New York Times, “What Shall we Do with the Mormons?,” April 21, 1857

    Source citation
    “What Shall we Do with the Mormons?,” New York Times, April 21, 1857, p. 4: 2-3.
    Newspaper: Publication
    New York Daily Times
    Newspaper: Headline
    What Shall We Do with the Mormons
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    Newspaper: Column
    Date Certainty
    Leah Suhrstedt, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    What Shall we Do with the Mormons?

    We cannot do a worse thing with a difficulty than to dodge it, and never was this practical truth more pointedly illustrated than in the actual position of affairs in Utah. When that Territory was organized the acting President of the United States, Mr. FILLMORE, was called upon to decide whether the authority of the Republic should be extended over its inhabitants as of right or by sufferance. He found the Mormons boldly claiming to be considered an independent Israel in the midst of the Philistines, denying his right to nominate a Governor for them, and professing to hold their lands not of the American Government, but of the Almighty. Instead of meeting these insolent assumptions and frustrating them forever, Mr. FILLMORE evaded the issue by conferring the Executive appointment upon the High Priest of the sect, who condescended to accept it as a compromise solicited by the United States, and of slight importance to his people and himself.

    Six years of chartered treason have ripened the Mormon power, and now, while we are debating what we shall do with a set of intolerable idolators who have erected the odious Dagor of their worship on a portion of the American soil, they, on their side, are preparing themselves to vindicated their absolute independence of us and of our laws. How much longer they will deign to keep a delegate at Washington we may infer from their treatment of the United States Judiciary, and from the avowed intention of BRIGHAM YOUNG to rule his people as he and they shall choose, without comment, commission or control from us. This is the state of the case, and it must be met now fully and fairly.

    For some time past the leading columns of the Deseret News have been filled with a most amazingly and audaciously conducted argument upon the Constitution of the United States, whereof the gist is simply this- that the American Government has no right whatever to exercise any authority over the inhabitants of a Territory, its dominion extending only over the land, while that land is lying waste and void of life! With the advent of immigration the Constitutional dominion takes wing and flies, like the moody trapper of the Farther West, to some vaster region unprofaned by the squatter and the spade! According to this new interpretation of the Constitution, the President may appoint Governors where there are no people to be governed, and Judges where there is no judgment to be passed.

    Ridiculous as this theory is, we must remember that theories not less ridiculous have been engrafted upon the platforms of party organizations in more enlightened sections of our common country, and we must find in our recent recollections of Atchisonian “Constitutionalism,” and of Kansas-Nebraska law, a sufficient reason for believing that the ineptitutdes of the Deseret News may really give us no little trouble when they come to meet us in the form of priestly proclamations and of Mormon bayonets. For in this form they will assuredly come.

    The unscrupulous chiefs of this now imposing iniquity are not men to shrink from a practical assertion of their most outrageous propensities. They already claim the right of life and death over the members of their “Church,” and the contumely with which they have treated the judicial authorities of the Union they are prepared to lavish upon any Executive functionary whom the President may see fit to send to them. The Territory over which their despotism extends is difficult of access and defensible: the population subjected to their sway is numerous and hardy as well as ignorant and fanatical. Scandinavia, Scotland, Wales, and the West of Britain, those anvient nurseries of fierce, unreasoning faith, have sent out thousands of strong arms and stupid heads to the service of the astute followers of JOE SMITH, and we may depend upon it that when they are summoned to the “battle of the Lord against the mighty” the wretched victims of the Mormon imposture will put their lives into the hands of their rascally leaders just as blindly as now they put their fortunes, their affections, their homes, under the same unprincipled control. It is useless to attempt to reason with them, for the public opinion of the States cannot reach the masses of Utah, and to persuade the Saints at Deseret that the astronomical argument drawn from the “pluralistic loves of the planets” to polygamy as practised by those of their number who can afford themselves the questionable luxury of a subdivided homestead, is neither convincing in itself, nor conclusively establishes the duty of every Mormon to shoot United States troops at the order of HEBER C. KIMBALL, would be as hopeless a task as to satisfy a Mississippian Methodist that the improper behavior of Ham towards his father Noah does not necessarily justify the repeal of the “Missouri Compromise.”

    What then shall we do with these people? Let them alone, for our own honor, as well as for the sake of their own lasting happiness, we cannot. The limits of religious toleration, though difficult of destination, are fortunately not absolutely indefinable. A man’s right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience must be guarded like all other rights, and therefore like all other rights it must be restricted in its exercise by a just consideration of moral and social consequences, as well as of the rights of others. No man can be permitted to worship God in such a way as to outrage the decencies of life or to oppress his neighbors. When TAYLOR, the Platonist, thought fit to profess Paganism, and set up a silver statue of Jupiter on his mantel-piece, his landlady made no objection to that innocent act of insanity; but when he proposed to sacrifice a black bull in her back parlor she strenuously resisted, and saver her crockery and her Kidderminster at the risk of her charity. Her sturdy common sense smote the exact line between the permissible and the reprehensible, and all rational Governments find themselves forced to imitate her conduct. John Jones may believe if he likes that clothes and corruption are concomitant facts, and seek salvation by stripping off all the conventions of kerseymere and Irish linen; but it Jones does not confine his spiritual exercises to his own chamber, the practical interference of the police will constrain his actions without disturbing his convictions.

    The orthodoxy of no small portion of British India cling with adoring earnestness to the profitable humilities of the worship of Juggernaut and the edifying sublimities of the Suttee; but the common sense and righteous feeling of the British Government in that country did not therefore shrink from the duty of doing away utterly and forever with practices so infamous and so inhuman. Why then should the authorities of the United States hesitate to deal in the same sharp and decisive way with a “religious” system which condenses into itself all the absurdities, usurpations, indecencies and villainies of the worse form of Paganism? We are not called upon to punish any man for believing in the inspiration of JOE SMITH or the reality of the Golden-Book, in the sanctity of BRIGHAM YOUNG, or even in the salutary and divine appointment of polygamy. But we can and we ought to restrain the believers in these things from violating the laws and decencies of the land. Theoretical polygamy is one thing, but practical polygamy is quite another. The course of Judge DRUMMOND, who called upon the Grand Jury of Utah to find indictments against all persons living in the practice of polygamy, should be sustained and followed up. Let the judicial authority be supported by a proper military force, and the favorite “Institution” of the leaders of Mormonism can be soon and effectually broken up. Upon this we have a right to insist, and upon the summary punishment of any parties against whom it is proved that they have ventured to exert extra judicial authority over citizens of the United States, or to assumed the coercive functions of the properly appointed Executive. In a word, let the Mormons be treated as a “sect,” subjected to the same regulations with all other sects, and protected in the exercise of the same rights with theirs. As things now stand they claim to be considered as a Nation, and defy the authority of the Federal Union, in order to vindicate to themselves not a freedom of belief but an unhallowed license of conduct which, as a Christian and civilized people, it is impossible that we should tolerate. If it be true that there are persons in New-York who life in the practice of the Mormon theories, let them be at once prosecuted and punished, but let the force of the Government be put out fearlessly and promptly to deal with the mischief in its centre, before it grows to proportions, which shall still more seriously compromise the character and endanger the tranquility of the country.

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