A few years ago, John Dehlin did a few podcasts about the Priesthood Ban. I wrote up a post which combined about 3 of John’s podcasts (and was nominated for a Niblet), which specifically addressed many of the historical aspects of slavery and the priesthood ban. I was quite surprised to learn that the Territory of Utah legalized slavery. In the podcasts, it was mentioned that one of the reasons was likely due to some of the slaveholding apostles. However, there is more to the slavery issue than just black slaves. Indian slavery was also legal, and I think that the church’s position on Indian slavery was actually a morally acceptable practice.
I’ve been reading a book called Establishing Zion by Eugene Campbell. I couldn’t find it in the library, but Signature Books has posted the entire book online and you can read it right here! Chapters 6 and 7 deal with issues surrounding the Indians when the pioneers first settled Utah. As you will recall, Utah was actually part of Mexico in 1847 when the Mormons literally left the United States due to persecution.
Within a short time, the Mexican-American War broke out. The purpose of this war was to protect Texas, which had declared independence from Mexico. The Mexicans didn’t appreciate the secession of Texas, and the United States came to the aid of Texas, thoroughly routing the Mexicans. However, the war didn’t merely help Texas, but was a major land grab by the United States. The treaty moved the line south, and the United States took in much of the southwestern US, including Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, though Texas was technically an independent nation at the time.
So, once again the Mormons were part the United States. As part of the Mexican-American War, the Mormons even furnished the Mormon Battalion, to show what good citizens they were. During this time period of the 1850’s, slavery was legal in much of the United States, and slavery wasn’t completely abolished until the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil a decade later (1861-1865).
I previously blogged about slavery in my Priesthood Ban post, noting that Brigham Young made slavery legal in the Utah Territory–the only state to approve slavery West of Missouri (besides Texas.) While I was pretty hard on Brigham, I was not aware of the slavery problem with the Indians. I do feel like Brigham tried to make the best of a rotten situation with regards to Indian slavery. I think this is a very important piece of information to consider when viewing Brigham Young and his legalization of slavery. From chapter 6, I quote about the Mormon dealings with Indian Chief Walker,
Another problem was Indian slavery. As already indicated, a slave trade was conducted over the Old Spanish Trail that came through much of Utah since the early 1800s. Walker and his band raided weaker tribes, taking their children and sometimes their wives as prisoners and selling them to Mexicans. As early as November 1851, the Deseret News called attention to a party of twenty Mexicans in the San Pete Valley, trading for Indian children. In his book, Forty Years Among the Indians, Daniel Jones wrote that when this party of traders arrived in Utah Valley, Brigham Young was notified and came to Provo. According to Jones, who acted as interpreter,
Mr. Young had the law read and explained to them showing them that from this day on they were under obligation to observe the laws of the United States instead of Mexico. That the treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo had changed the conditions and that from this day on they were under the control of the United States. He further showed that it was a cruel practice to enslave human beings and explained that the results of such business caused war and bloodshed among the Indian tribes. The Mexicans listened with respect and admitted that the traffic would have to cease. It was plainly shown to them that it was a cruel business which could not be tolerated any longer and as it had been an old established practice they were not so much to blame for following the traffic heretofore. Now it was expected that this business would be discontinued. All seemed satisfied and pledged their word they would return home without trading for children. Most of them kept their promise, but one small party under Pedro Leon violated their obligation and were arrested and [p.107] brought before the United States court, with Judge [Zerubabbel] Snow presiding.
The Mexicans were found guilty and fined. The fines were afterwards remitted, and the men were allowed to return to their homes.
Stopping the slave trade embittered some Indians. Some of them attempted to sell their children to the Mormons. Jones related one graphic incident. Arrapine, Walker’s brother, insisted that because the Mormons had stopped the Mexicans from buying these children, the Mormons were obligated to purchase them. Jones wrote, “Several of us were present when he took one of the children by the heels and dashed his brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body toward us telling us we had no hearts or we would have saved its life.”
Incidents such as this led the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah on 7 March 1852 to pass an act legalizing Indian slavery. The purpose was to induce Mormons to buy Indian children who otherwise would have been abandoned or killed.9 It provided that Indian children under the proper conditions could be legally bound over to suitable guardians for a term of indenture not exceeding twenty years. The master was required to send Indian children between the ages of seven and sixteen years to school for a period of three months each year and was answerable to the probate judge for the treatment of these apprentices. As a result of this act, many Mormon families took small Indian children into their homes to protect them from slavery or from being left destitute. John D. Lee, for example, wrote in his journal about a group of Indians who “brought me two more girls for which I gave them two horses. I named the girls Annette and Elnora.”
Negro slavery was also permitted in the territory, but the pioneers had passed no similar rules about the treatment of blacks, certainly [p.108] not the requirement that they be schooled. However, blacks were not permitted to be sold to others without their own consent.
Footnote 9 was also very interesting regarding Indian slavery.
9. The Mormons had first confronted the problem of buying Indian children soon after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Children were brought into the pioneers’ fort as early as the winter of 1847-48, and Indians said that they were war captives and would be killed if not purchased. The Mormons bought one of the children. Two more children were brought to the fort under the same threat, and the Mormons bought both of them. Charles Decker bought one of these two, Sally Kanosh, who was later given to Brigham Young and raised in his family. Speaking with church members in the Iron County Mission, Young advised them to buy children and teach them to live a good life. According to the Journal History for 12 May 1851, Young said, “The Lord could not have devised a better plan than to have put the saints where they were to help bring about the redemption of the Lamanites and also make them a white and delightsome people.”
