself—or the writer.” In this second survey, Larson compiled the results as follows: (1) B. H. Roberts, 73 votes; (2) Orson Pratt, 52 votes; (3) Sterling M. McMurrin, 41 votes; (4) Leonard J. Arrington, 31 votes; and (5) Joseph Smith, Jr., 31 votes. Larson concluded, “What the present survey demonstrates is that sixty years after his death, B. H. Roberts remains the foremost intellectual in Mormonism, and if anything his position is even stronger now; in 1969 Roberts was 17 percent ahead of the second position; today he is 42 percent ahead.”60
While many scholars and the general reading public are acquainted with the major works of Roberts, especially his six-volume A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they may not have been exposed to many of his other exceptional writings and speeches as assembled in this book. Signature Books and the editor have tried to select items which reflect the life and times of Roberts as well as his robust and very direct exposition; his penchant, lawyer-like, for a detailed and forceful presentation of the evidence on a subject he is presenting or defending; and his skill in describing and narrating an event or a trend in history. The selected material includes a few excerpts from his own and other books; a number of articles in magazines; some items from his private papers in the collection held in the Marriott Library at the University of Utah; newspaper accounts of his activities or public remarks; and, above all, some of his powerful and interesting public speeches and sermons.
He was, after all, one of the most dramatic and exemplary orators of his day when, before radio, television, and the computer, the dispensing of information and a display of histrionics could delight and enthrall a crowd. Large groups of people, from Iowa, Tennessee, Liverpool, Washington, D. C., and, of course, Utah, over the years enjoyed the stellar performances of Mormon elder B. H. Roberts as he stood and marched before a podium, gesturing for dramatic effect, and entrancing his listeners with his command of his material and his attraction to those listening to him. The editor of this book invites its readers to sit back and enjoy the mastery of this leading Mormon intellectual and rejoice that from his rough boyhood and young manhood days to his position as a leader in his church, he was always a man of the people and a strong defender of Mormonism.
1. Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1980), 2-4.
2. The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, edited by Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 7.
4. Ibid., 6; Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 7-8.
5. The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, 8.
7. Ibid., 8.
8. Ibid., 9.
9. Ibid., 11, 12; Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 16.
10. Autobiography, 10.
11. Ibid., 12, 13.
12. Ibid., 15, 16.
13. Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 22, 23.
14. Autobiography, 25.
15. Ibid., 25.
16. Ibid., 27.
17. Ibid., 40.
18. Ibid., 42.
19. Ibid., 47.
20. Ibid., 48.
21. Ibid., 50; Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 61-66.
22. Autobiography, 52.
23. Ibid., 53-56.
24. Ibid., 67-71.
25. Ibid., 70-71
26. Ibid., 72-76.
27. Ibid., 82.
28. Ibid., 83.
29. Ibid., 92.
30. Ibid., 109.
31. Ibid., 121.
32. Ibid., 126.
33. Ibid., 137.
34. Ibid., 144, 145.
35. Ibid., 157.
36. Ibid., 158.
37. Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 157.
38. Autobiography, 160-61.
39. Ibid., 163-65.
40. Ibid., 165-72.
41. Ibid., 172.
42. Ibid., 177.
43. Ibid., 179.
44. Ibid., 182.
45. Ibid., 192.
46. Ibid., 195-198.
47. Ibid., 204-205.
48. Ibid., 212-19.
49. The following brief analysis of Roberts’s written introduction to the book edited by this author, B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), and the paperback edition by Signature Books of Salt Lake City, 1992.
50. Ibid., 4-6.
51. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, edited by Brigham D. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 12-18.
52. Ibid., 18-19.
53. Ibid., 20-21.
54. Ibid., 22, 46.
56. Sterling M. McMurrin and L. Jackson Newell, Matters of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin on Philosophy, Education, and Religion (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 20. Roberts’s work was finally published in 1994 by Smith Research Associates (San Francisco, California), edited by Stan Larson and distributed by Signature Books.
57. Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 301-11.
58. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, 24-25.
59. Stan Larson, “Intellectuals in Mormon History: An Update,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Fall 1993): 187-89.
* * * * *
[Note: The following is included for historical interest and does not represent the current position of the LDS church or the opionon of the publisher.]
