Verdoia: Let's pick a place to begin, and let's begin with this notion, Michael, of the Civil War. The people in the Utah territory, leadership of the Mormon Church, how they viewed this rather extraordinary conflict between North and South. Do we have a clear sense of what the perspective might have been?
Quinn: Well, initially they saw it as a faith-promoting event, they saw it as a fulfillment of a prophecy of Joseph Smith, even a revelation of Joseph Smith that he had given in 1832, and that the Mormons in Utah had published in 1851. And so when the Civil War began with secession, the leaders of the Church and most Mormons heralded this as a faith-promoting event. And in that sense, they regarded it as wonderful. In the sense of awe-inspiring, not necessarily that it was a great thing. But that it was great in the eyes of God because it was part of His purposes.
The other side of it is that Utah was pro-Confederate. Most people don't recognize Utah was a slave tolerating territory. Most people don't recognize that proven aspect of the state's past. And when the Mormons came to Utah, in the very first pioneer train that Brigham Young led, or pioneer company, there were three slaves, and their names are inscribed on the monument that is down at the center of Salt Lake City, and I think there's another version of it up at the Pioneer Park. And in 1852, Brigham Young instructed the Utah legislature, as Governor of Utah, to pass a bill legalizing, formally, slavery of African-Americans in Utah, which the Utah legislature did. And when the abolitionist newspaper man, Horace Greeley, came to Utah to visit and interview Brigham Young several years later, he asked Brigham Young, "What do you think about slavery?" And Brigham Young's words were, "We regard it as of divine institution." He believed, and most Mormons agreed with him that God had instituted slavery for a purpose. And so when the secession occurred of the southern states, Utah was in a very strange situation of being north of the Mason-Dixon line, and yet being a slave territory. And in 1860, there were about 50 slaves in Utah. Because of the harsh, severe winter, it did not have a sustained cotton culture, as was true south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But Utah was a slave territory. And so because of conflicts with the national government prior to secession, prior to the Civil War, and because of the slave culture of Utah, Utah was pro-Confederacy. So you have this very interesting thing, which you can see in the official Church newspaper, the Deseret News, is that there were just summary reports of sermons, or rather, talks by Abraham Lincoln. There were full text discourses of the Confederate leaders of the statements by the Confederate Congress. Those were given full publicity in the Church newspaper at that time, the Deseret News. So there was a very strong pro-Confederacy feeling. The irony, though, is that the leadership of the Church, Brigham Young in particular, was astute enough to know that there was no way that they could survive if they announced that they were in sympathy with, or that they had essentially joined, the Confederacy. And that would not be something that would be responded to in a way that would be survivable for Utah.
And so what they did was they bided their time. And every time there was a Confederate victory, they gave a big, big headline in the Church News, or the Deseret News at that time. And there was a real hopefulness that the Confederate armies would win, in particularly in their battles in the West, and that's the ones that the Church leaders were most interested in.
Well, what happened was that the Confederacy lost in the West, and by the end of 1863, the Confederate forces had been defeated throughout the West, and so that was no longer an option. And so from 1863 on, what leaders said was somewhat different. John Taylor, for example, when he was talking about the Civil War, he said he hoped both sides won. And really, what they really were hoping for, since Confederate victory was something that did not seem possible, they were hoping that the war would so weaken the North that they would not be able to create problems for the territory of Utah. So that continued to be the attitude.
Now during this time, there were Federal forces stationed in Utah because Washington recognized, despite the lack of a formal announcement in favor of the Confederacy, Washington recognized that the Mormons were pro-Confederate. And they had been regarded as disloyal for years, and now they were perceived as in addition to being that, as being "pro-Confederate." So Federal forces were sent here to suppress what Washington felt was a potential rebellion by the Mormons against the Union. That did not, of course, occur, because Brigham Young was too astute to do something that suicidal. But it was a very tense situation here, because the Federal troops literally had their guns trained on Brigham Young's home, that if there was going to be a civil uprising, his home would be the first to receive cannon shots. And there was a very tense environment between the soldiers and the Mormons. Not only on the issue of loyalty, and this being an occupying force, the Mormons regarded it, as an occupying force, but also because of the camp followers who came with the military. The prostitutes, and the drinking and the saloons that catered to the soldiers, was something that Brigham Young and other Mormons condemned.
So there had been a very tense situation. And it was a deeper thing than simply Mormon vs. non-Mormon. It was also an issue of pro-slavery, people living in the north who were confronting anti-slavery people, many of them non-Mormon, who had come to Utah, and then of course, with the military, the military is pro-Union and anti-Confederacy, and you have a population that, for the most part, is pro-Confederacy. So lots of conflicts during that period in the years before the beginning of the transcontinental railroad.
Verdoia: With the end of the Civil War in 1865, can you characterize it for me economically, culturally, socially, politically? What type of a place is this territory by the end of the Civil War?
Quinn: Well, it's about 95-98% Mormon. Very few non-Mormons, maybe even a bit higher than that, I don't remember the statistics. But it was in the very high 90s of Mormon. And not all Mormons were participating, that's a bad characteristic of Mormon experience from the beginning, is that one can define oneself as Mormon but not attend church necessarily.
You had a small group of non-Mormons, primarily merchants, and they were there with families. And most of the merchants were not single individuals. So the non-Mormon population of Utah in the cities was family-oriented primarily. But you had a mining population, as well, which had been growing since the early 1850s, and the mining population of non-Mormons was primarily single males.
