THE MORMONS; OR, LATTER-DAY SAINTS, IN THE VALLEY OF THE GREAT SALT LAKE. By Lieut J. W GUNNISON. 12mo. pp. 165. Lippincott, Grambo & Co.
The author of this volume, who was a Member of the Exploring Expedition to the Great Salt Lake, under the command of Capt. Stans-bury, had ample opportunities for personal ob-servation of the singular manners and customs of the Mormons, and has recorded the results of his experience in a remarkably intelligent and candid narrative. We can freely recommend his work as containing the meet satisfactory account that we have seen of the history and character of the peculiar people among whom he resided for over a twelvemonth in his official capacity.
The valley of the Great Salt Lake is situated midway between the States on the western bank of the Mississippi, and the Gold Regions of Cali-fornia. With inhospitable tracts of land on the Worth and South, the slope of the Rocky Moun-tains on the East, and immense salt deserts on the West, it is isolated from the usual abodes of civil-ised man, and presents a locality with rare natu-ral advantages for a great social experiment. The name of Deseret which has been applied to this territory by the Mormons is a mystic word taken from the book of Mormon, signifying the Land of the Honey Bee. In this sequestered and roman-tic valley, a colony of 4,000 persons was estab-lished in 1847, under the conduct of Brigham Young, who claimed to be the Lord's Prophet and Seer to the Latter Day Saints.
The land was consecrated by solemn ceremo-nies to the service of the Church, and a perma-nent location made on territory, to which none o the wandering tribes of Indians could show a title. In five days a large tract was plowed, planted with potatoes, and the site of a city laid out. During the following year, every month was so mild, that the settlers plowed and sowed in each, but their provisions were reduced to such a degree, that they were compelled to eat the hides of the slaughtered animals, which they col-lected out of the ditches, or tore from the roofs of houses. Their miserable meal was eked out by the wild roots which they dug side by side with the savage Utahs. The famine was aggravated by an army of locusts which descending from the mountain sides destroyed every green thing, cut-ting off the tender wheat stalk, while the grain was in the milk, and eluding every attempt to avert their fatal progress. At last, a welcome aid appeared from an unexpected quarter. Flocks of glossy white gulls, with bright red beaks and feet, dovelike in form and motion, with plumage of downy softness, filled the air with their grace-fill careerings, and alighting on the smooth and gentle slopes at the base of the mountains, feast-ed en the insect banquet, which was profusely spread for their entertainment. Since that sea-son, the crops of the Mormons have more than supplied their wants; the fields are in a better state of cultivation; the assiduous gulls continue their annual visit, which at first was supposed miraculous; and the colonists have been able to famish food to the California emigrants at a less price than at Fort Laramie, four hundred miles nearer the States.
From the original colony on the Salt Lake, four other colonies have branched off. Cities, with populous and rapidly growing suburbs, extend on a line of nearly two hundred miles, and a chain of posts will soon be established for the convenience of emigrants by the seaports of the Pacific. The number of inhabitants in the mountains has been variously estimated, but, there are probably now in Utah not less than 30,000, and the number is rapidly increasing by the influx from England, Wales, and the Continent of Europe.
The Mormons profess a complete separation of Church and State, but their political character and administration are made subservient to the theo-cratical or religious element. They call their sys- tem of Government a "Theo-Democracy," pro-fessing to stand, in a civil capacity, like the an-cient Israelites under Moses. For the rule of those not fully imbued with the spirit of obedi-dience, as well as for things purely temporal, tri-bunals of justice are at present necessary; but the laws of Heaven are the ultimate authority, and those holding the revelation of the Divine Will are the legitimate Governors. The President of the Church is the temporal civil Governor, by vir-tue of his office as Seer of the Lord. Should one be assigned to them not of their creed, or other than their Chief, he would find himself without oc-cupation. While received with the courtesy due to a distinguished personage, in his official capa-city, to use the phrase of the people, "he would be let severely alone." The form of Courts might be established to which Gentile sojourners or emi-grants could have recourse; but the members of the Latter-Day Church would completely ignore them; their causes must be settled by the Church; which is the Court for doctrinal error; other of-fenses are treated according to the statuses of Deseret, and the "Common Law of the Moun-tain." Among themselves, all disputes are to be settled by a Church organization, which includes the civil officers from the inferior Justice of the Peace up to the Governor. The Justice is a Bishop of a ward in the city, or precinct of the town or county; the Judges of the Superior Courts are taken from the High Priests, from the quorums of seventies, or from the College of the Apostles; while the Seer is the highest ruler and consulting Judge. A double name is therefore re-quired, by which the same persons execute the functions in their different official capacities, ac-cording as things relate to civil or spiritual mat-ters. The entire management is under the Presi-dency, which consists of three persons, the Seer and two Counsellors.