(from “The Political Status of Women in Utah,”
The Young Woman’s Journal 10 [March 1899]: 104-105;
and “Woman’s Place in ‘Mormonism,'”
An Address Delivered on 16 January 1910,
Liahona: The Elders’ Journal 7 [12 March 1910]: 601-605)
“The Political Status of Women in Utah”
Perhaps, I shall be pardoned if I make passing mention of the many misrepresentations I have suffered because of my opposition at that time to equal suffrage. That opposition has been charged to my contempt for women; to my regarding her as so inferior to man, that she was incapable of intelligently exercising the franchise, even if it were conferred upon her; to an alleged belief of mine that it was the prerogative of man to govern woman as masters ruled their slaves; and I know not how much more rubbish of the same sort has been charged to my account. It is not necessary for me to deny any of these charges, since the debates of the Constitutional Convention are now published, and reference to them will clearly show that my opposition to equal suffrage was based upon no such grounds. It was based upon the conception that the sphere of man’s life and woman’s life were so far different, that each would be the better for it; domestic peace be more secure, and at the same time no substantial injustice result to woman if the privilege of the elective franchise was withheld from her. It was not contempt for woman that lead to my opposition to her enfranchisement, but my deep regard for her. It was not because I despised woman’s influence that I was opposed to equal suffrage, but because I feared that influence would be lessened by being directed into unwomanly environments. It was not because I wanted to see man lord over woman that I opposed the extension of the elective franchise and the privilege of office-holding to her, but it was because I wanted to see preserved without spot or blemish or prospect of diminution that noblest and best office of man—The Protector of Woman; and to woman that dearest satisfaction in life that comes from the sense of such protection. But this is of the past, and it is of the present you would have me speak. Very good. I urged my objections in the debates of the Constitutional Convention. They were set aside by action of the convention. Equal suffrage was secured to the women of this State by Constitutional provision. That settled it. The incident closed. The fact was accomplished. What shall be done after that by those opposed to suffrage? By the expressions that come from some quarters it would seem that it is thought that they ought to carry on relentless war on suffrage in order to be consistent. As if political questions could never be settled! As if it were impossible to acquies[c]e in the decision of majorities! My own position upon on the question as it now stands in the State was somewhat carefully though briefly defined before the close of the recent election and published in the Salt Lake Herald of November the 8th, which I quote here:
“Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 7, 1898.
“Editor Salt Lake Herald:
“Dear Sir—Inasmuch as I hear there is some speculation in Salt Lake City as to my probable attitude in regard to the question of woman suffrage should I be elected as representative to Congress, I desire to say to all who may be interested in that matter that since I accepted a nomination from a State where the constitution confers equal suffrage on both men and women, and would be expected to represent the interests of that constituency in all respects, I shall consider myself bound to represent the interests and wishes of the women of my State on the subject of suffrage, should it arise in congress; and had I not been able to take that view of the case, I should not have consented to become a candidate for the office for which I was nominated by the state Democratic convention.
“The question of suffrage is settled in this State. It is an accomplished fact. The people have spoken on the subject, and it is the law by constitutional provision. Whatever individual views may have been, or are now, the people of this State have determined the matter, and the men who, in the halls of congress, represent Utah, must represent this interest as well as every other upon which the people have expressed their will. These are my views upon the question; and to the best of my ability I shall represent the wishes and the interests of the people of this State on the subject of equal suffrage.
B. H. Roberts.“
To the above I would also add that I have several times in public expressed myself to the effect that in my judgment since the constitution has extended the suffrage to women, the exercise of the elective franchise by women has become a duty imposed upon them by the State, and it ought not to be neglected. In such light it ought to be regarded by those who did not clamor for the privilege.
The communication to the Salt Lake Herald will be an answer to your second as well as to your first question. Though as to the 16th amendment proposition, allow me to say that in my judgment that is not the best method to proceed with suffrage prop[a]ganda. For in addition to the prejudice existing against suffrage in by very far the greater part of the United States, the movement would encounter the opposition of those who are of the opinion that the granting and regulation of the elective franchise should be left, as it is now, to the respective States. And there is much force in the question why should not Massachusetts, Old Virginia, Pennsylvania and other old and great States be allowed to settle the question for themselves, just as Utah and Wyoming have settled it for themselves, without interference of other States. The war for equal suffrage will best be waged in detail—that is, by carrying the States separately rather than by attempting to accomplish the matter by national constitutional amendment.