So you had a combination in the gentile population, so to speak, of wild single males as well as family, church-going families who were Protestants, some Catholics, some Jews, but for the most part Protestants. And there was a huge polarization wherein, over the pulpit, and in the Church newspaper, there were all of these condemnations of the non-Mormons who were almost routinely called gentiles. And it was one of the ironies of the period. The Jewish population of Salt Lake City, primarily at that time, were lumped in the category of being gentiles. So you had that, but in the 1850s, you had also had a very internal conflict within Mormonism, and that internal conflict was not an obvious conflict in the sense that what you had was the leaders of the Church in general, from the pulpit, attacking sin in general. And you had this great period that was called the Reformation, where rank-and-file Mormons were told to report on one another if they were perceived as being a non-devout or sinful Mormon, the family members or neighbors were to report on them. And there was this sense of conflict, this sense of retribution. And many of the sermons that were published during that time period, spoke of a literal blood atonement of execution of the sinners. And this extended, as well, to non-Mormons, who felt overwhelmed numerically, and then were hearing, and in many cases seeing, in the Church newspaper, in print, this advocacy for violence against those who were regarded as sinful in the community. So there was a real tension in the years before the Civil War, and then the Civil War added another layer of tension.
Now economically, you had a very unusual situation in that the Mormon population, to a degree that was not true throughout the west, in a degree not true throughout the eastern states, the settled part of the United States, there was a very equalitarian character to economic life among the population of Utah, among the Mormon population. So that there were not the huge disparities in wealth that you found in other frontier communities, that you found in the states whether it was Masschusetts or New York, southern states. There were huge disparities between the haves and the have nots, and if we exclude the free blacks and the African-American slaves, there were still huge disparities between the white population, in terms of wealth. That wasn't the case to the degree it was nationally, in Utah. In Utah there had been a tremendous emphasis on cooperation, on helping one another out. And in helping one another to have opportunities to progress within the community. And so the ranges of wealth were far narrower within Mormon population.
Now a large part of that was because Brigham Young had discouraged taking advantage of cheaper prices for goods that were being imported into the Utah valley area, or the Utah territorial area, by non-Mormon merchants who had become more common within Salt Lake, primarily Salt Lake, but also Ogden after the 1850s. Brigham Young made it a kind of test of faith for Mormons to only buy home, and that was the term that they used, and so that meant that instead of buying dresses that had been manufactured in New York, or factory-produced items such as agricultural equipment, that was actually cheaper, even after it had been imported, to Utah, it was cheaper than the material such as agricultural equipment that had been made. Brigham Young said, by this, "By what we have made, do not become slaves to gentile culture."
So Mormon economy, really through the end of the Civil War, was really very self-sufficient. Very little of the local population was dependent upon imported goods. Most of the Mormon population, the vast majority, were using goods manufactured by other Mormons. Now this infuriated that small minority of the non-Mormon merchant class, because they were losing sales, and so some of the merchants left because this was not a boom economy the way Denver, the way San Francisco, the way other economies were. Which, for a variety of reasons, had these huge disparities as well, but also were tremendous kind of cash cows for the merchant class who came in and brought in these manufactured goods from the east and people would pay for them and it was a very profitable experience for both the merchant class and those were the haves in these other western territories.
Utah that in a degree is part exceptional in the American territorial experience, but also exceptional in the American United States, up until the late 1860s, was very equalitarian in its social structure.
Verdoia: Which brings to mind the first grumblings that start to manifest themselves in the 1860s, of those within the Church, who start to question Brigham Young as leader in economic issues, social issues, as well as theological issues. One of the names that comes to mind is William Godbe. The man comes to symbolize, perhaps a challenge, or at least a question, of the direction. In fact, those who side with Godbe become known as Godbeites.
Quinn: Well there are two groups, two major factors. And the one is
the one that you mentioned, which is the better known, and that is,
and I'll step back actually before discussing that, two one event that
became crucial. There had been, since the 1840s, proposal for a transcontinental
railroad to its newly acquired territory in California. And as the California
gold mines mushroomed, it would be the gold rush of the 49ers, and the
developments in California as a state, those cries became more insistent
within congress. However, congress was at a stalemate, because in the
senate in particular, there were equal number of slave states and an
equal number of non-slave states, and the northern states wanted a northern
route for the transcontinental railroad. The southern states wanted
a southern route. And their votes cancelled out one another. And so
prior to the Civil War, it was impossible for the various proposals
to work, of those who wanted a transcontinental railroad. So they could
never agree, there was no way to compromise. Do you have a northern
route or a southern route? It's one or the other. And northerners and
southerners simply would not vote for the alternate possibility.
Well, when the war ended in 1865, a couple of things occurred. Brigham Young becomes a director of the Union Pacific railroad in 1865 because at that point, construction began. And you had two separate lines, one coming from the east, the Union Pacific railroad, and one coming from the west, from San Francisco initially, called the Central Pacific. And their intent was to meet somewhere in the middle of the territory of the United States. And Brigham Young, because the assumption would be that if it didn't occur in Utah it would occur near Utah, Brigham Young was the focal point in terms of the interest of the Union Pacific railroad in obtaining his cooperation. Because Union Pacific felt that this was going to be very important.
So he was advanced as a director. That did not give him veto power, but it gave him input. And his point of view was listened to, not always followed, but the big money powers with the Union Pacific railroad, were influenced by the Mormon point of view because they felt this was going to be eventually important in the completion of the railroad.