As respects their religious position, the Mor-mons claim to be the Only True Church of God and his Son, believing that, under the guidance of the Spirit, they will gather to the-mselves all who are destined to listen to the voice of Truth, when they will absorb all the sects of Christendom. Two hosts will be marshaled against each other; one under the banner of the Pope of Rome, the other around the Flag of all Nations, led by their Seer; the great battle of Gog and Magog will be fought; earth will become the property of the Saint-and the Lord will descend from his heavenly throne to reign over them through a happy millenium. The Mormons believe in God the Eternal Father, in his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. They believe the word of God recorded in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books. They believe in the literal gathering of Israel, in the restoration of the Ten Tribes, in the resurrection of the body, and in the personal reign of Christ on the earth for a thousand years. The Supreme Hierarchy which is the object of the Mormon worship consists of a Trinity or rather a Duality of Persons. God the Father is held to be a man perfected, but so far advanced in faith, intelligence, and power, that, in comparison with man, He may be called the Infinite. The Son, Jesus Christ is the offspring of the Father and the Virgin Mary. The Eternal Father came upon earth, sent his herald-angel Gabriel to announce his union with Mary, and the Holy Babe that was born was the tabernacle prepared for the Spirits Son, who now constitutes a God. The Holy Ghost is the concomitant will of both the Father and the Son, differing from both in being merely a Spiritual Soul or existence, without ever having taken a material body.
A priesthood, the Mormons contend, is essen-tial to the being as well us to the perfection of a Church. The priestly order receives tithes of all one possesses on entering the Church; and the members pay a tenth of all income, and devote a tenth part of their time to the temple and other public works. The bishops have charge of the tithe labor and put the proceeds in the public store-houses. The priesthood has many grades of offices and gifts. The first is the Presidency of three persons, corresponding to the Trinity in Heaven, and more particularly to Peter, James, and John, the first Presidents of the Gospel Church. Next in order is the traveling High Apos-tolic College of Twelve Apostles—then the high-priests, priests, elders, bishops, teachers, and dea-cons, with the evangelists or missionaries of the three seventies. Each order constitutes a full quorum for the discipline of its members, but ap-peals lie to higher orders, and the whole church is the final appellate court assembled in General Council. A High Council consisting of twelve members is selected out of the high-priest, and holds a perpetual session for the advice of the Presidency ; each one being free to give and argue his opinion ; but the decision of the President is absolute, and demands implicit obedience. This Council is eye, ear, and hand to the President the members are spies in all matters in the field or the temple, in the social party or the domestic circle.
"Their mode of conducting worship is to assem-ble at a particular hour, and the senior priest then indicates order by asking a blessing on the congre-gation and exercises—when a hymn from their own collection is sung, prayer made extempore and another sacred song, followed by a sermon from some one previously appointed to preach ; which is usually continued by exhortations and remarks from those who ‘feel moved upon to speak.' Then notices of the arrangement of the tithe labor for the ensuing week, and information on all secular matters, interesting to them in a church capacity, is read by the conncil clerk, and the congregation dismissed by a benediction.