Now this brings up an interesting conundrum. By purchasing Indian slaves, the Mormons are creating a demand to encourage more slavery. However, they are obviously saving lives. It would take the Civil War to completely rid the country of the practice of slavery. For more information on Mormon dealings with the Indians, click here. What do you think of Brigham Young’s practice of buying Indian slaves?
I am so glad to have been able to read this post. It really gives an added understanding to the complexity of 19th century decisions and tears at arguments that look back at past decisions with 21st century lenses. Truly, we should work to understand all involved motivations before we cast judgement.
It seems that you are driving at another issue, gay marriage.
Thanks symphonyofdissent. There are some real complexities to this issue. It does bother me that the Indian slaves were treated differently than black slaves, but I think under the circumstances, it was perfectly justifiable to purchase Indian slaves in order to save their lives.
Jon, please stick to the topic at hand.
wow, I didn’t think my opinion of Brigham Young could worsen, but it does. From the quote:
How nice. The territory of Utah was now under obligation to observe the laws of the United States? Really? Was not polygamy illegal in the United States? Why would Young selectively decide which laws Utah Territory would be under obligation to observe? But the real kicker is why he felt this law was worthy of following:
A white and delightsome people. Because in Young’s eyes, the Indians were a filthy people. Just like blacks. So for Young, the “Lord could not have devised a better plan” for the salvation of the Lamanites (poorly defined here, because clearly as we’ve learned through archaeological studies, the Nephites/Lamanites lived in a generally small geographic location) than to have them taken as slaves by saints and turn them (through what process exactly? Breeding?) into white people.
So, Dan are you saying that Brigham should have just let the Indian slaves be killed by their captors? Is that a better way for Brigham to handle it? Would that have improved your opinions of Brigham?
It’s the reason why, not the fact itself. It’s that Brigham Young still thought of Indians as filthy and whites as delightsome. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that America was a terrible place back then for race relations, but I can’t, not to the extent that this kind of language is covered. It is unacceptable. He was a good prophet, and he did much for building the structure of Mormonism, but I will probably find his views on race contemptible for the foreseeable future.
Other people died to improve the standing of minority races in this country. No Mormon did. Mormons have been late on this issue too many times.
Racism existed on multiple levels during that era. The Ute’s prime target for the slave trade were the Piutes or Rabbit Eaters. The Utes had a lucrative horse/slave trading partnership with the Mexican’s and were consdered to be wealthy among the intermountain tribes. In the histories I have read, the Piute would sometimes trade their children for food/horses. At least at the settler level, purchasing slaves from the indians seemed to be the Christian thing to do. The continuation of black slavery was more concerning, although the Lord seems to work within the context of the cultural biases of those he reveals his will to. I didn’t see record of Christ condemning slavery and other practices in the New Testament (although they could certainly have been removed).
Dan, I fail to see what Mormon deaths have to do with anything. Most people I know didn’t die for black civil liberties either.
And you’re forgetting one of the reason the locals in Missouri were so pissed off at their Mormon neighbors – the Mormons were anti slavery.
Did those deaths not count or something?
And frankly Dan, I don’t think you, I or anyone else on this blog would have done a better job of governing the territory than Brigham Young did.
I guess maybe Brigham Young isn’t all that fashionable around here. Possibly because he clashes horribly with your favorite tie, and embarrasses you at dinner appointments.
But the guy had a LOT of rather impressive qualities. Qualities you seem to be glossing over here.
Please. Redeem Brigham Young for me. What are his good qualities, because right now his ugly racism is making me totally disinterested in his life.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did. Malcolm X did. Lots and lots and lots of other blacks did.
Are you also disinterested in Abraham Lincoln? How about Thomas Jefferson? George Washington?
Or are you one of those single-issue people for whom the only question that really matters is – “was he a racist?”
What if your local postman had a stellar record of on-the-job dependability and also ran a shelter to rescue abused animals? Would this not matter to you if he also liked to tell racist jokes on occasion?
Thanks for the insightful post, MH. Clearly, BY allowed slavery as a way to protect the Indian children. Before we judge him, we need to ask ourselves if he was not acting from a place of mercy in making that decision.
“As a result of this act [legalizing Indian slavery], many Mormon families took small Indian children into their homes to protect them from slavery or from being left destitute.”
Dan, thanks for some of your mitigating comments. Certainly his views on race do not conform to our current sensibilities on the subject. But, as Seth said, Christ didn’t exactly promote emancipation of slaves either during his lifetime. So, while I understand your contempt for some of Brigham’s statements on race, I think it does need to be mitigated to understand the environment he lived in. While his reasons for purchasing Indian slaves isn’t 100% praiseworthy, in my mind it is 80% praiseworthy. The fact that he was willing to literally purchase the lives of these Indians deserves a measure of credit, which you seem to have ignored in your comments up to this point.
Yes, Martin Luther and Malcom X did die for their race, but Seth’s point is that there aren’t any whites who did. As such, if you’re going to condemn Brigham, what are you doing to eliminate sexual slavery today–are you willing to risk your life? Should you be under condemnation for ignoring the problem? What about human trafficking of Mexican immigrants–are you willing to risk your life to preserve theirs? I think you’re being overly harsh on Brigham. I agree he wasn’t perfect, and I have condemned many of his racist comments, but I think there does need to be some moderation.