Then from 1865 onward, you had voices within the Mormon community who, some of whom themselves, had been merchants. Who had seen the equalitarian, who had experienced themselves, the negative effects for merchants of the Mormon determination to buy only local goods. And so Godby was one of these merchants, he was linked with others, so their interests were not without self interest, they had self interest in promoting what they promoted. And what they promoted was that since it was going to be inevitable that the railroad came through Utah, and since it was going to be inevitable that goods would be cheaply produced, even more cheaply than they had been able to bring them to Utah before, why not take advantage of this, and welcome with open arms the economy of the United States of America and all of the benefits experienced to Utah?
Verdoia: Hardly sounds controversial.
Quinn: No. In strict economic terms, it was not. It made sense, not only for self interest on the part of merchants, but for the consumer. They would be able to get goods much cheaper than they could be produced locally. The problem was that Brigham Young recognized that you could not separate the economic life of Utah from the social and political life. But they were all linked, and so that if you welcomed in with open arms the economic powers of the national culture, you would also be welcoming in its social structure, and its political power. And Brigham Young was unwilling to do that. And he said, "No, we will not. We will resist to every degree that we can, the influence of Babylon," which is how they typically referred to the states east of the Mississippi. That was Babylon, and they were free of Babylon, and sins, and the fleshpots of Egypt, that's another way they referred to it Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible terms. And they wanted to be like the Puritans, they wanted to be a city on a hill, but their challenges were greater because the Puritans didn't face the transcontinental railroad from an alternative culture, and Mormons did. And so it was a question of what to do.
And eventually these disagreements became very sharp. And they were no longer friendly, and Brigham Young made them a test of faith. He said, "If you continue advocating what you're advocating," and Godbe and his associates began advocating this publicly, Brigham Young said, "We cannot tolerate this. This is contrary to the best interests of the kingdom of God," which is the common way that Mormons referred to their commonwealth in Utah. Which had by this time extended into what is now southern Idaho, and extended into the eastern boundaries of what is now Nevada. And so Brigham Young said that if you continue this, you are going to be an apostate. And Godby and his associates continued to advocate what they felt was the sensible approach to the new economic world, that the transcontinental railroad would bring. Eventually they were excommunicated because of that, and formed a new church. And it became, they formed a new newspaper as well, that was the ultimate origins of the Salt Lake Tribune, which continues to exist as a non-church, a secular newspaper, in Utah.
But there was another factor behind what Godbe and his associates were doing. And that was, that for decades they had been quiet religious radicals. Which Brigham Young did not realize, very few people recognized that. These were all practicing spiritualists, and they had in their world view, a different theological set of assumptions that was linked with their economic. And so their proposal to welcome with open arms, the culture, the economics, of the United States, there was an unspoken agenda behind that, because they wanted to release the grip of Utah orthodoxy, Mormon orthodoxy on Utah, because they were quiet, religious radicals. And so the new church that they formed, after they had been excommunicated from Brigham Young's point of view, for economic disloyalty, which he had defined as religious disloyalty, when they formed their new church, their new church was spiritualist church, and they finally became open. And the religious agenda, that had also been motivating them.
So it wasn't simply a contest between forward-looking economic visionaries and Brigham Young, the backward looking kind of Mormon provincial leader. There was a religious motivation behind it, as well, that Brigham Young didn't recognize at the time. He soon did.
Verdoia: Brigham Young. In the annals of American history, he is almost virtually unmatched in terms of the authority he has in an area during a fairly sustained era. Can you help a contemporary audience understand the realm of authority that Brigham Young had?
Quinn: I think it's difficult to look at that without saying what Brigham Young brought the Mormons from. The Mormons had experienced, about 14 years of persecution before Brigham Young became the highest leader of Mormonism, and that persecution culminated with the murder of Joseph Smith, the president and in the Mormon view, prophet of the world. And his brother, who would have been the next in line to be the prophet. And when those two were killed, that was a huge emotional shock for Mormons who never thought that was possible. And then, not long after that, the non-Mormons surrounding the Mormon headquarters in Illinois, began attacking outlying Mormon settlements. Mormons saw themselves under siege.
Brigham Young came in. I mean, the cliché is really applicable there. He brought order out of chaos. There was institutional chaos within the Church, there was chaos of being threatened by Mormon mobs, and Brigham Young brought order out of that chaos, brought stability to the LDS church, and he negotiated with anti-Mormon mobs, brought a very tenuous truce, it was a truce in which there were attacks on both sides. But nonetheless a truce that allowed the Mormons to prepare to move the entire population of the headquarters city, which had swelled by that time, to about 15,000 people. And to allow them to lead an orderly retreat, without being driven out violently by mobs, which would have been the alternatives.
And so he took these people across the Mississippi River, and his intent was to move to a place that no one else would want. And so he brought them to Utah, and one of the leaders of the Church named George Albert Smith, was the Church historian. And he really said it well, he said, "The Mormons came to Utah willingly because we were forced to." And that was the situation. And so the Mormons in Utah, and even those who had emigrated from Europe, looked to Brigham Young as a savior, as a, not a necessarily religious savior, but as a cultural savior, someone who had saved their culture from utter destruction. And in the process, that link was linked with saving the religion. And so they saw him as a divine savior in the sense that he had preserved a religious community, not just a community of social interaction.
So when he was president of the Church here, and then was appointed governor, this gave a kind of awe to his position, that almost all Mormons felt. Now Brigham Young was a down to earth person, he spoke in an earthly way, he usually swore in front of the pulpit, but most of the people he spoke to were equally earthy. They were down to earth, very few of them were highly educated. There were a few, even Mormon leaders, who had college educations, but they were very few. And so Brigham Young represented their kind of person, the mass of Mormons' kind of leader. So he had this tremendous sense of devotion, that Mormons looked to him to perpetuate their protection. And the thing about Brigham Young is that he was astute. And basically I don't think there is any exception to this. Of all the non-Mormon observers, many of them very sophisticated from Richard F. Burton who came, to Horace Greeley, a number of presidential candidates who came to Utah, people who were not awed by religious leaders in general, and not easily fooled by somebody who was just a blow hard political leader. Without exception, they looked to Brigham Young and felt a sense of awe. That here is this leader who is truly shrewd, who knows how to deal with the federal government and with the various issues he faced.
