The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Mormons

Edition of 1920. See also Mormons on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MORMONS, a popular pseudonym for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a religious body founded by Joseph Smith (see Smith, Joseph) at Fayette, N. Y., 6 April 1830. Only six persons took part in the formal organization of the Church as a body corporate, such being the minimum requisite under the laws of the State, but the entire number of adherents at the beginning comprised only a few more. The founder averred that in 1823 he was visited by an angel, who revealed to him the repository of certain records, engraved on plates of gold, buried on the side of a hill near Palmyra, N. Y., and said by the angel to contain the history of the aboriginal peoples of the Western Continent. In 1827 these plates were delivered by the angel into the custody of Joseph Smith, with the assurance that through divine assistance he would be enabled to translate the records, to which labor he was specially appointed. With the plates were two stones set in bows of silver, and these, according to the angel's statement, were the Urim and Thummim, the power to use which constituted the special attribute of the seers of ancient days. Smith avowed that by the aid of these instruments under the inspiration of God he was able to read the ancient inscriptions, which consisted of characters said in the body of the record to be Reformed Egyptian and to dictate an exact rendering thereof in the modern tongue. In 1830 he published an English translation of the plates under the title ‘The Book of Mormon,’ and the work has been distributed by millions of copies through later editions in English and in numerous foreign languages. In every copy appear as separate affidavits the “Testimony of Three Witnesses” and the “Testimony of Eight Witnesses,” in which the signers solemnly affirm their personal knowledge as to the plates, the engravings thereon and the genuineness of the translation; and it stands as a remarkable fact that although most of these witnesses apostatized from the Church, or were excommunicated, and though they developed bitter animosity against Joseph Smith, everyone of them stoutly maintained, even unto death, the truth of his testimony concerning the ‘Book of Mormon.’ The book sets forth that in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, 600 B.C., an Israelitish prophet named Lehi, together with his family and parts of other families, migrated from Palestine to America under divine direction. In the New World the colony multiplied rapidly; but in course of time the people were rent by dissension and formed two opposing nations, known in the record as Nephites and Lamanites. The former, named after their first chief, Nephi, a younger son of Lehi, cultivated the arts of civilization, built cities in South, Central and North America, and through succession of duly appointed recorders kept a history of their doings. This historical record as later abridged in part and summarized by Mormon, one of their prophets, is the original of the ‘Book of Mormon.’ The Lamanites, named after Lehi's eldest and rebellious son, Laman, led a nomadic life, neglected agriculture and productive industry and relied for subsistence upon war and the chase. They came under the predicted curse of darkness, specifically marked by a ruddy skin, and their degenerate posterity are the American Indians. The enmity of the Lamanites toward the Nephites culminated in the utter extermination of the latter at about the close of the 4th century, the final struggle being waged in the region now known as northern New York and near the Hill Cumorah, in which the Nephite records were in modern time disclosed to Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon story, therefore, is seen to cover a period of approximately a thousand years. The Nephites were observers of the Law of Moses, a copy of which together with other Old Testament Scriptures had been brought by Lehi and his colony from Jerusalem. The birth, earthly ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were predicted by Nephite prophets; and the ‘Book of Mormon’ contains the record of the personal visitation of the resurrected Christ to these “sheep” other than of the Jewish fold, soon after the Lord's ascension from Olivet. Among them the Christ established His Church, prescribing the same ordinances, such as baptism by water and of the Spirit, the sacrament of bread and wine, etc., as were instituted among the Jews, and ordaining a body of 12 disciples to whom He gave commission to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances thereof. Mormon's son, Moroni, finished the record of his people about 420 A.D.; and the angel who in 1823 revealed the depository of the plates to Joseph Smith announced himself as that same Moroni, the last prophet and historian of the ancient nation. Years after the first publication of the ‘Book of Mormon,’ a story purporting to explain the modern origin of the book, as a plagiarized and altered version of a work of fiction, attracted some attention; but the theory has been abandoned as utterly untenable. See Book of Mormon.