I’ve recently been reading “Great Basin Kingdom” by Leonard Arrington. I think it shows Brigham’s good and bad sides of stubbornness. His emphasis on the needs of the group outweighing the needs of the individual saved many saints lives during the periods of famine and blizzards that the saints experienced in the 1850’s in the Salt Lake Valley. The rugged individualism would have caused many more to perish without Brigham’s stubborn emphasis on group needs over individual needs. Certainly nobody else thought the Salt Lake Valley was a good place to live, yet Brigham’s dogged determination allowed the early saints to survive in a harsh environment. His pioneering expertise is a model, and deserves some praise. I’ll be posting on this book in the near future, so perhaps you can see some of his positive qualities in addition to his negative ones that you are already familiar with.
Not to mention his relentless crusade against the injustices of capitalism, his continuing advocacy for environmental stewardship, and how he almost single-handedly saved Utah from the boom-or-bust economic model that swept the entire American West (and can still be seen in states like Wyoming today).
I’d also recommend Hugh Nibley’s “Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints.”
Yes, Seth, as I’ve been reading about Brigham, he certainly did not seem to like Capitalism. He was one who cared greatly about the poor, and reviled against injustices against the rich getting richer while the poor suffered. Certainly Unbridled Capitalism is not at all concerned with equality, nor taking care of the poor. Brigham really did try hard to make no rich and no poor.
Of the 40 civil rights heroes listed on the memorial at Martin Luther King, Jr’s home, 8 or 20% are White. And many, many more worked for civil rights without paying he ultimate price. And we did it back in the 60s nearly TWO decades before the church bowed to political and economic pressures.
There were precious few “saints” among those who worked for civil rights. The notable exception was George Romney, then Governor of MI, who was dressed down by one of the Brethren of the time. I think that is largely the legacy of BY. And, sadly, the same single-issue assessment of the character and contributions of gay Americans and saints exists today. That door happens to swing both ways, Seth.
Thanks Alice. I must agree that the church does have a poor record on the Civil Rights issue, especially concerning Blacks. In relation to the Indians however, it seems to me that the Mormons did seem to take a larger interest in Native Americans than other groups of people. Much of this was theologically based, since Brigham and other’s believed the Indians were descendants of Lehi. There were several missions to the Indians which did result in conversion of some of them, Chief Walker being one of the notable converts. Yet, Chief Walker continued to steal horses from the Mormons, which resulted in the unfortunate Walker War.
I don’t claim the Mormon record was perfect, but there was a bigger attempt to work with the Indians than other groups of Americans, IMO.
Alice, you don’t need to tell me the door swings both ways. I’ve been critical enough about Brigham Young on occasion myself.
My comments should be read as a response to Dan’s.
How nice. The territory of Utah was now under obligation to observe the laws of the United States? Really? Was not polygamy illegal in the United States?
Dan, territories were allowed to pass their own laws, though polygamy was eventually outlawed by the feds.
However, you are right, and as a good democrat surely know that laws concerning sex, outlawing homosexuality and similar things are of course, constitutional. Brigham Young was mistaken to think that laws aimed at a religion were violations of the bill of rights, though that was eventually established. We all learn things as time passes, don’t we.
You remind me of the baptist who tried to get my dad courtmartialed in Germany and wanted the help of the black sgt. Only problem was, the only guy who would give him a ride to work until his car arrived was my dad. Of course to critics, my dad being LDS was more than enough reason to condemn him, that he drove to the other side of the base every day (we lived a ways out on one side, they lived a ways out on the other) to take him to and from work didn’t matter. To that good democrat, my dad was the evil racist and they should all team up to condemn him for it, regardless of how he acted.
The sgt. disagreed.
I’m going to respond to your various comments here
#12 – yes, I am that disinterested in George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when it comes to race relations, Thomas Jefferson in particular. The man who claimed ALL men are equal yet still had slaves. Not only that but he had affairs with his slaves! Sorry, but I find Thomas Jefferson contemptible. He doesn’t hold himself or those around him to the standard he utters out of his mouth. It would seem to me he thinks his words are vain, thus because they have no enforceability on those around him, he feels free to say as wild and crazy things as he has. What does that say about me? In your eyes, am I some extremist? Not worth listening to anymore? Frankly I wouldn’t care. These are my thoughts and feelings on the subject. When it comes to the rights of all men, if you have someone say ALL men are created equal but your actions speak otherwise, you are a hypocrite. It doesn’t matter how well he treats his slaves, they are still not free men, equal to himself. In his eyes, all men are not actually equal. It is much easier for me to speak better of someone like John Adams who actually lived his life as he he demanded of others. Maybe he had it easier as the great state of Massachusetts was far more liberal and tolerant than say Virginia. He seems more real to me than Jefferson does.
The issue is whether or not he really stood for what he believed. I don’t think Jefferson really stood for what he believed. I think he loved the comfort of his class more than truly making a change in this country for the better. Now maybe he realized that the change would never come in his lifetime and the best he could do was to make the Constitution malleable enough so that future generations would have more guts to remove slavery. I think it’s pretty sad that this country had to go through a civil war that killed 600,000 of its citizens in order to decide the question of slavery, and then still another 100 years before blacks were even given equal civil rights.
It would indeed make me disinterested in him. It’s a question of character. A black person did not make a choice to be born black. Now, a racist joke may be funny if it were not for the fact that in this country we lynched blacks, sometimes for no reason at all except that they were black. Try making a joke about killing Jews, Seth, and see if you think the same of the person who tells that joke.
