“A Greater Necessity for Union,” chapter 43 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 43: “A Greater Necessity for Union”
In September 1892, Francis Lyman and Anthon Lund arrived in St. George, Utah. For several weeks, the two apostles had been visiting wards and counseling Saints throughout central and southern Utah. As the Salt Lake temple neared completion, the First Presidency and the Twelve had begun encouraging the Saints to be more united. But rather than finding harmony and goodwill in their travels, Francis and Anthon had often found wards and branches rife with discord. St. George was no different.1
Much of the contention arose from politics. For decades, the Saints in Utah had voted for local candidates in the People’s Party, a political party composed mainly of Church members. But in 1891, Church leaders disbanded the People’s Party and encouraged the Saints to join either the Democrats or the Republicans, the two parties that dominated United States politics. These leaders hoped more political diversity among the Saints might increase their influence in local elections and in Washington, DC. They also believed diversity would help the Church achieve such goals as Utah statehood and general amnesty for Saints who had entered into plural marriages before the Manifesto.2
But now, for the first time, Saints were caught up in heated battles with one another over differing political views.3 The conflict troubled Wilford Woodruff, and he had urged the Saints at the April 1892 general conference to stop their bickering.
“Every man has as much right—prophets, apostles, saints, and sinners—to his political convictions as he has to his religious opinions,” Wilford had declared. “Don’t throw filth and dirt and nonsense at one another because of any difference on political matters.”
“That spirit will lead us to ruin,” he warned.4
In St. George, as elsewhere, most Saints believed they should join the Democratic Party, since the Republican Party had typically led antipolygamy efforts against the Church. In many communities, the prevailing attitude was that a good Latter-day Saint could never be a Republican.5
Wilford Woodruff and other Church leaders wanted to challenge this view, especially since the United States was being governed at the time by a Republican administration.6 As Anthon and Francis learned more about the situation in St. George, they wanted to help the Saints understand that they could differ politically without creating bitterness or division within the Church.
During an afternoon priesthood meeting, Francis reminded the men that the Church needed members in both political parties. “We don’t want anyone who is a Democrat to change,” he reassured them. But he said that Saints who did not feel strong ties to the Democratic Party should consider joining the Republicans. “There is much less difference between the two parties than at first thought,” he noted.7
Francis then expressed his love for all Saints, no matter their political views. “We must not allow any bitterness in our hearts one toward another,” he emphasized.8
Two days later, Francis and Anthon went to the St. George temple. They assisted with baptisms, endowments, and other ordinances. An uplifting spirit prevailed in the building.9
It was the kind of spirit the Saints needed as they prepared to dedicate another temple to the Lord.
In Salt Lake City, carpenters, electricians, and other skilled laborers were working rapidly to make sure the Salt Lake temple’s interior was ready for the dedication in April 1893. On September 8, the First Presidency toured the building with architect Joseph Don Carlos Young and others. As they walked from room to room, inspecting the work in progress, the members of the presidency were pleased with what they saw.
“Everything is being done in a most finished style,” George Q. Cannon noted in his journal.
George was especially impressed with the temple’s modern features. “It is surprising what changes have occurred through inventions since the first plan of the temple was drawn out,” he wrote. Truman Angell, the temple’s original architect, had planned to warm and light the temple with stoves and candles. Now new technologies allowed the Saints to install electric lights and a steam-powered heating system throughout the building. Workers were also installing two elevators to help patrons move easily from one floor to another.10
Funds for construction were exhausted, however, and some people doubted the Church had the resources to finish the temple in the six months before the dedication. Beginning in 1890, the First Presidency had invested heavily in a sugar beet factory south of Salt Lake City, hoping to create a cash crop for local farmers and generate new jobs for individuals who might otherwise move away from Utah for better work opportunities. This investment, along with the loss of Church property confiscated by the federal government, left Church leaders short of valuable resources they might have used to complete the temple.11
Relief Societies, Mutual Improvement Associations, Primaries, and Sunday Schools tried to help ease the financial burden by collecting donations for the temple fund. But much more needed to be done.
On October 10, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve met with other Church leaders, including stake presidents and bishops, in the large, partially finished assembly room on the top floor of the temple. The purpose of the meeting was to recruit local leaders to help raise funds for the temple.12
Shortly after George Q. Cannon opened the meeting, John Winder, a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, reported to the assembly that it would take at least an additional $175,000 to finish the temple. Furnishing the inside would cost even more.