"While the congregation is assembling and de-parting from the house, it is usual for the large and excellent band of music to perform anthems, marches, and waltzes, which drives away all som-ber feelings, and prepares the mind for the ex- citing and often eloquent discourses. As there are a large number of Welsh in the meetings, and many of them not understanding the English languuge, a version of the principal discourse is sometimes made to them by an interpreter, and a Welsh choir will then exhilarate all present by singing one of their hymns, to one of their charming, wild, romantic airs."
The doctrine and custom of polygamy has been gradually introduced among the Mormons, and may now be regarded as a characteristic feature of their social organization. It was at first an-nounced that the founder, Joseph Smith, and those he thought faithful, like the saints of old, David, Solomon, and Jacob, should be privileged to have as many wives as they could support, to raise up a holy household for the service of the Lord. The privilege, such as it is, seems now to have become universal, and to claim the sanction of a religious principle. It is taught that the use and foundation of matrimony is to raise up a pecu-liar, holy people for the Kingdom of Christ on earth, and that at the Millennium, the glory of the man will be in proportion to the size of his house-hold of children, wives and servants. None, how-ever, hut those eligible to the priesthood have a right to marry at all. The woman that marries out of the priesthood marries for hell. Marriage is to be a pure and holy state; prompted alone by religious motives and a sense of duty ; sensual motives being held up as an abomination. It is affirmed that a woman cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, without a husband to introduce her as belonging to himself. The addition of wives after the first to a man's family is called a "a sealing to him." This constitutes a relation with all the rights and sanctions of matrimony. The idea of an exclusive love is derided. The Seer alone has the power of allowing the number of wives to be increased; the suitor must ob-tain the consent of the parents, then of the lady, and finally of the Seer. Every unmar-ried woman has a right to demand a man in marriage on the ground of the privilege of salva-tion ; the President who receives the petition is bound to procure her a husband; he may com-mand any man he deems competent to support her, to add her to the number of his wives ; and unless he can show just impediment, if he declines the union, he is punished for contumacy. The Seer has also power to annul the marriage contract, and dissolve the relationship of the parties. In some instances, several wives occupy the same house, but it is more usual to board out the extra ones, who are generally able to pay their way, by sewing and other female employments. The Mor-mons assert "that this system is the preventive and cure for the awful licentiousness—the moral and physical degradation in the world ; and they make it both a religious and a social custom, a point of personal honor for a man whose wife, daughter, or sister has been led astray, to kill the seducer; and considering this us 'common moun-tain law,' based on the Mosaic code, a jury will acquit the murderer at all hazards. That the wives find the relation often a lonesome and bur-densome one, is certain; though usually the sur-face of society wears a smiling countenance, and to all who consent from a sense of duty or enthu-siasm the yoke is easy. The wife of the prophet Joseph rebelled against it, and declared if he per-sisted she would desert for another, but the only satisfaction she received was 'that a prophet must obey the Lord.' When such wives rebel, the proceedings are very summary, and public opinion sustains the cause against the woman. A very exemplary lady in the valley is looked upon as having broken her vows for deserting the 'Sealed one' and marrying another, and therefore is not invited into social parties."
"Another method of increasing the household and adding to the glory of the chiefs is by 'adop-tion.' This consists in taking whole families and adopting them as part and parcel of the family of the chief, and arises out of the humility of the person so proposing to attach himself to the sa-cred character of some great dignitary of the Church. The man is called, for instance, 'Son of Brigham by adoption,' and lives with him, or near by, and acts for him as a child does for his parent, and receives his subsistence, clothing, and living conjointly with the family."
With the prevalence of polygamy, woman, of course, is placed in a position of relative inferiori-ty. The deference to female excellence, which marks a refined state of society, is stigmatised by the Mormons as "Gentile gallantry and fashion." To give the post of honor or of comfort to the la-dy, in the code of "Latter-Day" etiquette is reck-oned an absurdity. If there is but one seat, it be-longs of right to the gentleman, who is bound to lead the way, and let the Mormon dame enter the house or room behind him.