Verdoia: How did these people perceive Brigham Young?
Quinn: Well, these leaders who visited, they were leaders in various areas. Many of them are newspaper reporters, some of them either had been political leaders or were going to campaign for political office. Some are world travelers who had been in many cultures, such as Richard F. Burton, who came to Utah and visited with Brigham Young. And without exception, they all expressed a sense of admiration. Sometimes it was uncritical, and when I say uncritical there were no negative things that they said, other times they put in critical jibes about Brigham Young, about his unlettered kind of speech, his rough hewn speech, they would make comments about that. But the overwhelming assessment was, in spite of those things that they might take pot shots at and maybe laugh at in print, these very sophisticated readers all stood in awe of what a shrewd leader he was. That he was very well informed about the issues of the day, internationally as well as nationally, and they asked him questions to test him on that. And they were amazed to find how well informed he was. He was not some country bumpkin, which they had assumed. And he was not provincial in the way they had assumed. He was provincial in the sense that all his focuses and energies were directed at this Utah commonwealth that the Mormons called Zion. But, he was very well informed about wars that were occurring, about conflicts, diplomatic issues involving Britain, with other states, involving Europe, involving the United States. And this quite amazed them.
Brigham Young really made Utah survive. Utah could not have survived the various challenges, both naturally and militarily, politically, that it faced, had it not been for Brigham Young and his leadership during that pioneer period. And those who visited with him before his death in 1877 who had no reason to praise him, who were in fact prepared to make fun of him, instead had to acknowledge that this was an unparalleled leader, somebody that they had no expectations of meeting in a religious commonwealth.
Verdoia: Zion is the great organizing Mormon commonwealth, as you phrased it. After 20 years, from the first days of July 1847, after 20 years you talked about a number of terrors or challenges, at least, that appear in the fabric. Is Zion, from Brigham's perspective, is Zion in danger as we move to the latter half of the 19th century?
Quinn: Zion was under pressure, is the best way to think of it, from different factors. And Brigham Young recognized these and responded to them in different ways. One was the increase of the non-Mormon population, which would change the character of at least a part of the experience of Mormons in Zion. And Brigham Young wanted to limit the non-Mormon population to the degree that he could. He did not want to encourage non-Mormons to come to Utah. And in some ways I think that's why Mormons sent copies of their sermons, which were very hostile, which were in many ways created an image of Mormonism as being very odd environment. I think that's why they sent copies of them to congress, because they wanted the national leaders to think of Utah as this strange place, who would want to live there? And I think that was one of the tactics that Brigham Young made, or he was conscious.
But the other challenge was that economically, even from the early 1850s, after the gold rush in California made shipping goods to the west profitable for western manufacturers, it was a fact that you could buy almost everything cheaper, even after paying the import costs for transporting it, than it would be to manufacture it locally. This applied to dress items, it applied to manufactured items, agricultural implements, and Brigham Young told the Mormons, "Do not be untrue to the kingdom of God. Buy locally." And that's a phrase that we, in modern society, have heard in a number of ways, particularly buy U.S., in terms of, but not buying cheaply manufactured international products.
Well, that's really how Brigham Young saw Utah. Brigham Young saw Utah surrounded by, or at least easily affected by, an alien manufacturing power. Now the curious thing is that with this alien manufacturing power was the United States, which controlled Utah politically. But that's how Brigham economically saw it. So he urged Mormons to buy the locally manufactured items.
Now this was more than an economic policy, because Brigham saw that the economic and the social lives were linked. And that if Mormons bought outside Mormon manufacturers, if they bought imported goods, that would encourage non-Mormon merchants. It would encourage the entire infrastructure of manufacturing and trade and commerce, to come to Utah, and to establish themselves in this very profitable market. And Brigham Young did not want that to happen, because that was going against the discouragement of non-Mormon population. So there was a far greater motive than economics in Brigham Young's urging Mormons to buy only Mormon-made or Utah made products.
The other issue, the other challenge that Brigham Young faced, was the rising generation. Young people growing up who had no direct experience with the world outside Utah culture. Those who had not had a persecution heritage, who could not in themselves think of reasons why they should stay in Utah rather than go somewhere else, why they should marry a Mormon rather than marry somebody else. And that was a huge issue, because it related to the survival of Mormons as a religion, and to the survival of Utah as a commonwealth, of expressing that religion. And so Brigham Young was very concerned with all the influences that might affect, either positively or negatively, the young rising generation, those who were in their 20s, those who were in their 30s, who either had no memory at all because of birth, or had maybe only the most distant memory of young childhood, of what it was like to live as a persecuted minority.
And so part of his indoctrination was the continual invoking over the pulpit of the persecution heritage of Mormonism. And that created an "us and them" environment, it perpetuated those feelings that their parents and grandparents had had, toward the persecutors, among young people who had never had direct experience for it. And so this "us and them" attitude continues, and Brigham Young encourages it to continue, not simply to put off non-Mormons, but also to, as part of the indoctrinations of the rising generation.
Verdoia: When we look at the role of Brigham Young and this notion of the transcontinental railroad, some people characterize him as being a railroad advocate, and some people as being a railroad opponent.
