August 30, 2007

Opposition and Mormon Tyranny

George A. Smith August 5, 1855 The relationship between the Church and the U.S. government was tense in the 1800s, and seemed to continue that way until plural marriage was discontinued and Utah achieved statehood. Reports were circulated in the papers "back east" that the Mormons were out to create a mighty theocracy in the mountains, and that the tyrant Brigham Young set himself up as some sort of God-King. It was in light of these circumstances that George A. spoke of opposition to the Church and their position on sovereignty over the U.S. Constitution. He began by pointing out that among opponents of the Church, nearly any one's testimony would be accepted, whether or not the opposed parties had similar views on religion to begin with- they would unite to mock the Mormons:

…the very moment that a 'Mormon' comes and preaches the first principles of the Gospel, you will see the utmost confusion among them, their preachers all put their heads together to form plans by which to overthrow 'Mormonism,' and even if there is an infidel that they consider or think is a little smarter than they are, they will sustain him if they can persuade him to unite with them to put down 'Mormonism,' and if arguments are likely to fail, they start a fresh or more sure method by raising a mob, and exciting the public feeling, and driving out the 'Mormons,' believing that to allow the 'Mormons' to obtain any influence would be hurtful; they are fearful that it would really injure their cause.
I can't help but think of the boy Prophet, who emerged from the grove of trees, likely excited to know for himself that all the wrangling sects may soon be joined together in the knowledge of what was revealed to him that Spring morning in 1820. In addition to his own worries about the state of his own soul before God, the fighting religionists led the boy to pray in the first place- and now they might become united and stop the arguments. If Joseph believed telling others about his vision could bring the opposing religionists together, he was right- but not in the way he might have expected. They did, in fact, unite, but not under a banner of brotherhood or a true understanding or agreement about the nature of God. Just as described by George A., they united against, not with, the boy:
I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me (Joseph Smith- History 1:22).
George A.'s account agrees with what the Prophet described in his History:
There was, from the beginning, fixed hatred in the minds of the world at large against this people. It is not here as it is in the Christian world generally, for there the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Universalists, although bitterly opposed to each other, can all unite to persecute the poor 'Mormons,' they are all in error together, but they can unite whenever the truth comes along, and use all their combined influences to put it down. They differ on a kind of complimentary principles, but when they speak of the Saints of God, there is in the hearts of the whole of them, a deep seated, deadly hatred, and they will do all in their power to put them down.
As mentioned above, the opposition continued, even after the Church moved west. George A. believed the Saints had good intentions and the people seeking to "annihilate" the "Mormon" empire should know better: the Saints were loyal to the Country that refused to aid them in their hour of need. So much for "tyranny." In all this George A. saw the hand of God, and believed the people must continue in righteousness if they wanted to survive:

Every honest man that comes into our Territory, after a short existence in the midst of the Saints, reasonably concludes we have greater respect for the Constitution of the United States, than any other people, notwithstanding all that may have been said by howling priests about the tyranny in the midst of these mountains.

Circumstances have proven beyond all successful contradiction that the Elders and authorities of this Church do respect the great principles of the Constitution, and the Latter-day Saints in and of every nation do respect the constitution and laws of their country; the principles of their faith make this obligatory upon them.

We have been driven from our comfortable homes in the United States, into these mountains, and it is only under the kind hand and protecting care of the Almighty that we are kept here; He gave us the privilege of sheltering and of staying here for the time being.We are the children of the Most High, and we have been called upon by Him to make sacrifices for the building up of His kingdom, and it behoves [behooves] us to be awake to our duties as sons and daughters of God. And I tell you it is for us to depend upon Him, the giver of all good, and if we do not so live as to be partakers of the blessings of the fulness of the Gospel, and of His watchful care, we may anticipate that more destruction will come upon our heads, for the Lord will purify us.

After all the Saints had been through, George A. admonished them to acknowledge the hand of God, live righteously, and they would be protected. Unity was crucial to the Church; discord in Nauvoo had torn them apart. Apostates had fanned- if not started- the very flames leading to the killing of their Prophet and Patriarch, and their expulsion from the state and country. Unity was imperative, and can account for some of the more extreme rhetoric employed by leaders of the Church at the time:
The blood of our Prophet and Patriarch, and hundreds of innocent men, women, and children, and the destruction of millions and millions of dollars' worth of property, the long list of abuses to which we have been subjected, and the patience, forbearance, and fortitude with which these abuses have been borne, only prove in the first place the intense hatred with which the world hate us, and in the second the sterling integrity of the people called Latter-day Saints, and their determination to abide the laws of their country. Then I say, let us be united, and let our voices ascend to Him as the voice of one man, and let every foolish notion depart from our midst, that we may have power with Him, for I tell you we depend alone upon the Almighty for protection, and if we depend upon His arm and upon His power, we can work in faith, believing that He will help us. I do know that if this people were united, and would exercise faith, and listen to the counsel of the Presidency as they ought, and be united as one man, all the powers of earth and hell could not prevail against them; and if no power could prevail, of course there would be but little danger. But if feuds, discord, selfishness, and contentions are permitted to break up our unity, we shall then become like others, weak in consequence of our division.
George A. believed not being able to rely on the government for protection or aid gave the saints a perfect opportunity to rely wholly upon God:
I realize the sensation of endearment of native country that flows in the breast of man who has been driven from his rights and privileges, a feeling of a peculiar nature, for when a man is abused by those around him, it is rather humiliating to have to quietly submit to be deprived of his rights; but we have to seek those rights we cannot get at the hands of our fellow men, at the hands of the Almighty; for wicked men will not extend them to us, and therefore we must depend upon Him who is the source of all good, and from whom protection must be derived, for as the Lord lives, peace is taken from the earth, and every man' hands is against that of his neighbor, and death and destruction and all the powers of earth and hell seem to be manifest to bring about the consumption determined for the last days.
In closing, George A. explained how the Saints should handle their relationship with the local Indians. I add it as an end note because I believe it reveals the true spirit of the Church at the time; pacifism, though they have been accused of the opposite:
Let us open good schools for the Indians, and use the influence that we have got, for their redemption, and let us endeavor to bring them back to the light, bring them back from their long lost and degraded condition, bringing them back to the Gospel enjoyed by their fathers, for they prophesied that their children should wander in darkness for many generations, and then the Lord would commence His work amongst them again; and let us do it, and do it with faithfulness and tenderness, with kindness and generosity, and act as fathers would act towards their children; and let us spend our means and labor, let us toil, and even spend our all for their redemption and preservation. And let us not take hold of it as a light matter, as a matter that we will never let come near our hearts, but with willingness, long-suffering, and continued endeavors to do them good, and when we are foiled in our endeavors to benefit those people, let us recollect that we are not to be discouraged, but let us remember that we are to keep trying, and pray God to give you wisdom to act aright. Put away from your hearts all desires to shed their blood, and put far from you the disposition that causes you to think they are troublesome, and we should like to get rid of them. Let us consider that they have rights here, that they are the original settlers. They have natural rights, and all our kindness and generosity and all our faith exercised to benefit them will be acknowledged (Journal of Discourses 73-end).
I believe the Saints- collectively, but perhaps not individually- endeavored to obey the counsel they received from the Lord years earlier while persecution drove them from their Missouri homes in 1833:
Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children... (D&C 98:16).

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