From the day of its organization in 1830 the Church grew with surprising rapidity; and from that time to the present every year has witnessed an increase in membership and an expansion of propaganda. A temporary gathering centre was established at Kirtland, Ohio, where the first temple was reared. This building, an imposing structure as judged by the standard of the time, was dedicated in 1836. As early as 1831, however, the Mormons had began to establish themselves in Jackson County, Mo., which region they still regard as the central place of the land of Zion. Persecution was waged against the Church from its beginning. Both in Ohio and Missouri the people met violent opposition. In 1833 they were driven from Jackson County, under cover of a charge that they were abolitionists. They sought refuge in Clay County, but their sojourn there was brief. In 1838 Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri issued an exterminating order against all Latter-day Saints, and they were forcibly expelled from the State. In sorry plight the people turned again eastward and settled in Illinois, making the little village of Commerce in Hancock County their headquarters. There they founded the city of Nauvoo, the phenomenal growth of which attested at once the industry and skill of the people and the vitality of their organization. Nauvoo was chartered by the State with liberal provision for local government. A university and a military organization were provided for, and both institutions were successfully established. The city flourished and in time numbered 20,000 inhabitants. A temple was reared, in proportions and beauty of architecture far surpassing the earlier structure in Kirtland. In 1844 a few apostates from the Church started a newspaper at Nauvoo with the avowed purpose of assailing the prophet and exposing alleged misdeeds. Only one issue of the paper was published. The city council of Nauvoo promptly declared the printing establishment a nuisance and ordered its immediate abatement. In the seizure by officers of the law the printing plant was wrecked. Smith was blamed for this by his enemies and they secured the issuance of a warrant for his arrest. As he was the officially recognized commander of the Nauvoo Legion, a duly constituted unit of the militia, the imminence of a military clash was exploited and public opinion in the State became intensely antagonistic. The governor of Illinois induced Smith to surrender himself under assurance of safeguard against mobocratic violence. The prophet was imprisoned at Carthage, where on 27 June 1844 a mob broke into the jail and shot to death Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and wounded John Taylor, one of the prophet's party.

Even this outrage failed to bring about the end of Mormonism. Joseph Smith was succeeded in the leadership of the Church by Brigham Young (see Young, Brigham), who, early in 1846, was impelled through the violence of persistent persecution to leave Nauvoo with his people. They set out for the West. A party numbering 143, led by Young, started in the spring of 1847, and on 24 July arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, which region the leader declared to be the land of promise to the Saints. To ordinary view the promise was most uninviting. The pioneer band placed a dam across the little stream later known as City Creek and flooded a small area of the hard-baked soil. After the planting the land was again watered. Thus was inaugurated the system of modern irrigation in America. The first crop raised by the colonists was small and the next was partly destroyed by an invasion of crickets; but the people pushed out into the remoter parts of the valley and beyond; and within a few years the wilderness — a part of the Great American Desert — was blossoming as a flower garden. The site of the present Salt Lake City was surveyed, streets laid out, the Temple block was marked by boundaries and other reservations for community use were made. Brigham Young returned to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the main body of his people had established temporary headquarters. The migrating hosts followed the route of the pioneer band, traveling in well-organized companies; and people still living in the smiling vales of Utah and contiguous States relate their experiences of having crossed the plains afoot, guiding ox teams or pushing handcarts by dint of strenuous effort. Great Salt Lake City, as the new settlement was first called, became at once important on account of its position on the route of wagon trains between the Missouri River and California; and as within two years from the time of the pioneer arrival, the gold fever was raging, travel was heavy. As a result af the wonderful genius for organization, management and well-disciplined activity exhibited by the Mormon colonists, and owing to their success in irrigation, the soil, inherently fertile and lacking only water and skilled cultivation, yielded abundantly and the city became the chief source of supply to the transcontinental travelers. When settled by the Mormons the region was under Mexican sovereignty. After its cession to the United States in 1848, under the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, the settlers petitioned for admission to the Union as a State; the request was denied, but in 1850 the Territory of Utah was formally established. Brigham Young was appointed governor and Congress made appropriations to the new Territory for public buildings and a library. In 1857 Alfred Cumming was appointed to succeed Brigham Young as governor, and Cumming with other Federal appointees was sent to the West along with “Johnston's army,” a military expedition authorized by President James Buchanan, and sent ostensibly to suppress a “Mormon rebellion” that had no existence except as a popular opinion based on false reports. The expedition met with difficulties on account of the inclement season, and through determined opposition on the part of the Utah settlers to having an armed and hostile force sent against them in time of peace, when, as they claimed, they were guiltless of any overt act against the United Stales government. A peace commission was sent to Utah in 1858 and the people, who had already begun to move away from their homes (which they had prepared to burn if the invading soldiery attempted any depredations) were induced to return. Brigham Young, though no longer governor, exercised great influence in the Commonwealth. Many missionaries were sent out by the Church and the membership increased with great rapidity. Brigham Young died in 1877 and John Taylor succeeded him in the presidency of the Church, Taylor had been with the Smiths at the time of the assassination in Carthage jail and he himself had been shot and dangerously wounded by the mob. John Taylor died in 1887; and, after an interval, Wilford Woodruff became president of the Church. He was a remarkable man, 82 years old when made president, and he retained his physical and mental vigor until his death, which occurred in his 92d year. In 1890 President Woodruff issued his famous manifesto, which placed a definite injunction against plural or polygamous marriage, which practice had been inaugurated under prescribed regulation by Joseph Smith at Nauvoo. In 1896 Utah became a State, and in the following year the 50th anniversary of the entrance of the pioneers into Salt Lake Valley was impressively celebrated. Lorenzo Snow became president of the Church following the death of President Woodruff in 1898. He was in his 85th year at the time and died three years later. He was succeeded by Joseph Fielding Smith, a nephew of Joseph Smith, the martyred prophet, and son of Hyrum Smith, who had met death with his brother Joseph. After an administration covering 17 years and marked by unprecedented expansion in all phases of Church activity, Joseph F. Smith died on 19 Nov. 1918, a few days after his 80th birthday. On 23 Nov. 1918 Heber J. Grant, the senior member of the apostolic body, was made president of the Church on the second day of his 63d year.