"In social parties and lively meetings the Mor-mons are preeminent, and their hospitality would be more readily extended to strangers, had they suitable dwellings to invite them into.
"The adobe or sun-dried brick is now famishing material, and the one-room log buildings are being replaced by spacious and commodious houses.
"In their social gatherings and evening parties, patronized by the presence of the prophets and apostles, it is net unusual to open the ball by prayer, asking the blessings of God upon their amusements, as well as upon any other engage-ment—and then will follow the mast sprightly dancing, in which all join with hearty good-will, from the highest dignitary to the humblest indi-vidual ; and this exercise is to become part of the temple worship, to 'praise God in songs and dances.'
"These private balls and soirees are frequently extended beyond the time of cock-crowing by the younger-members, and the remains of the evening repast furnishes the breakfast for the jovial guests.
"The cheerful, happy faces—the self-satisfied countenances—the cordial salutation of brother or sister on all occasions of address—the lively strains of music pouring forth from merry hearts in every domicil, as women and children sing their 'songs of Zion,' while plying the domestic tasks, give an impression of a happy society in the vales of Dese-ret."
"The dignity of labor is held sacred by the Mormons, and exemplified in their organization and requirements. A lazy person is either ac-cursed, or likely to be ; usefulness is their motto ; and those who will net keep themselves, or try their best, are left to starve into industry. This is inculcated in their creed, though the prophet Joseph was excused from physical labor at Kirtland, his attention being sufficiently occu pied with the government. Every one is expect-ed to work and bring in his tithes, and the Presi-dent sets the example in the valley, by working at his trade of carpenter, on his own mills in the kan-yon. It is a well-devised scheme, and the more flourishing the laborers the greater is the income of the priests. This income is expended on pub-lic works, the temple, the bridges, and public charity, and support of the families of those on missionary duty.
"The labor for support of oneself and family is taught to be of as divine a character, as public worship and prayer. In practice their views unite them so as to procure all the benefits of so-cial Christianity without running into Commun-ism. The priest and the bishop make it their boast that, like Paul the tentmaker, they earn their bread by the sweat of their brow ; and teach by example on the week-day, what they preach on the Sabbath, concerning the virtue of industry. On the pulpit stand they dispense the word of the gospel, and work harder than when they plant, sow or reap in the field, or team for wood in the kanyon, or ply the spade, the trowel, or the ham-mer. This brings all orders together, and makes them acquainted where no art or concealment of feeling is practiced, and destroys that distinction of pastor and layman by the difference of dress and demeanor, which keeps them strangers to each other's real sentiments. And it gives the priest the advantage of knowing the turns of thought, the doubts on doctrines, and degree of enlightenment of those who are to be his auditors, and be can adapt his discourse accordingly, and make an impression."
The most offensive feature in the Mormon econ-omy as described in this volume, is doubtless the custom of polygamy. Destroying, as it does, all freedom of affection in woman, degrading her to the rank of a cypher in society, and converting the most sacred relation of life into a state of abject dependence, it must soon become as intolerable to the Mormon community, as it is odious to the civilized world. Many on the frontiers have al-ready deserted the "sealed" relation and married half-breeds and Potawatamies, preferring life of reciprocal privileges in the cabins of Nebraska to the subjection and ennui of a Mormon seraglio. The young men also are indignant at the inva-sion of their rights when a daughter rejects their suit in obedience to a mother's ambition which aims at an alliance with a seer or an apostle, in order to obtain a celestial queenship in the world to come.
The theology of the Mormons is evidently a tissue of contradictions and gross absurdities. Connected, however, with the pretension to mira-culous gifts, it will no doubt continue to appeal to the elements of superstition and fanaticism, which abound in every transitional age like the present. In a negative point of view, the phenomena of Mormonism are of great significance. They show the decay of traditional faith among the masses, as well as among the educated and reflecting or-ders of society. As necessary elements in the general chaos, they lead the hopeful and the be-lieving to look forward to the better time, when faith shall be reinstated on the basis of humanity, and the law written on the heart shall govern the institutions of men.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.