Church History
39 In the Hands of God

“In the Hands of God,” chapter 39 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 39: “In the Hands of God”

Chapter 39

In the Hands of God

telegram announcing the Manifesto

On December 14, 1889, newly called apostle Anthon Lund received a telegram from the First Presidency at his home in Ephraim, Utah. Troubled by the recent cases of foreign-born Saints being denied United States citizenship, the presidency wanted to issue a response to the charge that it was impossible for Saints to be loyal citizens. Church leaders had drafted a statement denying this and other false claims and wanted to attach Anthon’s name to it as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.1

Anthon had defended the Church against misrepresentation ever since he was a child. After joining the Church as a boy in his native Denmark, he had been beaten by classmates for his beliefs. But rather than responding with anger, Anthon had shown them patience and kindness, eventually winning their friendship and respect. Anthon left Denmark at age eighteen to join the Saints in Utah, and in the decades since, he and his wife, Sanie, and their six children had sacrificed much to help build up the kingdom of God.2

Anthon replied to the First Presidency’s telegram immediately, lending his name to their declaration. Although he had held many positions of responsibility in the Church, including serving in the Manti temple presidency, this was the first time his name was going out to all the world as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Unlike the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Anthon had never practiced plural marriage. He was also the first modern-day apostle whose native language was not English. Wilford Woodruff was confident these differences could be assets to the quorum, and he knew that Anthon’s call was God’s will. Anthon’s gentle manner and skill with several languages could help lead the Church into the next century.3

When Anthon was called into the Twelve, Wilford asked George Q. Cannon to give him an apostolic charge to prepare him for his new responsibilities. “It will require your life’s labor to fill this calling properly,” George had told Anthon. “You will feel, as you probably never have felt, the necessity of living near to God and invoking His power and having His guardian care, through His angels round about you.”

From this charge, Anthon learned that it was his privilege as an apostle to learn God’s mind and will. He was to stay true to the revelations he would receive—even when it seemed contrary to his natural judgment. “You cannot be too humble,” George had reminded him. Anthon needed to express his views freely while also listening meekly to the Lord’s prophet. “We should be willing to sit and watch the operations of the Spirit of God on this man whom God has chosen,” George had said.4

The day Anthon replied to the telegram, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve published their statement in the Deseret News. In clear language, they proclaimed that the Church abhorred violence and intended to exist in peace with the United States government, despite the hardships they had suffered under the nation’s antipolygamy laws.

“We claim no religious liberty that we are unwilling to accord to others,” the statement affirmed. “We desire to be in harmony with the government and people of the United States as an integral part of the nation.”5

That winter, while Church leaders sought to clarify their beliefs to the nation, Jane Manning James wrote to Joseph F. Smith seeking clarity of her own. Jane was more than sixty years old now, and she worried about what the next life had in store for her. Most Saints in Utah had received temple ordinances that sealed them to loved ones in this life and the next. But Jane understood that she, as a black Latter-day Saint, was not permitted to participate in these higher ordinances.

Even so, Jane knew that God had promised to bless all nations of the earth through Abraham. Surely, she thought, that promise applied to her as well.6

Adding to Jane’s anxiety about the next life was the present state of her family. She and her husband, Isaac, had divorced in the spring of 1870. Around 1874, she had married Frank Perkins, another black Latter-day Saint, but their marriage did not last. During these years, she had lost three children and several grandchildren to illnesses. Though four of her children were still alive, none of them were as devoted to the Church as she was.7

Would they be with her in the next life? If not, was there a place and a family for her there?

As a young woman, Jane had lived and worked in the home of Joseph and Emma Smith in Nauvoo. During that time, Emma had invited her to be adopted as a daughter to her and Joseph, but Jane had never given her a direct answer before Joseph’s death. Now, however, Jane understood that Saints could be adopted into families through a special sealing in the temple. She believed that Emma had been inviting her to join their family in this way.8

In early 1883, Jane had visited President John Taylor to seek permission to receive her endowment. President Taylor discussed the matter with her, but he did not think the time had yet arrived for black Saints to receive the higher ordinances of the temple. He had reviewed the issue several years earlier when another black Saint, Elijah Able, asked to receive his temple ordinances. Though his investigation confirmed that Elijah had received the Melchizedek Priesthood in the 1830s, President Taylor and other Church leaders nevertheless decided to refuse Elijah’s request on the basis of his race.9

Nearly two years after speaking with President Taylor, Jane had entreated him again. “I realize my race and color and can’t expect my endowments,” she stated at that time. Yet she noted that God had promised to bless all of Abraham’s seed. “As this is the fullness of all dispensations,” she asked, “is there no blessing for me?”