“Woman’s Place in ‘Mormonism”
Only a short time ago a minister in preaching what I think, in the main, must have been a very excellent discourse, took occasion to glance in our direction, and say what I think was one of the unkindest things that could be said of the Latter-day Saints. The press reported the gentleman as saying:
“The true cause—of this so-called poverty and handicap, (among the Mormons), of course, is not in reference to the tithes, but the low ideals in the homes, and the lack of respect for woman. As the earthly home is lifted it becomes nearest like the home beyond the skies, the final home of the soul.”
I say that is the unkindest thing that could be said of the Latter-day Saints, or, really, of any people. It would be the saddest commentary that could be made on any system, if it were true; but I resent it as a charge against my people, and say that it is untrue; and on the contrary affirm that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the new dispensation of it committed to this world through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith, teaches the highest respect for woman that may be described by human speech or wrought into practice. There is no people in the world that so religiously and absolutely believe that doctrine of Paul s that in God’s economy of things “the man is not without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord.” Some, through misrepresentation, have charged that we believe this doctrine so absolutely as to hold that there is no salvation for man or woman outside of the marriage relation. Of course, that is an extreme to which we do not go. We believe—at least permit me to say that I believe, and I think I have warrant for such belief in the principles of our faith, that it is possible for either man or woman to be saved without marriage at all. It is possible for a man to be saved with one wife; and, if you will just be patient enough to let me say it, if we may here regard the teachings of the Scripture, which speaks of Abraham as having a place in the kingdom of God—nay, his very bosom is the goal to which all Christian eyes turn, where they hope to find peace and heavenly rest—and if we believe this of Abraham, we may be justified in believing it possible for a man to be saved though he should happen to have more than one wife. But instructed by our faith, we so honor woman that we hold that man cannot attain to the heights of exaltation and glory possible to the intelligences which we call men only as he shall be holily joined with woman in divinely appointed wedlock; for in that state, and that state only, is the power of eternal lives, and increasing glory, and dominion, and exaltation. No man may attain unto these high things only as he is united with woman in holy marriage.
I accept all that the reverend gentleman says of the beauty and blessedness of the home. It is indeed, from the “Mormon” viewpoint, the principal factor of civilization; the spring and source of national life and greatness and stability. And, as our reverend friend remarks, “as the earthly home is lifted it becomes nearest like the home beyond the skies, the final home of the soul.” A very pretty sentiment, truly, and “Mormons” believe in it so absolutely that they look forward to the actual existence of the family “beyond the skies,” or at least in heaven—through all eternity—that they even now make their marriage vows and covenants with reference to that status—the eternal perpetuation of the family. They are not content to have the marriage ceremony end with that doleful note from the tombs—”until death does you part!” but rejoice rather in the blessed words of their God—given ceremony—the inspiring words of life and joy and hope—”I pronounce you man and wife through time and all eternity!” To those who express the fear that all this is too concrete, too matter-of—fact, too sensual, we answer that such has been the refining influence of woman upon man, developing the purest and best part of his nature; such has been the influence of the home upon civilization in this world, that we cannot believe but that the joys of heaven will be heightened and rendered purer by it; and even conception of its community life must be made grander by thinking of it as made up of indestructible families. Hence our hopes and holiest aspirations are associated with the family—in which woman is necessarily a chief and honored factor in this world and in that which is to come. And not only is this our hope for the future, but we believe it is a condition prevailing in all past eternities, as note one of our hymns:
“In the heavens are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare;
Truth is reason, truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.
“When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
“Then at length when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation,
Let me come and dwell with you?”