Quinn: I don't think there's any question was a railroad advocate. He saw the railroad as fulfilling the initial goal of Mormonism, and of his goal, of building the kingdom of God. And it would do it in one direct way, and that is that it would speed emigration. It would make it so that emigrants from Europe who were Mormon, would not have to have a three-month trip with as many hardships and some dangers by wagon train. The railroad would make that a memory, a memory of hardships that those who went through it would always treasure, but it would not be an impediment to emigration of Mormons in Europe and in the eastern states.
So he saw the railroad as serving that primary purpose of building the kingdom of God by encouraging Mormons in the eastern states of the United States and in Europe, to emigrate. But, he wasn't negative about the railroad, but he was cautious, and worried about its consequences. Things that he knew would happen, that just as Mormon converts could take the rails to Utah, so could non-Mormon merchants. So could non-Mormon settlers. And what to do about that situation? He couldn't prevent them from buying a train ticket. But his purpose was to somehow make Utah less inviting to that flood, potential flood, of non-Mormon culture, and non-Mormon population. So he wanted the benefits of the railroad, but he did not want the secularization process that he knew the railroad could bring. And if he couldn't stop it, he wanted to slow it down as much as possible for the succeeding generations. And Brigham Young certainly was looking far beyond his own lifetime. He wanted Utah to be a Mormon commonwealth forever.
And so the railroad threatened to change that drastically. And he would not oppose the railroad because he wanted the emigration benefit for Mormon converts. But he did everything he could to forestall the secularization effect of the railroad.
Verdoia: And he had no reluctance whatsoever to strike financial deals that would bring money to his people in the conception of the railroad.
Quinn: Exactly. He was very astute in that regard. And so he made agreements with the money people who were in charge of the railroad, and made agreements for the Mormons to provide, basically the day laborer kinds of things. There were not very many Mormon surveyors who could have provided the highly technical work of surveying for the railroad, and those who had been hired, he knew the railroad wasn't going to fire them when it got into the area where Utah train surveyors would work. So he didn't hold out any hope for the highly trained Mormons to benefit the railroad. But Mormons could swing an axe, they could dig, they could help to grade the path of the train. And that's what Brigham Young offered. He offered cheap labor. And he offered it at a price that would discourage the railroad from bringing in a flood of non-Mormon laborers. That was in many ways the worst of his fears. It's one thing to have merchants who have ties to the community who are non-Mormon, but it's another thing, quite another thing, to have day laborers who may be uneducated, who come in and have no ties to the community, and no ties to what most people would regard as the trappings of civilization, and then have them come in and maybe stay in Utah. That was the last thing he wanted.
So he offered, at a bargain price, Mormon cheap labor, to the Union Pacific railroad, and they took it. They took the offer. And in that way, he did two things: he discouraged non-Mormon immigration of cheap day labor, and he gave an economic benefit to the Mormons. It didn't turn out that way that he'd hoped. He hoped it would bring cash revenues, and the Union Pacific was notoriously corrupt, resulting in congressional investigations, and so the result was that virtually no cash came in terms of what had been promised and contracted. And so there was, in some ways, the contract almost brought Mormons to the brink of bankruptcy because the cash flow did not come in as promised. But he made these arrangements, initially, for the dual purpose of keeping out non-Mormon undesirables, and to benefit economically the Mormon kingdom.
Verdoia: We find an enormous gray area surrounding the personal finances of Brigham Young. It's almost impossible to separate Brigham Young from the holdings of the Church. Can you speak to that issue of this intermingling of interest and assets and ownership?
Quinn: There was a legal reason why Brigham Young intermingled his private accounts with those of the Church as an institution, and that goes back to the subject of polygamy. The Republican party, which came to power with the election of Abraham Lincoln, had announced in its initial platform, national Republican platform in 1856, that it was dedicated to the destruction of what it called the twin relics of barbarism. First, slavery; and second, polygamy. And the polygamy reference was a reference, they actually used the term bigamy, and the bigamy reference was a reference to Mormon polygamy. And Mormon polygamy was an assault on traditional marriage. And although it was a ridiculous argument, it was really believed by the majority of people in the United States, that if they allowed this tiny group to practice non-traditional marriage, that it would threaten the institution of marriage generally.
And so in the period of the early year, first year of the Civil War, congress passed a law in 1862, and the law made bigamy a crime. It was the first time congress had ever passed a law relating to sexual conduct, and it was directed against the Mormons of Utah. And then to put teeth, so to speak, in this creation of a new category of criminal offense, congress disincorporated the LDS Church and said that it could not hold more than $50,000 worth of property, either real property or actual liquid property.
And so after that law was enacted, and a new president, Abraham Lincoln, signed it into law, the Church faced a reality that it could, at some point, have its assets confiscated by the federal government. And so for that reason, Brigham Young, even before 1862, in anticipation that this law might be passed, he began mixing the technical accounts of the Church with his accounts as trustee in trust, and the term of the legal term giving him sole trusteeship over the financial assets of the LDS Church, but then he also mixed his own accounts with his accounts as the trustee of the Church, his personal accounts.
And so it became kind of a Gordian knot of possible conflict of interest. And in the 1860s, Brigham Young publicly said that his personal wealth was the equivalent of the wealth of the entire Church. So he had a proprietary, personal sense that his contribution to the Mormon Church was such that its wealth was his wealth, too. And that he saw his personal wealth as equal to the wealth of the LDS Church itself.
And so there have been Mormon apologist efforts to say that this intermingling was only because of the federal law. His statement publicly would indicate that's not the case. He really felt that the laborer is worthy of his hire. He had preserved Mormonism, he was its president, he was the one who was battling with the federal government and with all of the forces seeking to undermine the kingdom of God, and therefore he felt his personal financial reward for that should be the equivalent of the wealth of the Church itself.
