I want to make a single point. However, I need to lay a little historical context first. So here we go!
1. When the Saints followed Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they found themselves beyond the geographic boundaries of the United States and had entered into Mexico.
2. That's right: in 1847, what we call "Utah" was owned by Mexico. So the Saints literally fled the borders of the United States (see, there's a reason we love Cinco de Mayo!)
3. Brigham Young was angry at the government of the United States; he felt the U.S. had betrayed the Saints and had not defended their religious rights. Brigham wanted nothing to do with the government and wore his wounds openly.
In fact, in the only revelation Brigham Young received that is canonized (in Section 136), you can almost feel his pain:
Thy brethren have rejected you and your testimony, even the nation that has driven you out;
And now cometh the day of their calamity, even the days of sorrow, like a woman that is taken in travail; and their sorrow shall be great unless they speedily repent. . .
For they killed the prophets, and them that were sent unto them.
4. So, what do you do in a power-vacuum? What do you do in the middle of Mexico when left to your own devices? Well, establish a mini-theocracy, of course! Which is what Brigham did. He styled himself (and was anointed in the Council of 50) as the King of Deseret.
5. Never mind that Brigham should have known better. After all, Jacob in the Book of Mormon prophesied:
And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles. . . .
For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever.
(2 Nephi 10:11, 14).
[See also, "Council of Fifty and its Members," by D. Michael Quinn, BYU Studies, vol. 20, no. 2 (1980).]
6. Just to put a finer point on this subject of kings, Jesus specifically told his apostles NOT to act like kings.
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called "benefactors."
But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
(For a taste of how crazy things got during the whole "blood atonement" business, Brigham Young's bodyguard, Bill Hickman (1815-1883), who was a Danite and had committed a number of murders, confessed to federal authorities and attempted to implicate Brigham Young in many of his crimes. The federal authorities found him credible enough to cut a deal with him. Hickman turned States Evidence to testify against President Young in a case that the federal authorities were pursuing. Hickman was excommunicated by the Church for defaming President Young and the federal government placed Hickman into Witness Protection because of death threats the Danites were making against their old friend.)
Hello Again America! No Hard Feelings?
7. Anyway, in one of history's great ironies, U.S. President James Polk entered into the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, ending the Mexican-American War. As part of the Treaty, the Mexican government ceded one-half of its land to the United States, including Utah (and parts of modern-day Arizona, California, New Mexica, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada).
8. So, after all that, the Saints in the West found themselves back in the United States. Huh. That was unexpected. Kinda like if the ex-girlfriend you dumped in the messiest way possible purchased your apartment building after the breakup and you had to pay her rent every month.
9. Brigham Young didn't want anyone, including the government, interfering with his business, including polygamy (which, by the law, was a federal felony under the Morrill Act and Edmunds-Tucker Acts).
One of my favorite quotes from Brigham Young that showcases his wonderful brazenness is this:
"Polygamy they are unconstitutionally striving to prevent.... How will they get rid of this awful evil in Utah? They will have to expend about three hundred millions of dollars for building a prison, for we must all go into prison. And after they have expended that amount for a prison, and roofed it over from the summit of the Rocky Mountains to the summit of the Sierra Nevada, we will dig out and go preaching to the world."
(Brigham Young, quoted in Richard D. Poll, “The Legislative Antipolygamy Campaign,” BYU Studies 26, n. 4 (1986) : 109.)
Now that's a jail break I would have loved to see!
Territorial Much? 10. So what's the big deal with Deseret being brought back into the fold of the United States? [Cue maniachal laughter.] Well, it made Utah a TERRITORY. And what's wrong with being a Territory? Well, for the Church, everything! It meant that Washington D.C. reclaimed power over the Territory's government. This was a huge deal. It divested Brigham Young of his political authority.
11. You see, as a Territory, Utah came under the control of Congress. That meant that Washington got to choose our leaders, appoint our governors, and even our federal judges. As a token of respect, I guess, the federal government re-appointed Brigham Young as the governor of the new Territory.
But . . . that led to war.