I challenge the Christian world to equal—to say nothing of surpassing—this conception of the nobility of woman and of motherhood and of wifehood—placing her side by side with the Divine consort and mother of divine intelligences! Some object to that conception, and undertake to detract from its beauty and glory by saying that it presents to the thought a pluralistic deity, consisting of divine Father and divine Mother. That, however, is a consequence they attach to our faith, not a principle that we accept; because the Godhead, for us, as all those who are acquainted with our doctrines know, consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the grand creating and presiding divine Council that upholds and sustains and guides the destiny of our earth and its associated spheres. And these gentlemen who are so fearful of a pluralistic deity being thought of, would do well to stand out a little upon the frontier of the highest Christian thought of our age, and they will discover that many of our first and greatest philosophers are beginning to teach the doctrine that so far as the infinite or the absolute exists, it exists in a plurality of divine intelligences; and that the oneness of God is but the free harmony of divine intelligences. And, then, for matter of that, so long as the Christian world teaches that in the Godhead are three personalities—the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit—they will try in vain to get away from the conception of a pluralistic deity.
And now, I may violate what some regard as the canons of good taste in public speaking by making a personal reference to myself. But what I am about to present meets this charge of “low ideals in the homes and the lack of respect for woman”—I say the thing I have in mind so completely meets this issue that I shall give it, even though it be somewhat personal.
It has been my custom, now, for quite a number of years, on the anniversary of my mother s birth, and on the anniversary of my own birth, to either visit her in person and chat with her, or else, if away from her home, to write her a communication. Four years ago, not being able to reach her, on the anniversary of my own birth, I sent her the following communication, written in honor of women—in honor of her—my mother. I now read it to you. I gave it a title, calling it
God’s Herald of the Resurrection—Woman.
“Next to her holy office of wifehood and motherhood, the most exalted honor Deity ever conferred on woman was that of making her his first messenger of the resurrection; and, in its most emphatic form at least, the messenger also of the beautiful doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man. The manner of conferring this high and sacred commission upon woman was as follows—the account is John’s:
“The Christ had been crucified and laid in the new sepulcher provided by Joseph of Arimathea. Then early in the morning of the third day after the crucifixion, came Mary of Magdala to the sepulcher and found it empty; whereupon she ran and informed Peter and John that the body of Jesus had been taken away. There was a hasty and excited visit to the sepulcher, and, on the part of Peter and John, a hasty departure. But Mary lingered near the vacant tomb. This was where she had last seen Him whom she loved—here she must begin her search for Him—and she will search for him, for it is woman’s nature to hope—O glorious inconsistency!—against hope itself. And she was rewarded for her love that made her linger, though it was by an empty sepulcher; for soon angels said to her; “Why weepest thou? and Mary said, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And then one greater than the angels stood by her, and said, “Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? Then she:
“Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”
“Rabboni!” with arms extended— “Touch me not,”—gently, lovingly, not harshly said—’Touch me not; for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascended unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and to your God.’
“Commissioned so, Mary told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, ‘and that he had spoken these things unto her.’
“And thus to a woman was it first given to carry the glad message fashioned first by angel’s tongues—’He is risen!’ As also the message that the Christ’s Father is man’s Father; that the Christ’s God is man’s God; and that as consequence of this, all men are brethren.
“Many eulogies have been written in thy praise, O woman! Much honor accorded thee in God’s economy of the world. But here thy glory—under the limits of our opening sentence—attained its flood tide. Never wast thou so honored before; never, so far as human ken may see, wilt thou be more honored. Indeed, how couldst thou be? What concerns the world more to know than what is comprised in thy message—Christ is risen; his Father is man’s Father; his God, man’s God—all men are brethren! This the sum of the law and the gospel—all else commentary. And thou, O woman! the messenger of these glad tidings! How honored wast thou! Even the glory of being ‘last at the cross, and earliest at the tomb,’ is eclipsed by the honor of being herald of this. Cherish thou this honor. Claim it in all its Christ-given splendor; for it is fitting that thou to unto whom it is first given to know human earth-life perennial, should be made herald of life immortal, and its relations. And thus wast thou honored of Deity, O mother of human life—herald of life immortal! and of common fatherhood and brotherhood for human race. I am taught by these high things to honor thee, and here uncovered and holily I reverence pay thee.”