“You know my history,” she continued. “According to the best of my ability I have lived to all the requirements of the gospel.” She then recounted Emma’s invitation to her and expressed her own desire to be adopted into Joseph Smith’s family. “If I could be adopted to him as a child,” she noted, “my soul would be satisfied.”10

Soon after Jane sent her letter, President Taylor had left Salt Lake City to visit the southern settlements and Mexico, and he did not respond to her before his death. Four years later, Jane’s stake president issued her a recommend to perform baptisms for the dead in the temple. “You must be content with this privilege, awaiting further instructions from the Lord to His servants,” he wrote. A short time later, Jane traveled to the Logan temple and received baptism for her mother, grandmother, daughter, and other kindred dead.11

Now, in her letter to Joseph F. Smith, Jane again requested a chance to receive temple ordinances, including an adoption into the Smith family. “Can that be accomplished and when?” she asked.12

Jane received no reply to her letter, so she wrote again in April. Again she received no reply. Jane continued to have faith in the restored gospel and the prophets, praying that she might receive salvation in the Lord’s kingdom. “I know that this is the work of God,” she had once told her Relief Society. “I have never seen a time when I felt like backing out.”

She also trusted in the promises she had recently received in a patriarchal blessing from John Smith, Joseph F. Smith’s older brother.

“Hold sacred thy covenants, for the Lord has heard thy petitions,” the blessing assured her. “His hand has been over thee for good, and thou shalt verily receive thy reward.”

“Thou shalt complete thy mission and receive thine inheritance among the Saints,” it promised, “and thy name shall be handed down to posterity in honorable remembrance.”13

On a muddy afternoon in late April 1890, Emily Grant called at the home of her friend Josephine Smith. Both women lived in Manassa, a small Colorado town several miles south of Lorena and Bent Larsen’s home in Sanford. Far from the larger settlements of Saints in Utah, Manassa had become a haven for “polygamy widows,” or plural wives on the underground. Emily was lonely there, but she was striving to make a home in the windswept town for herself and her daughters, four-year-old Dessie and infant Grace.

During the short carriage ride to Josephine’s home, Dessie had fussed and cried, sad that her beloved “Uncle Eli” could not join them. Emily was sad too. “Uncle Eli” was Emily’s code name for apostle Heber Grant, her husband and Dessie and Grace’s father. As Heber’s third wife, Emily used the name in letters and around the children to protect Heber’s identity.

Earlier that day, Heber had left for his home in Salt Lake City after spending two days with Emily and the girls. Emily hoped that visiting Josephine would cheer her up. But almost as soon as she and the girls arrived, Emily burst into tears. Josephine understood her friend’s feelings. She herself was a plural wife of apostle John Henry Smith, who had just come to town for a short visit of his own.14

Emily never felt like Heber’s visits were long enough. The two of them had grown up together in the Salt Lake City Thirteenth Ward, and they had married in the spring of 1884 after a lengthy courtship. As a plural wife, Emily could not make her marriage public, and she had moved often over the next six years, spending time in southern Idaho, England, and a hidden apartment in her mother’s house in Salt Lake City.15

Now Emily was in Manassa, hoping that her long separation from Heber might someday end. Accustomed to city living, she was still adjusting to life in the small town, and she sometimes felt hundreds of miles away from civilization. Heber had tried to help by providing her with a furnished home, a team of horses, some cows and chickens, a hired hand, and a subscription to the Salt Lake Herald. Her mother-in-law, Rachel Grant, had also come to stay with her in the isolated town.16

“I have got everything in it now that I want,” Emily once told Heber in a letter from Manassa. “Except you.”17

Almost two weeks after Heber’s visit, Emily wrote to him about a meeting in Manassa at which two Church leaders had said that the town’s “widows” might never be able to return to Utah. “They said the next move in Congress would be to confiscate the property of the leaders of the Church,” she reported, “and then we would be very glad we had come here and located.”