Wilford Woodruff spoke of his earnest desire to have the temple completed on schedule. George then urged the men in the room to use their influence to raise the needed funds. Each stake would be expected to collect a certain amount based on its size and the means of individual families.
The men in the room felt the Spirit powerfully and agreed to help. One man, John R. Murdock, recommended that all those present say how much they were personally willing to donate to the temple. One by one, the Church leaders pledged generously, promising a total contribution of more than $50,000.
Before the meeting closed, George said, “There never has been a time since the Church was organized, in my opinion, when there was a greater necessity for union in the Church than now.” He testified that the First Presidency were united and constantly seeking to learn the mind and will of the Lord in how to direct the Church.
“The Lord has blessed us and acknowledged our labors,” he declared. “He has made plain to us, day by day, the course that we are to take.”13
Among the carpenters working on the temple was Joseph Dean, the former president of the Samoan mission. Joseph had returned from the Pacific two years earlier. For a while, he had struggled to find steady work to support both of his wives, Sally and Florence, and seven children. When he was hired to work on the temple in February 1892, the job was a great blessing. But his salary and Sally’s income from sewing and dressmaking were barely enough to keep the large family fed, sheltered, and clothed.14
In the fall of 1892, the First Presidency approved ten percent raises to temple workmen to ensure they were paid the same as other laborers in the industry. For some men, it was the highest wage they had ever been paid.15 Joseph and his wives were grateful for the raise, but they continued to struggle to make ends meet.
They paid their tithing faithfully, however, and even donated twenty-five dollars to the temple fund.16
On December 1, Joseph drew his monthly paycheck of $98.17. After work, he went to a nearby store to pay a five-dollar debt. The store’s owner was Joseph’s bishop, and instead of simply accepting the payment, the bishop told him that their stake president had recently asked every family in the stake to donate a specific amount of money to the Church for temple construction. Joseph and his family had been asked to contribute one hundred dollars.
Joseph was stunned. Sally had recently given birth, and Joseph still needed to pay the doctor. He also owed money to five other stores and rent on Florence’s home. Added together, his payment on all his debts exceeded his monthly salary, which itself was less than the stake’s requested donation. How could he possibly contribute so much—especially after his family had just donated twenty-five dollars at great sacrifice?
As hard as it would be to meet his obligation, Joseph agreed to find a way to come up with the money. “I shall do my best,” he wrote that night in his journal, “and trust in the Lord to see me through.”17
That January, Maihea, an elderly leader of the Saints on the Tuamotu Islands, called a conference on Faaite, an atoll about three hundred miles northeast of Tahiti. Rain fell heavily in the days leading up to the conference, yet determined Saints did not let the weather keep them from coming.18
One morning shortly before the conference, a brisk breeze brought four boats to Faaite from Takaroa, an atoll two days to the north. Among the newly arrived Saints, Maihea learned, were four white men who claimed to be missionaries of the Church, with authority to teach the restored gospel.19
Maihea was suspicious. Seven years earlier, a missionary of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had come to his village on the neighboring Anaa atoll. The missionary had invited the Anaa Saints to join him in worship, claiming that Brigham Young and the Saints in Utah had cut themselves off from the true church of Christ. Many Saints had accepted his invitation. But Maihea and others had refused it, recalling that Brigham Young had sent the missionaries who taught them the gospel.20
Unsure if these new missionaries were true representatives of the Church, Maihea and the Tuamotu Saints greeted them coldly, giving them only an unripe coconut to eat. Soon, however, Maihea learned that the oldest missionary was a one-legged man named James Brown, or Iakabo, which was the name of one of the missionaries who had taught him the gospel. Even Saints who were too young to have met James Brown personally had heard the older generation speak his name.
Since Maihea was blind and could not recognize the missionary by sight, he confronted him with questions.21 “If you are the same that has been among us before, you have lost one leg,” said Maihea, “for the Iakabo that I used to know had two legs.”
Maihea then asked James if he taught the same doctrine as the man who had baptized him so many years before.
James replied that he did.