MH and Seth,
This link shows some of the names of people who died during the Civil Rights protests forty years ago. A number of them are white, killed by other whites for protesting with blacks.
Did he free them upon purchasing them? The article didn’t seem clear on that. Were they free individuals? What about when the 20 year term of their purchase was up? Were they going to be sold off again? Do I think it is better that they be bought to be saved starvation and death? Of course. But it seems they did so for their own purpose: turning them into white, delightsome people. That’s what Brigham Young states was the purpose. And one of the “gentlemen” John Lee named the girls good Anglo-Saxon names.
I support individuals who promote policies to go after those trading sex slaves aggressively. If I come upon an individual caught up in that trade, I would do all in my power to free that individual. I’ve not come upon that situation in my life yet.
Brigham Young was in charge of the Utah Territory and prophet of the Lord. I’m a regular guy. There’s a big difference, and one has far more influence to do what is right than the other. If I press for the arrests of sexual slavery traders it doesn’t have the same effect as that of the leader of a religion AND head of state doing the same. Do I put too much pressure on Brigham Young to live beyond the world he grew up in? Yes. He should have known better.
I would appreciate that. 🙂
So he was more of a Communist? 🙂 That does improve his standing. 😉
I should note, so was the issue of blacks. Or at least that was the justification. In either case, Brigham Young himself stated that he saw whites as delightsome and Indians and blacks as not. Blame for this must lie with Mormon’s description of the change that had come on the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. Mormon described the Nephites as white, delightsome, while describing the Lamanites as filthy. Clearly the issue of race discrimination is not a modern phenomenon.
I’m not saying the anti-polygamy law was constitutional. Personally I believe slavery laws are inherently unconstitutional (thanks to Jefferson’s inclusion—though not in the Constitution itself—that all men are created equal). But if you question the constitutionality of a law, defying the law doesn’t win you points in your challenge of the law.
As for your anecdote, I’m not understanding the context. Why did this baptist want to courtmartial your father? Who is this Sgt?
I think Dan, that I’m just not that interested in discussing this with you anymore.
I don’t find conversations with people who can’t acknowledge the good along with the bad to be particularly productive.
Enjoy your own company, since you’re obviously a little too good to be associated with all these historical lowlifes.
Whatever works for you Seth. I’m not afraid to say what I think. I have to hold prophets of the Lord to higher standards. They expect me to consider their words as the Word of God. President Eyring essentially said so during the last regional Stake Conference in May. I have a hard time matching up that belief with Brigham Young’s views on Indians and blacks. Surely God did not approve of how Brigham Young thought about Indians and blacks, yet why did God not try to convince Brigham of the error of his ways?
Let me put it to you this way, Seth, if you yourself were to have such contemptible views, I really wouldn’t care that much. The reason why I care what Brigham Young thought and believed, is that I am to believe he was a prophet of the Lord. I am having a hard time combining the two, reconciling the two.
That’s exactly the same kind of sentiment I get on exmormon.org Dan, and from Evangelical anti-Mormons.
Prophets, apparently, are not allowed to be human beings.
#26… So, the point of this whole topic is that we need more context before we judge Brigham Young by 2009 standards. And, in so many words, you don’t accept that point. The rest of what you’re saying on this page just seems like white noise to me.
#27: Seth R
Of course, prophets are allowed to be human beings. The fundamental problem with just about any discussion on here is how we, as members of the Church, are to decide when they are speaking as prophets and when they are speaking as human beings.
We, as members, tend to quote the things we already agree with, and when a prophet says something with which we disagree, we say he was just being a man. Institutionally, the Church does the same thing. It selects things out of the Journal of Discourses / Teachings of Brigham Young that support what they already want to teach, and ignore other things. When there is something in there like people living on the moon or sun, they immediately discount that as his own opinion and pooh-pooh the Journal of Discourses, even though that’s the primary source for the BY manual. Polygamy and historical treatment of other races and other things are interesting to talk about, but they don’t directly affect us today. The principle, however, remains. When is a Church leaders speaking for God, and when is he just a “human being”?
Putting it in practical 21st century terms, does God really care if a woman has 2 earrings in a single ear, or was that GBH’s personal opinion as a human being? Is allowing non-LDS gay people the right to call themselves “married” according to the laws of the land really that big of a deal to God, or is it a generational thing, much like blacks and the priesthood was? Are we supposed to accept every single word that comes from a leader’s mouth as gospel (ie. when a leader speaks, the thinking is done), or are we supposed to take their words into consideration, yet use our own discretion, as they may be speaking as a “human being”?
Hard questions. And essentially at the root of probably 3/4 of the discussions on here.
Dan, since racism is obviously such a deal breaker for you, I urge you to start a petition to have the racists George Washington and Thomas Jefferson removed from our money. Obviously we should not revere such awful racists as they are with the money we have. And for that matter, let’s remove Abraham Lincoln too. After all, he personally disliked black people so much, that prior to the Civil War, he preferred to send them all back to Liberia, rather than have an integrated society. It has been argued that Lincoln used the Emancipation Proclamation as a political weapon–certainly the Confederate States viewed the proclamation in strictly political terms. Lincoln did not personally like blacks, and was against any sort of Civil Rights. He didn’t offer them voting rights, or make any attempts to offer Civil Rights. Perhaps we should not even talk about the Emancipation Proclamation since Lincoln said such terrible things about blacks as well. Do you support these propositions? If not, why not?