That was sent, on the 13th of March, 1906, to my mother. It was not written with any intent, the remotest, for publication; and it may lack very much of excellence and come far short of the high theme with which it deals; but whatever its defects may be, it is not lacking in appreciation and honor of woman. It is the result of much thought and reflection, of one born and reared in the “Mormon” system; such sentiment of respect and honor as it breathes for woman in her high offices is taught to me by my “Mormon” faith, letter and spirit. If anyone shall say in controversion of this that my brief treatise deals with New Testament facts, such an objector must be reminded that my “Mormon” faith teaches me the acceptance of both Old and New Testaments as “the word of God,” a fact too frequently overlooked by our critics; and from them, as other books containing revelations from God, I learn my “Mormonism.”
A few days ago, she to whom the above words were written, breathed out her life in my arms; and yesterday we stood by the open grave while friends and kindred laid this honored woman to rest. I am still in the atmosphere of these things; and from the midst of these holy associations, I denounce as false—I hope it was not maliciously made, the charge that the “Mormon” faith gives out “low ideals in the homes and lacks in its respect and honor for woman.” The charge is not true.
* * * * *
(from Defense of the Faith and the Saints
[Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1912], 2:455-61)
That thought brings me to another subject; our belief in continuous revelation, and an inspired priesthood in the Church. We have heard, by our brother who preceded me, that we believe in the revelations of God. One of our articles of faith puts it in this form: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” We believe that the Church of Christ is within the hearing of God, that is, not only that he hears the prayers of his Saints, but also that he answers those prayers. We feel that this Church of Christ—this Church of ours—is in touch with the Infinite and in tune with the Infinite, that the intelligence and power of God are among its resources; that where human wisdom comes short, God may be reached through the channels appointed and God s intelligence, and wisdom, and power brought into the service of the Church of Christ. It is possible for his prophet to divest himself of personal desires and interests; to put away from himself preconceived thought and notion, and seek to know the mind and will of God; by going into the holy of holies, thus prepared, it is possible, if God will, for him to return with the law of God unto his people, unto his Church, thus making the wisdom and strength of God the wisdom and strength of his Church. We believe that; but there is for the Church but one man in the Church at a time who has the right to thus come with the law of God unto his people. Though every individual, in his individual capacity, and for guidance in the position he occupies in the Church—it is possible for each person to have access, through the inspirations of the Spirit of God, to the same source of knowledge and strength and power. We believe in an inspired priesthood for the Church; we believe in inspired teachers; but that does not require us to believe that every word that is spoken from the pulpit is the very word of God. Perhaps some of you will think that there is a passage in one of our revelations somewhat against this conception of things, as for instance here in section 68 of the Doctrine and Covenants, is a revelation that was given to Elder Orson Hyde and the Church. It is written here that Elder Hyde was called upon to go from land to land as a teacher of the gospel—
“And behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth;
“And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
“And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”
But mark you this, the fact that shall give unto their utterances the value of Scripture, making their words as the word of God, and the power of God unto salvation—the condition precedent to this is that they “speak as moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” “Whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture,” etc. But it is not given to mortal man always to walk upon that plane where the sunlight of God’s inspiration is playing upon him. Men may, by care and devotion and spiritual strength, rise sometimes to that high plane; may stand at times as on mountain tops, uncovered, in the presence of God, their spirit united with his Spirit, until the mind of God shall flow through them to bless those who hearken to their words: and there is no need that one shall rise up and say, [“]This man was inspired of God,” for all the people who receive of his ministrations know that by the effect of his spirit upon their spirits. But, sometimes, the servants of God stand on planes infinitely lower than the one here described. Sometimes they speak merely from their human knowledge, influenced by passions; influenced by the interests of men, and by anger, and vexation, and all those things that surge in upon the minds of even servants of God. When they so speak, then that is not Scripture, that is not the word of God, nor the power of God unto salvation; but when they speak as moved upon by the Holy Ghost, their voice then becomes the voice of God. So that men, even some of high station in the Church, sometimes speak from merely human wisdom; or from prejudice or passion; and when they do so, that is not likely to be the word of God. I do not think the world should require such perfection of us as to insist that our religious teachers always deliver the inerrant word of God! In any event it must be allowed by us that many unwise things were said in times past, even by prominent elders of the Church; things that were not in harmony with the doctrines of the Church, and that did not possess the value of Scripture, or anything like it; and it was not revelation. Moreover, no revelation even becomes the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until it is accepted by that Church by formal action; it must be accepted by official vote of the Church before it becomes the law of the Church.