Maihea’s questions continued: Have you come from Salt Lake City? Who is the president of the Church now that Brigham Young is dead? Which hand do you raise when you baptize? Is it true that you believe in plural marriage?
James answered each question, but Maihea remained unsatisfied. “What was the name of the village where the French arrested you?” he asked. Once again, James answered the question correctly.
Finally, Maihea’s fear faded away, and he gladly shook James’s hand. “If you had not come and satisfied us that you were the same man who was here before, it would have been useless to send these young men here,” he said, referring to the missionaries with James, “for we would not have received them.”
“But now,” Maihea said, “we welcome you. We welcome these young men too.”22
That same month, Anthon Lund, Francis Lyman, and B. H. Roberts visited Manassa, Colorado, at the request of the First Presidency. Four months had passed since Anthon and Francis had asked the Saints in St. George to stop fighting over politics. Since then, similar conflicts had continued to disrupt Manassa and other communities of Saints. Now, with the Salt Lake temple dedication just over two months away, Church leaders feared these communities would not be prepared for the dedication if they could not come together in fellowship and love.23
In Manassa, various Saints met with the three Church leaders to air their grievances. Anthon spent as many as ten hours some days listening to accusations and counteraccusations related to political, business, and personal disputes. He counted a total of sixty-five individual conflicts that Saints in Manassa wanted Church leaders to settle.24
After reviewing each case, he and his companions tried to resolve the most divisive complaints. Some Saints worked out their disagreements privately or agreed to apologize publicly for things they had said and done. Others, though unhappy with the recommended solutions, humbly promised to abide by them.25
After two weeks, Anthon, Francis, and B. H. believed that they had done all they could to help the Saints in Manassa. They knew, however, that many minor conflicts remained. “We call upon you to exert all your energies to settle whatever difficulties may still exist,” they instructed the local stake presidency, “and to unite the people in the spirit of the gospel.”26
B. H. accompanied Anthon and Francis to their train, but he did not return with them. His second wife, Celia, and their children lived in Manassa, and he wanted to spend a few more days with them.27
When he arrived back in Utah, B. H. turned to his journal to reflect on his efforts to overcome conflict and find peace in his own life. For over a year, he had been tormented by his struggle to sustain the Manifesto. His heart had softened, little by little, as he remembered the spiritual confirmation he had received like a flash of light when he first heard about the change.
“Perhaps I had transgressed in pushing from me the first testimony I received in relation to it and allowing my own prejudices, and my own shortsighted, human reason to stand against the inspiration of God,” B. H. wrote.
“I did not understand the purposes for which the Manifesto was issued. I do not to this day,” he continued. “But sure I am that it is all right. That God has a purpose in it I feel assured, and in due time it will be manifest.”28
On January 5, 1893, Joseph Dean learned that United States president Benjamin Harrison had signed a general amnesty proclamation, extending forgiveness to Saints who had practiced plural marriage but had stopped cohabiting after the Manifesto.29
The president had notified Church leaders a few months earlier that he would sign the proclamation. In the same dispatch, he had asked the First Presidency to pray for his wife, Caroline, who was on her deathbed. After years of conflict between the Saints and the government, the First Presidency was surprised by the request—and honored to fulfill it.30
For Joseph, the amnesty proclamation had little impact, since he had not abandoned his plural family after the Manifesto. But the Deseret News and other newspapers in Utah recognized the symbolic importance of the proclamation, and articles urged the Saints to be grateful to President Harrison for issuing it in good faith.31
Meanwhile, Joseph and other laborers had extended their workdays by two hours to finish the Salt Lake temple by April 6. The First Presidency visited the construction site regularly, checking on details and encouraging the craftsmen in their efforts.32
Joseph, for his part, was determined to do his best to build the temple and fulfill his promise to donate one hundred dollars to its completion. In February, apostle John W. Taylor canceled one hundred dollars’ worth of interest on a loan he had given Joseph, and Joseph immediately saw it as a blessing. “I consider the Lord has refunded me,” he wrote in his journal.33
By mid-March, Joseph had paid seventy-five dollars toward temple construction, and he hoped to pay the remaining twenty-five dollars in April, right before the temple’s completion. He also took two of his children to see the inside of the temple. In the baptistry, he showed them a large font resting on the backs of twelve cast iron oxen—a sight that scared his five-year-old son, Jasper, who thought the animals were real.34
In an endowment room in the temple’s basement, artists were painting beautiful murals representing the Garden of Eden, complete with waterfalls, grassy meadows, and rolling hills. A stairwell from this room led to another endowment room, where additional murals of deserts, jagged cliffs, wild animals, and dark clouds portrayed life after the Fall. Before beginning the murals, most of the artists at work had been set apart by the First Presidency and received world-class training from art instructors in Paris.35
Near the end of March 1893, Bishop John Winder called the workers together and exhorted them to resolve any grievances or negative feelings among the crew. The temple needed to be physically ready for dedication, but the workers needed to be spiritually ready as well.36
To help all the Saints reconcile themselves to God and each other, the First Presidency called for a special Churchwide fast to take place twelve days before the dedication.