Obviously, we should not look to any of the accomplishments of our Founding Fathers or Lincoln, since they were so racist, right?
And just how do you stand on Jesus? He didn’t advocate emancipation for slaves, but said they should submit to their masters. Are you “disinterested in his life” as well?
“The fundamental problem with just about any discussion on here is how we, as members of the Church, are to decide when they are speaking as prophets and when they are speaking as human beings.”
That’s what makes our religion fun.
Dan, I realize I forgot to answer a few questions.
Did he free them upon purchasing them? The article didn’t seem clear on that. Were they free individuals? What about when the 20 year term of their purchase was up? Were they going to be sold off again?
The Indians weren’t freed immediately, but they were freed eventually. I don’t know if they were sold from owner to owner, but I doubt it. “Great Basin Kingdom” is an economic history of Utah. I’m nearly done with the book, which goes into exhaustive detail about the economy. Slavery is not mentioned, so obviously it was an extremely minor part of the Utah economy (unlike the economy of the Confederate States.) While it is true that Brigham (as well as Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, and a great deal of other Americans) felt that slavery was repulsive, they felt that it was a states-rights issue. Brigham did not encourage slavery in the territory. It seems to me Brigham’s position was more of an accommodation of Southern converts who held slaves. I am aware of a black slave being donated to the church as tithing, and Brigham did eventually free that slave, even though the owner wanted the slave returned. As I recall, Brigham lied and told the former owner that he didn’t know where the slave was.
My understanding of Indian slavery indicates that the Indians would serve a term of slavery and then be freed. I suspect by then there was a strong likelihood that they might marry a Mormon anyway. My longer post talks about the idea that the Mormons were encouraged to marry Indian women systematically to turn them into the “white and delightsome people” mentioned in the BoM. (The Indians said they would allow Mormons to marry Indian women if the Mormons would let send the Indians some white women as well–the church quickly dropped the subject.) I know that is an ethnocentric point of view, and I agree that it is racist, but I think the fact that he saved their life is a greater good than his racist opinions. I think you feel the same way, though I’m not completely certain.
Please don’t compare me with ex-Mormons. That’s not fair, in any way. You may not feel comfortable with my views, but I’m no dissident, ex-Mormon. I think I stated enough times that I thought Brigham Young was the prophet of the Lord despite his ugly racist views. Do other ex-Mormons think this way? Is it really so hard for Mormons to hold Brigham Young’s racist views in contempt while still believing he is a prophet of the Lord? Because his views on race don’t change my belief he was a prophet.
Racism may make me disinterested in a person’s life but it doesn’t make me discount what that person said or did. In the case of Jefferson, he obviously gave us the correct phrase that eventually (though it has taken close to 200 years) made that all men are indeed created equal here in the United States. The fact that he had slaves, I feel, undercut his argument (and maybe is why it took 200 years for the rest of Americans to actually change their views), but sadly this is what we’re stuck with. It’s the best we got. I don’t care to learn more about Jefferson, but I’m no extremist.
As far as Jesus is concerned, we obviously don’t know anything more than the one phrase that slaves submit to their masters. I can imagine the reason why Jesus would not press for the freedom of slaves during his time. He has a window of opportunity in which to present his Gospel. Imagine what would happen if he ruffled the wrong feathers what exactly would be the reaction, and more importantly distraction from his true message. I will say that there are examples of Jesus being far more liberal (by modern standards, based on what modern liberalism believes in) than his time allowed, particularly in the treatment of women. Furthermore, ironically, the trading of slaves during Jesus’ time was based on economics more than modern slavery, which was based on a perverted interpretation of scripture so that one particular race (or races other than white) were viewed as less than human for a sin some dude named Cain did.
Indeed, but it doesn’t make those who think such language is contemptible ex-Mormons.
Thanks for answering, and I do look forward to your piece on the subject. I’ll withhold my judgment further until your piece. The quote above where Brigham says that the Lord provided a way to make Indians a white, delightsome people is disgusting. Maybe with more context it might lessen the blow. Or it might make it worse. 🙂
Dan said: “I’m not afraid to say what I think” (comment 25).
HAHAHAHAHA!!! Do you think anyone needed a reminder? Your record in the bloggernacle speaks for itself — and it speaks volumes!
Latter-day Guy — everyone loves AnneGB for her outspoken clarity …
dan, you may say you’re not an extremist, but you comments here do seem pretty extreme.
what is extreme about my comments? That saying that I find contemptible the thought that the Lord gave the Mormons Indians to turn them into white delightsome people? That I’m not afraid to say Brigham Young’s language is unacceptable? You think I wouldn’t be afraid to tell him in person? Reverence for a prophet does not equal silence when confronted with evidence of clear wrongdoing. Or what? That I don’t deify the Founding Fathers? Sorry man, but there’s nothing extreme about my comments.
Dan, you’ve got obviously got some major issues with Brigham, and I don’t think you’re giving him a fair shake. The following things sound extremist:
“wow, I didn’t think my opinion of Brigham Young could worsen, but it does.”
“I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that America was a terrible place back then for race relations, but I can’t”
“Redeem Brigham Young for me. What are his good qualities, because right now his ugly racism is making me totally disinterested in his life.”
“yes, I am that disinterested in George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when it comes to race relations,”
You never did answer why we shouldn’t remove the racists Jefferson and Washington from our money. Perhaps that is your attempt at moderation, but it seems that racism trumps all other evils. You never condemned the Indians for killing their slaves in front of the Mormons. Your comparative silence seems that Brigham’s racism is worse than murder of these innocent Indian slaves.