There is one thing which always gives me great and abounding joy, and that is this: Here in the Doctrine and Covenants we have a volume of revelation that has been given to the Church as the word of God, and accepted as such by the Church. We accept four great books as the authoritative Scriptures of the Church, wherein the doctrines of the Church are couched, viz, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the collection of writings called the Pearl of Great Price, containing the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and some of the writings of the Prophet Joseph. I have been engaged for some years in advocacy of our faith, and in defending it, and in these Scriptures that have been given under the inspiration of God, and accepted by the Church of Christ as containing the doctrine of the Church, I find no doctrine, that may not be successfully defended before any body of men in the world, I care not how learned or intelligent they may be—nay, the more learned and intelligent the easier is the defense. The books I have named constitute our Scripture, not the haphazard sayings of m[e]n from the pulpit; and as in the future we receive line upon line, and precept upon precept—as the volume of written revelation shall grow, it will possess the same characteristics of truth that our present volumes of Scripture possess.
There is one other item I would like to speak upon, viz., that article of our faith which declares that “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.” Now, of course, that article covers the whole moral law of the gospel as pertaining to personal conduct, and as pertaining to conduct in relationship to others. It introduces a theme altogether too large for exposition here; and I shall confine my remarks just to the two first things—which, really are but one thing, namely, that we believe in being “honest, true.” If you were to judge of the character of the Latter-day Saints by what is being said of them in the current magazines and the daily press, one would really think that they possessed no quality of honesty or of truthfulness; but that in both civic and religious life their whole course of conduct was based upon chicanery, and fraud, and untruth. Yet, here is our article of faith, that we believe in being honest, in being true. That means that we believe in speaking the truth and acting the truth; it goes both to belief and to action; to mental attitude and actual practice:
God’s Word is Truth.
Let me call attention to another fact—and Brother Penrose mentioned it, also—namely, that we believe in certain attributes that God possesses. Among these attributes, as well as eternity, and omnipotence, and omnipresence, and omniscience, and holiness, and wisdom, and knowledge, and power, and love, and justice, and mercy—there is also the attribute of truth; and this attribute of truth is absolute in God. The scriptures say, with verity, that he is “a God of truth, without iniquity; just and right is he.” “Mercy and truth,” said another prophet, “go before thy face.” Another one has said, “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” Along this line we ourselves have a very grand saying, given to the Prophet Joseph before the organization of the Church, but it will endure through all time, and in all ages, and in all experiences, namely:
“God doth not walk in crooked paths; neither doth he turn to the right hand, nor to the left; neither doth he vary from that which he has said; therefore, his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.” (Doc. & Cov., sec. 3:2).
Because of this attribute of truth in God, he must be thought of as imparting to the institutions which he founds his own nature; they must be in harmony with his attributes. Consequently, when he establishes his Church, it will be a church of truth; it will stand for the truth like its founder; it will speak the truth without variation, without turning to the right hand, or turning to the left hand. God must be true—an untruthful God? The very thought, but that I am refuting it, would be blasphemy. It would wreck the moral universe for God to speak untruth. It is unthinkable; it cannot be entertained. That also which God founds, an institution such as his Church, must also, I repeat, stand for the truth. But those, I say, who judge our reputation from what is said of us in the current magazines—a person forming his judgment upon those slanders, would believe there was no truth in us, nor in the Church. But we, nevertheless, believe in truth; we believe in being honest, true, virtuous; and let those who charge us with believing otherwise than this; or who say that we trust in falsehood; and believe in practicing it, wherein they do not speak ignorantly—“let them be anathema!” And those among us—those of our faith—and I fear that there may be one in ten thousand, I do not know, but I have found some who will advance the idea that even the kingdom of God has to resort to deception and untruth, at times, in order to meet some emergency or other—to all such without qualification, I say anathema! Be ye accursed! They do the Church to which they belong a great injustice. The Church cannot stand on untruth. The truth, the whole of it, and constantly the truth, must be the creed of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or else it proves itself not the product of the God of truth, for he is true. To doubt it would be disloyalty, to think of it, otherwise than to refute it, would be blasphemy.