From the seemingly insignificant beginning of six the membership of the Church has now risen above half a million. In Utah and adjoining States, as also in Canada and Mexico, the people are organized according to residence into stakes, each of which comprises several wards; and outside the area so included, the whole of this country, as also many foreign lands, are covered by missions. The theology of Mormonism is epitomized in the following exposition:

The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

  1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
  2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.
  3. We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
  4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
  6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, viz.: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.
  7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc.
  8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
  9. 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.
  10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion will be built upon this (the American) continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth: and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisical glory.
  11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
  12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
  13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul. We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. — Joseph Smith.

The presiding council of the Church is the first presidency, insisting of the president and his two counsellors, each of the three being an ordained high priest. The president is officially designated as “prophet, seer, and revelator” to the Church. Next in authority is the council of 12 apostles, and in addition there are patriarchs, high priests, seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers and deacons, the organization operating as a theocratic system. Auxiliary organizations are maintained as helps in government; these comprise relief societies, Sunday schools, young men's and young ladies mutual improvement associations, primary associations for the children and religion classes for supplying religious and ethical instruction as a supplement to the secular teachings of the public schools. A system of church schools is operated for those who prefer denominational training, and these institutions range from the kindergarten to the normal school and college. The practice of plural marriage was a feature of the Church from the time of Joseph Smith's presidency to that of Wilford Woodruff. In 1862 the Federal government legislated against the system, but the constitutionality of the law was contested by the Mormons on the ground that it was in effect an infringement on religious freedom. More stringent laws followed, and numerous prosecutions resulted. Many members of the Church suffered fine and imprisonment rather than abandon the wives with whom they had covenanted under Church sanction. In 1887 the Mormon Church was disincorporated by Congress and the greater part of its property was confiscated by the government. In recognition of the final decision of the Supreme Court that the laws forbidding a plurality of wives were constitutionally valid, the Church in general conference assembled adopted as a binding rule the Woodruff manifesto; and except for sporadic cases of violation of this rule of action, plural marriage has ceased to be an issue in Mormon affairs. In 1898 Brigham H. Roberts was elected to Congress on the Democratic ticket, but a protest followed on the charge that he was living in polygamous relations, and on the recommendation of an investigating committee of the House of Representatives he was denied a seat in Congress. In 1904 an effort was made to unseat United States Senator Reed Smoot, on the charge that he, being a member and an official of the Mormon Church, did in effect abet and encourage the practice of plural marriage, and that he was disloyal to the Federal government. Both charges failed and the senator was confirmed in his place in the upper house of Congress.

Salt Lake City, which is still the headquarters of the Mormon Church, and both capital and metropolis of the State of Utah, is famed for its beauty of situation, its wide and excellent streets and its many imposing structures. The great tabernacle, a building begun in 1864 and completed in 1867, is oval in plan, 250 feet long, 150 feet in greatest width and over 70 feet high from floor to ceiling at the centre. The roof is a great dome of lattice-work construction and is self-supporting, the vast span being without a single pillar. As first constructed the enormous beams and trusses, entirely of wood, were held together by wooden pegs and rawhide thongs, for in that day iron spikes were unobtainable. The seating capacity of the building is over 9,000; but, with aisles and other standing space occupied, assemblies of nearly 11,000 are not uncommon. The great organ in the tabernacle is of world-wide fame, and the choral service is scarcely less renowned. The temple is built of solid granite, with walls eight feet thick in the first story and six feet above. This building was begun in 1853 and was dedicated in 1893, the time occupied in its construction being 40 years to the day. It is of composite architecture, with dimensions of 186 feet length, 118 feet width and 210 feet from ground to highest pinnacle. There are three other temples in Utah, one in Canada and one in Hawaii. The temples are used in ordinance work and not for worshiping assemblies in general. A characteristic of Mormon practice is the rendering of vicarious service in baptism and other ordinances for the dead; and this labor is performed only within temples erected and dedicated for the purpose. Ordinances for the living are likewise administered in these structures; and the distinctive ceremony of “celestial marriage” is confined to the temple administration. This order of marriage involves a covenant between the parties for time and all eternity, and not only until death shall them part. No marriages are solemnized in the temples or elsewhere among the Mormons except such as are authorized by the license of the State. See Salt Lake City; Utah.