You have never given Brigham any credit for anything good, and your sarcastic comments comparing him to a communist make you sound as if he did nothing good at all. Your vitriol of him far outweighs anything good you’ve said about him, and seems far from balanced. Yes your contempt for Brigham is extreme.
I agree that his racist views are a problem, but not to the extreme you have made it out to be.
RE: 36; Oh, no judgment implied––I don’t want to cast aspersions. It just made me chuckle because it was so understated (even if this thread were the only context considered).
You asked if I thought we should remove Jefferson and Washington from our money. I dismissed that because that is an extreme response. I keep telling you, I’m not an extremist. 🙂 I may dislike their racist ways, but my only response is to not be interested in their personal lives. And yet that is considered extreme. Help me understand why your recommendation that we remove their names from our money is not extreme, yet stating that I’m not interested in their personal lives IS extreme…
Do I have to condemn the Indians for killing their slaves? No problem. They’re wrong for killing slaves. They’re wrong to have slaves in the first place.
Did they actually kill their slaves in front of Mormons?
Were I in Brigham’s shoes, would I have also purchased those kids to save their lives? Of course. Would I have done it to try and turn them white and delightsome? That’s my real problem with this situation. Your post is titled “A Case for Slavery” trying to show that slavery could be turned into doing something good, where bad things would have otherwise happened. But the rationale used by Brother Brigham undercuts the argument. He’s not actually freeing those Native American kids. He’s doing this to turn them white, because as Indian, they are filthy in his eyes. That is reprehensible and I’ll always believe that.
I thought you would laugh at the communist comment. You know, me, Democrat, hippie socialist commie… would think better of Brigham if he showed communist tendencies, or at least anti-Capitalist tendencies. Sheesh, it was in jest dude.
My contempt for Brigham is strong because I keep hearing more and more stories that disturb me. Yes, he did a great job leading the saints across the plains, got the church and saints well organized in Salt Lake, oversaw the building of the wonderful Salt Lake temple, and so on. But he had a dark side, and I’m troubled by his dark side. I would have a really tough time if he were the prophet today and he said the things he believed back then. I don’t think the Lord had a better person to deal with the moving of the saints across the plains than Brother Brigham. But I’m not going to go hang out with the guy for root beers on a Saturday night.
So, no I’m not an extremist. And I’m a little bothered that by simply disagreeing with you on most of your defenses of Brigham Young, you respond with attempting to discredit my views by labeling them as extremist.
“Please don’t compare me with ex-Mormons. That’s not fair, in any way.”
Sure it is Dan.
Black-and-white, unforgiving demands of prophetic infallibility are perhaps the most consistent DEFINING factor I find in ex-Mormons. And I’ve encountered quite a few of them. The echo of their comments in your comments was quite disturbing.
Dan, your comment 41 showed a great deal more moderation than your previous posts.
You asked, “Did they actually kill their slaves in front of Mormons? ”
Yes, I quoted the book in the original post above: “Several of us were present when he took one of the children by the heels and dashed his brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body toward us telling us we had no hearts or we would have saved its life.”
You going after Brigham in spite of my opening post illustrating this atrocity shows that you’re more interested in attacking Brigham than speaking out against murder. That is extreme. By most of your comments prior to 41, you ignored the murderous Indian and lambasted Brigham. One could conclude that you felt that Brigham was worse than a murderous Indian. Certainly you have not expressed the same outrage against this Indian as you did Brigham. Your taunt to Seth, “Redeem Brigham Young for me” when Brigham instructed his followers to purchase these Indians in order to save their lives is another example of your extreme views.
You acknowledge that Jefferson and Washington had good qualities, and you seemed to imply that they deserve to be honored on our money, in spite of their racist ways. Your statement, “I am that disinterested in George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when it comes to race relations” leads one to conclude that you believe their racists views overshadow their contributions to our nation. Apparently this is not what you believe, as you clarified this in 41, but prior to this it appeared to me that you were so disgusted with their racists ways that they weren’t worth honoring. As such, I wanted to see how extreme you were. I’m glad to see there is some moderation in you. 🙂 Perhaps you could moderate your tone somewhat–I don’t think I’m the only one who thought you felt that racism overshadowed Jefferson, Washington, and Young’s accomplishments.
The internet continues to fail to show what is truly meant by the words on the printed screen. If you read my words in a certain tone, they would sound extreme, but they really are not. Now, in terms of my thoughts on Brigham Young, you stating that I should consider his actions in light of the actions of the Indians is not fair. Of course Brigham’s actions are the lesser of two evils, but that doesn’t excuse Brigham’s blatant ugly racism. It seems you put these kinds of items in, like the bashing of the head of the child to say, “see, these guys were so bad that Brigham was truly a saint by saving those Indian kids and turning them into white delightsome people.” I cannot accept that.
I’ve always been moderate. What I am, however, is non-traditional. 🙂
And finally, let’s get the monkey off my back. This post is not about my views, or my character, or how I think about things.
Have my views gotten so under your skin that you continue to press this? When have I ever pressed for prophetic infallibility? I certainly demand a certain level of human understanding from a prophet, but I certainly don’t expect him to be perfect. Furthermore, I still believe Brigham was the Lord’s prophet in spite of his racist views. What ex-Mormon believes this way, Seth?
Maybe I should be an ex-Mormon. Clearly I don’t feel included much.