But Emily was not convinced that she would ever be happy to live in the town.18 “I continue to pray for a contented mind but feel discouraged and blue yet,” she wrote to Heber a few months later. “Don’t forget to pray for me, dear one, for without the aid of my Father in Heaven I cannot stand this much longer and be sane.”19

On Sunday, August 17, Wilford Woodruff and his counselors visited the small settlement. By then, the United States Supreme Court had issued its ruling on the legality of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. The court was divided on the case, but a slim majority of judges voted to uphold the law, despite the Saints’ claims that it violated their religious liberty. The ruling gave government officials full rein to carry out the act’s sanctions, opening possibilities for seizing more property from the Church.20

During a meeting with the Saints in Manassa, George Q. Cannon cautioned families to be careful. Some of the men in town were living with more than one wife, he said, and such men risked bringing trouble and persecution upon the whole community. The remark angered some men, who came to George the next day to express how hard it was on their families to live separately.21

Before Wilford and his counselors left, Emily hosted them and other friends for breakfast. Afterward, she and a few other women accompanied the visitors to the train station. The train was late, giving Emily a chance to visit a little longer with the First Presidency. When the train finally arrived, she clasped hands with each man in turn. “God bless you,” they said to each other. “Peace be with you.”

Emily longed to leave Manassa as well. “They went spinning off,” she wrote Heber, “and we returned to this desolate place.”22

The First Presidency returned to Salt Lake City in late August, just in time for the one-year anniversary of Iosepa, the first settlement of Hawaiian Saints in Utah. The name Iosepa was the Hawaiian version of the name Joseph.23

When Hawaiians started joining the Church in the 1850s, the kingdom of Hawaii had restricted its people from leaving the islands, prompting Church leaders to establish Laie as a gathering place for Hawaiian Saints. But slowly the laws softened, and some Hawaiians, eager to receive the blessings of the temple, had begun gathering to Utah Territory in the 1880s.

In 1889, the First Presidency had organized a committee, which included three Hawaiian men, to find a suitable place in Utah where Hawaiian Saints could establish homes and farms. After evaluating different areas, the group proposed several locations, including a 1,900-acre ranch about sixty miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The First Presidency reviewed the committee’s findings and decided to purchase the ranch for the new settlement.24

Throughout the following year, the Saints in Iosepa had worked hard building houses, planting crops, and caring for livestock. The first winter had been harsh, especially compared with Hawaii’s tropical climate. But the settlers had persevered, hopeful that Iosepa’s rich soil and ready supply of water from the nearby mountains would provide a plentiful summer harvest.25

The day of the celebration was warm and bright. As the members of the First Presidency, each joined by one of his wives, approached the settlement, Iosepa appeared like an oasis of green in the middle of the desert landscape. Cornstalks in the surrounding fields were tall, with large ears bursting from their husks, and the hay in the harvested fields lay in great yellow stacks.

The Hawaiian Saints gathered around their visitors, eager to greet their prophet and his counselors, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, who had both served missions to Hawaii as young men. The evening was full of joyful music as the Saints in Iosepa sang and played guitars, mandolins, and violins.

The celebration continued the next day with a parade followed by a lunchtime feast of meat roasted in a pit. When George gave the blessing on the food, he spoke the prayer in Hawaiian—the first time he had prayed in that language in thirty-six years.

Later that day, everyone gathered for a special meeting. Solomona, a man in his nineties whom George had baptized decades earlier, offered a fervent opening prayer. One Saint, Kaelakai Honua, spoke of the mercy of God in gathering the people of the islands of the sea to Zion. Another man, Kauleinamoku, lamented that some people had left Iosepa to return to the Pacific. He urged the Saints to be faithful and not yield to the spirit of dissatisfaction.

All around Iosepa, the people celebrated together, and Wilford, George, and Joseph delighted in their happiness. Though George had not kept up his ability to speak the Hawaiian language well, he marveled that he understood almost every word spoken at the festivities.26

A few days after the First Presidency returned home from Iosepa, they received news that Henry Lawrence, the new federal official appointed to seize Church property under the Edmunds-Tucker Act, was now threatening to confiscate the temples in Logan, Manti, and St. George.