11.5 As an aside, members of the Church comprised most of Utah's Territorial Legislature in 1852, when they officially made Slavery legal. It took the Civil War and Congress to repeal Slavery a decade later. So that's depressing. The Church that bears the Ensign of Liberty (the Constitution) to the world chose to be a slave territory when we knew (WE KNEW!) God did not approve:
It. Is. Not. Right. that any man should be in bondage one to another.
The Mormon War
12. The Mormon War (1857-1858) was caused by the Mormon settlers being "in rebellion," according to the federal government. President James Buchanan sent federal troops (we're talking about the U.S. Army) to escort Alfred E. Cumming to the Territory to replace (read: depose) Brigham Young as governor.
13. As the Smithsonian put it so well:
"In the late 1850s, Mormons believed that the world would end within their lifetimes," says historian David Bigler, author of Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896. In addition, he says, "they believed the forefathers who wrote the American Constitution had been inspired by God to establish a place where His kingdom would be restored to power. The Mormons believed their own kingdom would ultimately have dominion over all the United States." At the same time, the American nation was pursuing a "manifest destiny" to extend its domain westward all the way to the Pacific. The continent was not large enough to accommodate both beliefs.... [A]succession of federal officers—judges, Indian agents, surveyors—came to the territory only to find that the governor [Brigham Young] would circumvent or reverse their decisions.
("The Brink of War," by David Roberts, Smithsonian Magazine, June 2008, accessed at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-brink-of-war-48447228)
With the impending invasion of the Territory, Heber C. Kimball exclaimed, "I will fight until there is not a drop of blood in my veins. Good God! I have wives enough to whip out the United States." Id.
(President James Buchanan)
14. Tensions escalated between Johnston's Army and the Mormon militia that numbered around 4,000 men under Brigham Young's command. President Young relocated 30,000 members to the south and buried the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple; he declared Martial Law; he stationed men at the ready to burn down their houses and barns and orchards as the Army advanced.
15. Luckily, thanks to the intervention of Thomas Kane (a non-member who was a friend to the Church) a resolution with Brigham Young was mediated in which President Young agreed to step down as governor. (Kane would later go on to receive a promotion in the Union Army to Major General for his bravery at Gettysburg.)
16. Let that sink in. It took the U.S. Army and the threat of thousands of deaths to persuade Brigham Young to let go of just his political power. This same Church, by the way, that once rebelled against the legitimate government of the United States today preaches we should submit to civil authority and pay taxes and wear masks . . . because, you know, we're such good citizens. How far we've come!
"Plan B" to the Rescue
17. But not all was lost. The way to regain power was clear enough: if Utah became a State (rather than a Territory) then the people here could vote into office (into power) whoever they wished. "Let's get those Gentiles outta here!"
Time to lobby for Statehood.
The Faustian Bargain
18. Well, in order to get Statehood the Church was going to have to make some changes. No way Washington was going to approve Statehood unless the Church became more . . . American.
19. What is the most important thing to the Church? What would the Church be willing to give up in exchange for Statehood? What would the Church do for respectability? What was the Church willing to lay on the altar to regain its political position, to earn two LDS Senators and a couple of Congressmen?
20. Why was President Brigham Young so opposed to being ruled when he himself was a ruler?
a. Why does the Church ― which chaffed under Washington's collar of authority and control as a Territory in the 19th Century, and which scarified so much to secure Statehood for itself ― why does the Church now treat its local stakes and wards like territories?
b. When the Church has advocated so fiercely (historically) for independence ― for self-determination and self-government ― why does the Church deprive its members of the privileges that it has fought to retain for itself as an institution?
That was a lot of context to lead us here, to the present. But sometimes clarity comes from hindsight.
21. How can the Elders of Israel be defenders of the Constitution when we do not follow the principles contained in the Constitution in our Church government?
***** To Those Who Believe that Men and Women Can Be Free:
Four score and a hundred years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new religion, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great religious war, testing whether that religion, or any religion so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . .
That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ― that this Church, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom ― and that religious government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.