Dan, can you understand why others have interpreted your comments as they have? Until comment #33, there was NO indication that you thought Brigham Young was a prophet. In fact, comments #10, #25 and #26 make it appear that you loathe the man and see NO good qualities in him.
In a forum like this, all we have to measure are the words we type on the screen – so how we get viewed is a direct result of those words. If you believe Brigham was a prophet, it’s better to say that right at the beginning and THEN, without hyperbole and over-the-top rhetoric, discuss the problems you see with his attitudes and actions. That would have avoided much of the misunderstanding here.
Can you see that?
This is what I said in comment #6, which was my second comment:
dan, what types of imperfections is a prophet allowed to have?
I must agree with Ray. on the internet we only see what you’ve written, not what you mean. your harsh rhetoric toward Brigham far outweighs any harsh rhetoric toward murdering Indians. While I sympathize with you on Brigham’s racial views, until your most recent comments you haven’t been harsh toward murder, which is why seth and I wonder why the balance is missing from your comments.
From Dan: “Surely God did not approve of how Brigham Young thought about Indians and blacks, yet why did God not try to convince Brigham of the error of his ways?”
Amen. I don’t think this point is extreme or unreasonable at all.
When we are talking about what God wants us to do, I don’t think you can play the this-era-that-era card. Theoretically, God is calling us to evolve to the standards of the ultimate era, the Celestial Kingdom. According to doctrine, we are judged for our sins against God’s standards, not the primitive standards of our current culture and time. The era may explain why humans do things in groups which later seem uncivilized, but it does not explain how a guy can receive revelation for the church from God but not receive revelation that his own teachings are not in harmony with God’s laws.
What kinds of imperfections can prophets have? Crimes of passion, like losing your temper, or being too quick to judge, etc. things that happen in moments too quickly to apply your better self. Terrible, false, evil things spoken from the pulpit seem like things that God wouldn’t want His prophet doing. Its like an employee. He might be generally really good at his job and you like him personally, but if he keeps saying terrible things to the press, dragging your reputation down and damaging your business… you have to fire him, right?
When you shift the indictment from Brigham in order to justify him as a prophet, you only shift it onto God. i.e. Maybe Brigham was a legitimate prophet, but then that makes God someone not very cool to me. Racism is an acceptable flaw for a prophet of God, given his era? I wonder how that sounds to all the black saints who lived before 1978?
Now we’re getting into the whole question of the theodicy here.
We all know that God allows pretty crappy things to happen.
I think you need to ask yourself why having a prophet in the room should change that norm and how much it should change it.
That’s a great question. I think members of the church from top down have grappled with this from the start. My view? The same type of imperfections we all have. I just think there was a great big difference between Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The former didn’t let the ignorance of his age trap him in that same ignorance, while the latter never truly bothered to learn more. I don’t think Joseph Smith understood the true depth of what it meant that all men were created equal, but I think it burned in him more than it did in Brigham Young. Who knows, I may be giving Joseph Smith more credit on the issue of blacks. I know that the belief that blacks are descendants of Cain did not originate with him but was an aspect of Protestantism for a couple hundred years prior to Joseph. But I don’t know what Joseph said to dispel that ignorant thought. Look, in terms of prophetic imperfections, I think President Gordon B. Hinckley was wrong to be supportive of the war in Iraq in his War and Peace talk in April 2003. Does that mean I don’t think he is a prophet, just because I think he was wrong about something? Not at all. Holding any religious leader—even down to bishops and elders quorum presidents—to the standard of perfection is just plain silly and unrealistic. Being called of God and approved by his brethren around him, a prophet has a mantle that is his until the Lord sees fit to take it away from him or the Apostles openly question the ability of the prophet (not happened yet, but not out of the realm of possibility). Today’s prophets are much more careful with what they say publicly than previous generations, and for good reason. It distracts from the more important aspects. It is one of the reasons why I am disinterested in learning more about Brigham Young: his racist views distract greatly from caring about the guy. They undermine, at least for me, the other things he has to say.
Dude, the murdering Indians doth not excuse the ugly racism. It’s like saying, Bush may have been bad, but he was no Hitler. It’s like, well, DUH!
Your post is titled “A Case for Slavery.” Your main thesis is that particular quote that Brigham said, that it was fortuitous that the Lord gave the Mormons this opportunity to save children whilst turning them into white delightsome people. That’s no case for slavery. It’s from one servitude to another. Those children never got to be who they really were. That’s no case for slavery. It never was.
Dan, you might or might not be interested in something I wrote on my own blog yesterday – with no conscious connection to this post:
“Nuance As a Product of Peace” http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/08/nuance-as-product-of-peace.html
Thanks for sharing. I again blame the cyber-word on the computer screen for not showing the true inflection behind my words. My blood level is not raised while talking about this topic. Try to picture me talking about the weather drinking a nice cup of tea sitting in a comfortable chair in a favorite park. I’m not trying to raise anyone else’s blood levels.
Clay, I will amen your amen, but you asked the $64,000 question, “why did God not try to convince Brigham of the error of his ways?” None of us understand God, and nobody has a satisfactory answer to many questions: why does God take a young mother or father? Why did God allow the holocaust? When we start asking why God does/doesn’t do something, we’re bound to be disappointed with the answer, because there are no good answers. Frankly God seems to grant us a tremendous amount of free agency, more than we think we should have, and often people use free agency to the detriment of society.