A former member of the Church, Henry had been a bitter opponent of the Saints for more than two decades. He had belonged to William Godbe and Elias Harrison’s New Movement and had testified against the Church at the recent trial barring immigrant Saints from citizenship.

Henry knew the Edmunds-Tucker Act protected buildings used “exclusively for purposes of the worship of God,” but he intended to show that temples were used for other purposes and could therefore be seized with other properties.

On September 2, the First Presidency learned that Henry had managed to get a subpoena ordering Wilford to testify in court about Church properties. Seeking to avoid the subpoena, the presidency traveled to California to consult with several influential men who were sympathetic to the Saints’ plight. But these men could offer little hope that the United States government or the American people would change their mind about the Church as long as the Saints continued to practice plural marriage.27

Wilford and his counselors returned to Utah a few weeks later only to learn that the Utah Commission, a group of federal officials who managed Utah’s elections and monitored the Saints’ compliance with antipolygamy laws, had just sent its annual report to the federal government. This year, the report falsely claimed that Church leaders were still publicly encouraging and sanctioning plural marriage. It also stated without proof that forty-one plural marriages had been performed in Utah over the last year.

In order to stamp out plural marriage once and for all, the commission recommended that Congress pass even harsher laws against the Church.28

The report infuriated Wilford. Although he had issued no public statement about the status of plural marriage in the Church, he had already determined that no plural marriages should be performed in Utah or anywhere else in the United States. Furthermore, he had done much over the past year to discourage new plural marriages, despite the report’s claim to the opposite.29

On September 22, Wilford met with his counselors in the Gardo House, the official residence of the Church president in Salt Lake City, to discuss what to do about the report. George Q. Cannon proposed issuing a denial of its claims. “Perhaps no better chance has been offered to us,” he said, “to officially, as leaders of the Church, make public our views concerning the doctrine and the law that has been enacted.”30

Later, after the day’s meetings, Wilford prayed for guidance. If the Church did not stop performing plural marriages, the government would keep passing laws against the Saints, a vast majority of whom did not even practice the principle. Chaos and confusion would reign in Zion. More men would go to jail, and the government would confiscate the temples. The Saints had performed hundreds of thousands of ordinances for the dead since the dedication of the new temples. If the government seized these buildings, how many of God’s children, living and dead, would be barred from the sacred ordinances of the gospel?31

The next day, Wilford told George that he believed it was his duty as president of the Church to issue a manifesto, or public statement, to the press. He then had his secretary join him in a private room while George waited outside.

Apostle Franklin Richards, meanwhile, arrived at the Gardo House looking for the prophet. George told him that Wilford was busy and could not be disturbed. A short time later, Wilford emerged from the private room with a statement he had just dictated. His agitation over the Utah Commission’s report was gone. Now his face seemed to shine, and he looked pleased and contented.

Wilford had the document read out loud. The statement denied that new plural marriages had taken place during the past year and affirmed the Church’s willingness to work with the government. “Inasmuch as the nation has passed a law forbidding plural marriages,” it declared, “we feel to obey that law, and leave the event in the hands of God.”

“I feel it will do good,” George said. He did not think the statement was ready for publication, but the ideas in it were right.32

The next day, the First Presidency asked three talented writers—secretary George Reynolds, newspaper editor Charles Penrose, and Presiding Bishopric counselor John Winder—to refine the language of the statement and prepare it for publication. Wilford then presented the revised document to apostles Franklin Richards, Moses Thatcher, and Marriner Merrill, and they recommended additional refinements.

Once revised, the Manifesto, as it came to be called, declared an end to future plural marriages and emphasized Wilford’s resolve to obey the laws of the land and persuade the Saints to do the same.

“We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice,” it read in part. “I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”33

The apostles present approved the document and sent it by telegram to the press.34

“This whole matter has been at President Woodruff’s own instance,” George Q. Cannon noted that day in his journal. “He has stated that the Lord had made it plain to him that this was his duty, and he felt perfectly clear in his mind that it was the right thing.”35

Wilford also reflected on the Manifesto in his journal. “I have arrived at a point in the history of my life as the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he wrote, “where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the Church.”36

The government had taken a determined stand against plural marriage, he knew. So Wilford had prayed and received inspiration from the Spirit, and the Lord had revealed His will for the Saints.