And so when he died, the Church leaders were faced with this huge problem: how to undo a Gordian knot. And essentially, like the old story, the Gordian knot, the new president of the Church, John Taylor, who had never liked Brigham Young, who had been at odds with him about financial matters for 30 years, basically did what happened anciently with the Gordian knot, and that is he took a sword to it. And what he did was, he simply defined arbitrarily, that certain issues that were of the presidents of the Church that had been defined as Brigham Young as president of the Church or Brigham Young as a sole individual, not necessarily the trustee, the legal name, but these in fact were really, the Church's, that that's had been intended.
Now John Taylor knew what Brigham Young intended, that his wealth should be the equivalent of the Church's, but that's not what his successor felt was in the interest of the kingdom of God. And he was not about to let that money to go to the heirs of Brigham Young. And so there was a huge conflict, and at one point several member of the Young children were excommunicated because they refused to accept the settlement of the Brigham Young estate. There were three apostles who were appointed as trustees by Brigham Young's will. And at one point John Taylor, who was Brigham Young's successor, privately disfellowshipped them, and said he would excommunicate them, if they did not agree to sign a document which said that all of these properties of Brigham Young were in fact the properties of the Church. And they said that was not what Brigham Young intended, and John Taylor said, "I don't care what Brigham Young intended, I'm the prophet of the Church. You will sign this, or you will lose your apostleship and you will be excommunicated." And so they signed, as trustees of the Brigham Young estate. They obviously had conflict of interest in the position that they held.
So it's not an easy resolution, and the one who has written most about it in the past was Leonard Arrington. And Leonard Arrington tried to put the best footing that he could on the situation, and he pointed out almost in passing, that the auditors for the Church made a clerical error of hundreds of thousands of dollars as they were adding up this information, and Leonard tried to present it as inadvertent. Well, it was a piece of a pattern, and what the pattern was, that John Taylor was absolutely not going to accept Brigham Young's position that Brigham Young's personal wealth was the equivalent of the wealth of the Church itself. And so the result was redefinitions and some fancy bookkeeping.
Verdoia: But in Brigham Young's mind, there's no doubt that he said, "Whether the dollar comes to the Church or the dollar comes to me, it's all the same thing."
Quinn: That's right.
Verdoia: Another institution that seems to have one name but many practical realities is something known as the School of Prophets.
Quinn: Well, it was a reinvocation. The school of the prophets was originally established in 1833 by a revelation to Joseph Smith in 1832. And initially it was an adult education program for men only. It was not a society in which women were given the same considerations as men. But it did provide something quite unusual in the society at the time, and that is that the Mormon Church, even in its very early period, and it was only a few thousand members, had access to some very highly trained people. And Joseph Smith as first prophet brought those in to the school of the prophets and they lectured. One of the most prominent of those was a Hebrew lecturer who was a Jew, Sephardic Jew, and lectured the Mormon men who were interested in learning Hebrew. He lectured them in Greek as well, but primarily Hebrew.
And then others who had had formal educations in the early years of the Church, they lectured on geography, they lectured on history, on civil government, on a variety of topics. It was a broadly-based adult education program. Although it was called school of the prophets, it didn't mean that the education was exclusively religious. It was that those who were being trained were potential prophets in the Mormon sense. They were the priesthood bearers and so had this responsibility of God.
Now what happened in Utah is that Brigham Young reinstituted that in 1867 as the transcontinental railroad is underway. And he changed its purposes. Although there were theological discussions that occurred in the school of the prophets, it was not, strictly speaking, an adult education center the way that it had been under Joseph Smith, that was 35 years before. What happened is that there were lectures that were given on religion, and then the secular things, rather than being a school of instruction, it became a work house of politics, a work house of economics, and financial activity.
So that Brigham Young used the school of the prophets to carry out political activities. For example, the school of the prophets functioned as a caucus in the traditional sense, that American political life defines the caucus, it was a nominating body for the Church-approved candidate. And the candidates were nominated in the meetings of the school of the prophets, and then they were publicly presented on the ballot box, and voted for in elections.
The school of the prophets campaigned, but usually it wasn't necessary, all that was needed was a notice in the Church newspaper, and Mormons knew how to follow orders, and then they would vote. And during this period of time, about 98% of all votes cast in the Utah territory went for the Church approved candidates. And in the one dissenting election occurred, and there was only one where there was a significant dissent, only 4% of the voters went to non-Church candidates, 96% of the votes went to Church-approved candidates. So we're talking about a highly cohesive political commonwealth. And the school of the prophets was the caucus for that.
In political activity, excuse me, in economic and financial activity, Brigham Young gave to the school of the prophets the opportunity to carry out financial operations. So the school of the prophets often time became an initial meeting, some kind a mass meeting, but it had no religious Catholic meeting, it had meaning of mass in the sense of large public event. But really it wasn't public, it was limited to men, and it was limited to men who were Mormons, and it was limited to Mormon men who had passed an interview that allowed them to have a ticket to go to the school of the prophets.
And yet these men were involved in devising financial properties. So that the school of the prophets meetings became the mass meeting for organizing canal companies, became the mass meetings for organizing a variety of new corporations or companies that were started during this period of time. And then as the railroad became nearer in actual physical terms, as the tracks are being laid closer and closer to Wyoming, just one step away from the Utah border, Brigham Young instructed the school of the prophets to begin what has been called a cooperation program. And the intent of this was to minimize, although Brigham Young knew he could not stop completely, the economic freedoms that would come with the arrival of the railroad. And so it was to re-invoke cooperation among Mormons and to emphasize Utah industries and Utah manufactured goods, and the result of that was that the school of the prophets made two stages, two steps, in that direction.