“Before entering into the temple to present ourselves before the Lord in solemn assembly,” they wrote in a letter to all Church members, “we shall divest ourselves of every harsh and unkind feeling against each other.”37
On the day of the fast, a Saturday, Sally and Florence Dean gathered with other Saints to sing, speak, and pray. But Joseph could not join them. There was too much work to be done in the temple, and he and his fellow workers labored through the day, fasting all the while.38
In the days that followed, Joseph helped install floorboards while teams of carpet layers, curtain hangers, painters, gilders, and electricians scurried about finishing last-minute tasks. A committee of men and women then adorned the rooms with elegant furniture and other decorations. Among the items available to them were silk altar covers and other handicrafts donated by women in wards throughout the city.
More work would still need to be done after the dedication, but Joseph was sure the temple would be ready to open its doors on the appointed day. “Things are coming pretty nicely to a point after all,” he wrote.39
On the day of the Churchwide fast, Susa Gates received a letter from her nineteen-year-old daughter, Leah, seeking reconciliation. At the time, Susa was living in Provo while Leah was attending college in Salt Lake City. “Little did I think,” Leah wrote, “that my own dear mother would be the one whose forgiveness I must beg and pardon seek for past feelings and grievances.”40
Earlier that week, Susa had argued with Leah about Leah’s father, Alma Dunford. Years before, Susa had divorced Alma when she could no longer live with his drinking and abuse. Alma had gained custody of Leah, however, so she had grown up with her father’s family, away from Susa.
Alma had since remarried and had more children. Although he continued to struggle with the Word of Wisdom, Alma had become a kind husband and father who provided well for his family and raised them in the Church. Leah loved him and viewed him differently than her mother did. “You know my feelings, and I cannot help share,” Leah told Susa. “I love my mother dearer than tongue can tell, but I also love my father.”
Still, after the argument, Leah felt she needed to apologize. “I humbly and truly repent and beg that you will forgive and forget,” she wrote.41
As Susa read the letter, she was sorry her daughter was burdened with remorse. Susa’s father, Brigham Young, had counseled her to always place her family first, promising that every great thing she accomplished afterward would add to her glory. Since then, Susa had found success in and out of the home. At thirty-seven, she had a loving marriage, six living children and another on the way, and recognition as one of the most talented and prolific writers in the Church.42
But with all her success, Susa still sometimes felt that she was falling short of her lofty expectations of ideal motherhood. Her relationship with Leah had been particularly difficult. For many years after the divorce, they had not been able to interact in person. When Leah was fifteen years old, however, Susa had arranged a meeting in the Lion House, where they embraced and wept for joy. From that time forward, Susa and Leah had enjoyed a loving, affectionate relationship, and they sometimes felt more like sisters than mother and daughter.43
On Saturday, March 25, Susa attended the special fast meeting with her fellow Saints in Provo. Leah was never far from her mind. Susa realized that the adversary would do all he could to break the bonds of love that had so recently developed between her and her eldest daughter, and she would not allow it.
As soon as she could, she responded to Leah’s letter. “My dearest, darling girl,” she wrote, “know that I love you better every day.” She in turn asked for Leah’s forgiveness and promised to do better. “I know I am far from perfect,” she admitted. “Perhaps the greatest sting of your words was, for me, in the fact that in a measure I deserved it.”
“By prayer and a little effort on our part, we can learn to let these things alone,” she wrote. “Give me a kiss and bury it forever.”44