I thought Dan’s answer to my question about what kinds of imperfections prophets are allowed to have to be quite ironic: The same type of imperfections we all have. Well, we’ve come a long way in race relations since the Civil War, but we still have a long way to improve. As such, if we have problems with racism, why wouldn’t a prophet? I’ve detailed some racist actions in the Bible in some of my previous posts. I’m not trying to excuse prophets racist ways, but it is interesting that God called racist prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and Jonah. It doesn’t excuse Brigham, but it does put him in some interesting company.
I just think there was a great big difference between Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Dan, I absolutely agree with you here. In my studies on the priesthood ban, it seems to me both Joseph and Brigham were actually quite progressive with regards to race prior to Joseph’s death in 1844. I did a post on Early Black Mormons, that showed that Brigham probably baptized Joseph T Ball, a black Mormon in 1832. Ball was Branch Pres from 1844-45 in Boston. You’re probably aware of Elijah Abel, was good friends with Joseph Smith. Brigham was also well acquainted with Walker Lewis, a black Mormon in Massachusetts. (All 3 of these held the Melchizedek Priesthood prior to Joseph’s death.)
The turning point point for Brigham seems to be when Enoch Lewis and William McCary (both of whom held the MP as well) married, or tried to marry white women around 1846, 2 years after Smith’s death. As you know, pre-Civil War Americans thought inter-racial marriage was a major no-no. Brigham excommunicated McCary for unauthorized polygamy, and seems to have formulated the priesthood/temple ban around this time, which happens to be about the time most of his famous racist quotes come from.
Darius Gray documents the following,
On Mar 26,1847, Brigham Young made a statement that he was aware of Walker Lewis, and aware that Walker held the priesthood. Young claimed on this date that there is no race-based ban. The statement is “its nothing to do with the blood, for of one blood has God made all flesh. We have to repent [and] regain what we [h]av[e] lost. We [h]av[e] one of the best Elders–an African in Lowell [i.e. Walker Lewis].”
Connell O’ Donovan documents this: By December 1847, he’s completely changed his mind. Now he calls for Enoch and Matilda Lewis and their mixed-race child to be killed for breaking “the law of God.”
Perhaps I can interest you in Brigham pre 1847? 🙂
I did another post on Joseph Smith’s presidential platform, where he proposed freeing all slaves in the US by selling public lands. Do I wish Brigham had followed Joseph’s lead here? Absolutely, and I stated that several times on my priesthood ban post. However, much of the controversy Joseph stirred up in Missouri was because of his abolitionist stance, and I believe that his slavery views had more to do with his assassination than we credit. Perhaps Brigham Young was reacting to this. As you mentioned before, Brigham had his own polygamy battles to fight, and since slavery was legal in the US pre-Civil War, it was probably one less battle to fight. If I had my druthers, I wish he’s have dumped polygamy, and fought slavery.
“Those children never got to be who they really were.”
That’s true of the majority of kids who have lived and died on this planet.
Self-actualization is a relatively recent luxury.
I still don’t see how that excuses Brigham Young, born and raised and educated in America after Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” language.
I am utterly uninterested in the question of whether either man was “excused.” It’s an artificial and pointless line of inquiry. History is what history is, and the world has never been ideal. I do not judge the past by the ideals and luxuries of the present. If you want to look at history, you have to do so on its own terms.
And just getting revelation does not magically remove you from the reality of the context you live in.
Re: “Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” language” – Although, Jefferson was only referring to white men. Not women, not black men, etc. etc.
I’ve already stated that Brigham Young was a product of his age. However, being a product of an age is no excuse because the principles we (including Brother Brigham) supposedly espouse are supposed to be universal principles that override the cultures and beliefs of one period of time. “All men are created equal” is a radical, or shall we say extreme, concept to traditional Christianity of the time which held that all men were NOT created equal, and that God had punished certain races because some dude long ago killed his brother. Did we all truly come to this world with no mark against us? Margaret Young relates that Elder Holland was strongly against such a thought:
It’s nice to see that even Brigham Young didn’t think this way. According to Wilford Woodruff’s Journal:
Joseph Fielding Smith, however, adds to the problem in Doctrines of Salvation by stating:
Huh? What exactly are you meaning President Smith? And of course Elder McConkie messes it up even further:
Of course Elder McConkie later added:
Maybe he should not have spoken at all if he didn’t actually know…I wonder if President Hinckley ever got to ask this question (which he asked in 2006) of Bruce R. McConkie:
I have to be harsh on Brigham Young, on Joseph Fielding Smith, on Bruce R. McConkie. 1. If they don’t truly know, they should not speak emphatically about a subject. Simply saying “I don’t know” works quite well. 2. As prophets and Apostles, they cannot excuse themselves based on the times in which they live. They know quite well that their words have power, influence and meaning.
Anyways, I’ve said all I want to say on the subject.
From the same thread by Margaret Young that Dan quotes, in her comment #3:
I love this perspective on redeeming the dead, and I pray that my own descendants will redeem me in exactly this manner. To do so, they will have to see me as redeemable, even if some of my beliefs seem ignorant (or even abominable) in the lens of 20/20 hindsight 150 years later. I pray they use that hindsight charitably and realize I was doing the best I could with what I knew, just as they will be doing as they look back at me and forward to the judgment of their own descendants.
Thanks Ray. I love Margaret Young’s perspectives. I wish she was here–I read too many blogs already, and don’t go to BCC.
Not a shock at all. BY was a racist, and had same really out of control views. Not shocking.