The first stage was to announce a boycott of all, first of all, hostile merchants. And then, in 1867, that became all non-Mormon merchants, became the subject of the boycott. This draws many of them out of business, and merchants sold their remaining inventories and left Utah, which is exactly what Brigham Young wanted. He wanted the non-Mormon population to have disincentives and to leave.
And then in 1868, the school of the prophets became the first known organizing structure to propose the establishment of a physical, and an institutional form of cooperation, which became known as Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution. And this moved beyond simply boycotting the non-Mormons to requiring Mormon merchants to either join and turn over all of their inventories to ZCMI in exchange for ZCMI stock, or if they didn't, they would be publicly identified as the enemy. And they would be a subject to a boycott. And as a result, all of the Mormon merchants turned over the inventories except those who were willing to be excommunicated. And there were a few of those who were.
But what happened is that it essentially was, the foundation of ZCMI, as the oldest department store in the American west, was based first on a religiously based boycott, and then on strong army among Mormons, to make them either turn over their inventories or be excommunicated.
Verdoia: The Zion Cooperative Mercantile Institution would physically represent member shops with a prominent seal on the outside of a business. Tell me about that seal of approval.
Quinn: Well, the seal of approval was "Holiness to the Lord" signs. And it went over the front of each store, the Cooperative, and those stores that didn't cooperate in the sense of either being non-Mormon or being Mormon merchants who did not turn their inventories over to the Church, then they didn't have that seal of approval. And it was a double kind of boycott, because if you were a Mormon and went into a store that did not have the "Holiness to the Lord" over the doorway, then you were subject to social ostracism. There was a price to pay if you did not support the boycott. So it was a symbol, but it was definitely a symbol with substance.
Verdoia: There is another manifestation of this cooperative spirit, and it takes place in an entity known as the United Order. Again, this is something that had moved deeper in Mormon history, but manifests itself in the 1850s in a very tangible form. Is it just a sheer coincidence that it plays up when the railroad comes to Utah?
Quinn: Well, actually, the cooperative movement preceded the railroad and continued after the railroad arrived. The United Order movement, which was an intensification of this economic cooperation, began five years after the railroad arrived here. It began in 1874, and it was essentially a step up of cooperation based on what had been, really, quite a very successful experience of Mormons with the cooperative movement. ZCMI was not simply a Salt Lake City store, there were cooperative efforts in nearly every community of Mormons, there was an Arizona Cooperative Mercantile Institution for the Mormons living in Arizona that was highly successful. And so based on these successes, Brigham Young taught that there was a need to return to the revelatory provisions for a United Order of economic cooperation that actually gave the ownership of one's belongings to the Lord. And that was the next step that Brigham Young announced in 1874.
And the most thorough-going of those United Orders was in a southern Utah town called Orderville. And in Orderville, the people who entered this United Order and lived in this community, signed a document in which they said there is no such thing as private property, that God owns all property. And so when they signed the document and joined the United Order, they gave all of the private property into the United Order, they owned no private property, they even wore the same kind of clothing that had been manufactured within the community, they lived in homes that had been built by the community on a standard format, they ate at a common table, dining hall, their food was cooked in a communal way, it was thoroughly communal, and that was the most thorough-going version of the United Order.
Other United Orders were less communal. They didn't involve the communal dining hall or the regulation kind of clothing. But what they did is they essentially took over the economic lines of the community which had voluntarily accepted them. And so the United Orders in other cities such as Brigham City in the north of Utah, essentially the United Order, which was a religious organization, performed all of the civic structures, economic structures, of the community. All roads were built by the United Order. All public work projects were projects that were performed by the United Order. And so they were very successful, in particular Brigham City and in the one in southern Utah, Orderville.
Now the one in Brigham City actually began during the period before the railroad. And it was established by an apostle of the Church, Lorenzo Snow. And it was at a cooperative order or local cooperative movement, that became so thorough-going in its activities that it inspired Brigham Young, encouraged him to announce this more in-depth nature of cooperation, which he called the United Order Movement. It was somewhat different from the way Brigham Young learned the United Order movement from the founder, but it had adapted to the Utah situation of where Mormons were the vast majority of the population.
Verdoia: Was the United Order a defense mechanism?
Quinn: It was. It was among several of the defense mechanisms that Brigham Young inaugurated. Some of them were not economic. For example, to encourage home consumption of locally produced goods, he created the various auxiliary programs for women. He created one for the young women of the Church beginning with his own daughters, and he announced that this Young Womens program would be, had an economic purpose, that the young women would learn to be frugal in the clothing they bought, and to buy Mormon made clothing. And so even though it was a social organization for the women of the Church, it had a clear economic purpose. And that was to encourage the consumption and purchase by young women of locally produced dresses, which was an obvious appeal of these cheap manufactured goods that were coming in. There were cheap dresses which were better quality and lower prices than the locally produced kind. But Brigham Young organized this social religious organization for young women.
He also, in 1867, two years before the arrival of the railroad, encouraged his wife, one of his plural wives, Eliza R. Snow, to re-establish the women's organization, which was called the Relief Society organization. And although it had public charity as one of its main purposes from its beginning when Joseph Smith initially organized it, under Brigham Young it had another purpose, and that was to encourage the women to have home manufacturers. To encourage them to support home manufacturers. To buy their dresses from Mormon merchants and to make sure that these were Utah made dresses. And Brigham Young, over the pulpit, encouraged this by ridiculing the fashions of the women of the east, and encouraging the local fashions that were manufactured in Utah.
So the effort of Brigham Young to encourage economic independence, went beyond the cooperative movement, beyond the school of the prophets, he went also to the organizations which are called auxiliary organizations in the Mormon church for young women and for the women of the Church.
Verdoia: In 1870, the Church develops what some people would view as another defense mechanism, and that is the power of the vote, more broadly applied. Do you accept that premise that women's suffrage, as enacted in Utah, is another defense mechanism?
Quinn: Yeah, this is one of the ironies. Utah, in 1870, adopts legally the right to vote for women. A right that women in Boston did not have. A right that liberal, modern women in New York did not have. And they had it in Utah. And in one sense you can say this is a manifestation of the social life of the American west. Wyoming also passed a law for women to vote. But the interesting thing is, that there was not a motive for Brigham Young. And there was another motive for the non-Mormon governor who signed the law into, the bill into law. They had different assumptions. The non-Mormon governor of the state, or rather, the territory of Utah, appointed by the federal government, the non-Mormon governor assumed that if Mormon women had the vote, they would vote out of office all these polygamist men. And they would, therefore, make Mormon Utah more American.
Brigham Young, knowing the loyalty of Mormon women being no different from Mormon men, knew that if you give Mormon women the vote, this doubles the power of the Mormon vote. And that's what happened. Mormon women were given the vote, and this wiped out immediately the population game of non-Mormons who had been coming into Utah during the previous years since the completion of the transcontinental railroad. And Mormons maintained the power, politically, in Utah, until the federal assault of the 1880s against Mormon polygamy. Which in fact, ironically, although by necessity, one of the activities of that assault was to disfranchise the women of Utah, because congress finally got it, that if you allowed the women of Utah to vote, you're doubling the power of the Mormon hierarchy, because Mormon women will follow the instructions of the Mormon hierarchy on how to vote.
And so they lost the right to vote 15 years after they gained it, because of the federal campaign against polygamy, which was also a campaign against Mormon theocracy.
Verdoia: May 10, 1869, arguably the most important event in some 22 years plays out in Utah territory. And that is the ceremonial joining of the transcontinental railroad line in the territory of Utah Promontory Summit. Now I am one of those who subscribes to the notion that nothing in this area took place without Brigham Young's involvement. And here we have, perhaps the most important ceremonial event in Utah's young history playing out, and Brigham Young is not present. What are we to read?
Quinn: Well, Brigham Young was very, very unhappy that the transcontinental railroad was not joined in Salt Lake City. And he thought that this was a slap in the face against the Mormons who had done all the grading work from the Wyoming border to assist, and to make it possible, for the Union Pacific railroad to go the direction. And at one point, when he learned that despite the contracts with the Union Pacific to provide the grading of the road and for the track, when he learned that Union Pacific was going to choose Ogden instead of Salt Lake City, he behind their backs went to the Central Pacific trying to encourage the Central Pacific to take a southern route that would end up in Salt Lake City and would force the Union Pacific to lay tracks to join the Central Pacific in Salt Lake City. And the Union Pacific found out about this behind the scenes effort, and the moneyed men who were in charge, made an agreement that they would ignore this offer.
Brigham Young was willing to sweeten it with money, but the Central Pacific financiers had a lot more money than he did, and they were interested in getting as much money as they could from the federal government with as little layout as possible from their own funds, and that meant taking the shorter route. And the shorter route ended in Ogden.
But Brigham Young was so angry about what he saw as an intentional affront to Mormon effort and cooperation that he would not participate. There is an interesting symbolic difference, too, in the laying and the joining of those rails. When you see the photograph of the two trains, the train coming on the Central Pacific route from California meeting the locomotive of the Union Pacific at the point where the golden spike was drilled. There are two major symbols in that event. One of them is that men on, holding onto the smoke stacks of the two locomotives, are reaching out to one another, holding bottles of whiskey, which was a very non-Mormon symbol captured by the photographer on the site. The other symbol was that the joining of the rails was made by the driving of a golden spike. Now Brigham Young had, for decades, preached against, and done everything he could to discourage the mining of gold in Utah, because he felt that would be a get rich kind of environment and culture that would attract a mass of non-Mormon miners to Utah. So he had done his best to discourage Mormons from getting involved in the gold mining business, which basically left it, the gold extraction business, to non-Mormons.
So there were these two very non-Mormon, gentile, Babylon, symbols connected with the joining of the rails in Promontory, Utah. First, the two men are reaching across with bottles of whiskey, and second, the final spike being driven being a gold spike, which was a symbolic enemy that Brigham Young had been fighting against ever since the gold rush occurred in California.
When Brigham Young created an independent railroad to bring a spur line down to Salt Lake City, it was called the Central Pacific railroad, and it joined in Salt Lake City it had its final spike driving. And Brigham Young was the one, again with symbols, Brigham Young is there, he is the one who uses the sledge hammer to drive the spike, the spike is not gold, because that would represent what he had been fighting against. The spike was iron, from the Church-owned iron mines. Non-precious metal that Mormons had been involved in since the 1850s, and then finally the spike, the last spike that he drove, had the words "Holiness to the Lord" inscribed on them. So you have these three symbols, Brigham Young, an iron spike, and the words "Holiness to the Lord" being his symbol that this is the Lord's railroad, not the gentile railroad that was joined in Promontory.
Home | About the Program | Script | Producer Q&A | Interviews | Links | Order Video
Credits | KUED | University of Utah | Site Map | Contact Us