Among the Mormons

A nineteenth-century writer meets Brigham Young and explores the "City of Saints"

I sought out our entertainer, Brigham Young, to thank him for the flattering exception made in our Gentile favor. He was standing in the dress circle of the theatre, looking down on the dancers with an air of mingled hearty kindness and feudal ownership. I could excuse the latter, for Utah belongs to him of right. He may justly say of it, " Is not this great Babylon which I have built?" His sole executive tact and personal fascination are the keystone of the entire arch of Mormon society. While he remains, eighty thousand (and increasing) of the most heterogeneous souls that could be swept together from the byways of Christendom will continue builded up into a coherent nationality. The instant he crumbles, Mormondom and Mormonism will fall to pieces at once, irreparably.' His individual magnetism, his executive tact, his native benevolence, are all immense; I regard him as Louis Napoleon, plus a heart; but these advantages would avail him little with the dead-in-earnest fanatics who rule Utah under him, and the entirely persuaded fanatics whom they rule, were not his qualities all coordinated in this one absolute sincerity of belief and motive. Brigham Young is the farthest remove on earth from a hypocrite; he is that grand, yet awful sight in human nature, a man who has brought the loftiest Christian self-devotion to the altar of the Devil, who is ready to suffer crucifixion for Barabbas, supposing him Christ. Be sure, that, were he a hypocrite, the Union would have nothing to fear from Utah. When lie dies, at least four hostile factions, which find their only common ground in deification of his person, will snatch his mantle at opposite corners. Then will come such a rending as the world has not seen since the Macedonian generals fought over the coffin of Alexander, and then Mormonism will go out of Geography into the History of Popular Delusions. There is not a single chief, apostle, or bishop, except Brigham, who possesses any catholicity of influence. I found this tacitly acknowledged in every quarter. The people seem like citizens of a beleaguered town, who know they have but a definite amount of bread, yet have made up their minds to act while it lasts as if there were no such thing as starvation. The greatest comfort you can afford a Mormon is to tell him how young Brigham looks; for the quick, unconscious sequence is, "Then Brigham may last out my time." Those who think at all have no conjecture of any Mormon future beyond him, and I know that many Mormons (Heber Kimball included) would gladly die today rather than survive him and encounter that judgment day and final perdition of their faith which must dawn on his new made grave.

Well, we may give them this comfort without any insincerity. Let us return to where ho stands gazing down on the parquet. Like any Eastern partygoer, he is habited in the "customary suit of solemn black," and looks very distinguished in this dress, though his daily homespun detracts nothing from the feeling, when in his presence, that you are beholding a most remarkable man. He is nearly seventy years old, but appears very little over forty. His height is about five feet ten inches; his figure very well made and slightly inclining to portliness. His hair is a rich curly chestnut, formerly worn long, in supposed immitation of the apostolic coiffure, but now cut in our practical Eastern fashion, as accords with the man of business, whose métier he has added to apostleship with the growing temporal prosperity of Zion. Indeed, he is the greatest businessman on the continent, the cashier of a firm of eighty thousand silent partners, and the only auditor of that cashier, besides. If I today signified my conversion to Mormondom, tomorrow I should be baptized by Brigham’s hands. The next day I should be invited to appear at the Church Office (Brigham’s) and exhibit to the Church (Brigham) a faithful inventory of my entire estate. I am a cabinetmaker, let us say, and have brought to Salt Lake the entire earnings of my New York shop, twenty thousand dollars. The Church (Brigham sole and simple) examines and approves my inventory. It (Brigham alone) has the absolute decision of the question whether any more cabinet-makers are needed in Utah. If the Church (Brigham) says, “No," it (Brigham again) has the right to tell me where labor is wanted, and set me going in my new occupation. If the Church (Brigham) says, "Yes," it further goes on to inform me, without appeal, exactly what proportion of the twenty thousand dollars on my inventory can be properly turned into the channels of the new cabinet shop. I am making no extraordinary or disproportionate supposition when I say that the Church (Brigham) permits me to retain just one-half of my property. The remaining ten thousand dollars goes into the Church Fund, (Brigham's Herring-safe,) and from that portion of my life's savings I never hear again, in the form either of capital, interest, bequeath. able estate, or dower to my widow. Except for the purposes of the Church, (Brigham's unquestionable will,) my ten thousand dollars is as though it had not been. I am a sincere believer, however, and go home light hearted, with a certified check written by the Recording Angel on my conscience for that amount, passed to my credit in the bank where thieves break not through nor steal, it being no more accessible to them than to the depositor, which is a comfort to the latter. The first year I net from my chairs and tables two thousand dollars. The Church (Brigham) sends me another invitation to visit it, make a solemn averment of the sum, and pay over to that ecclesiastical edifice, the Herring safe, two hundred dollars. Or suppose I have not sold any of my wares as yet, but have only imported, to be sold by and by, five hundred Boston rockers. On learning this fact, the Church (Brigham) graciously accepts fifty for its own purposes. —Being founded upon a rock, it does not care, in its collective capacity, to sit upon rockers, but has an immense series of warehouses, omnivorous and eupeptic, which swallow all manner of tithes, from grain and horseshoes to the less stable commodities of fresh fish and melons, assimilating them by admirable processes into coin of the realm. These warehouses are in the Church (Brigham’s own private) inclosure. If success in my Cabinet-making has moved me to give a feast, and I thereat drink more healths than are consistent with my own, the Church surely knows that fact the very next day; and as Utah recognizes no impunitive "getting drunk in the bosom of one's family," I am again sent for, on this occasion to pay a fine, probably exceeding the expenses of my feast. A second offence is punished with imprison It as well as fine; for no imprisonment avoids fine, this comes in every case. The hand of the Church holds the souls of the saints by inevitable purse strings. But I cannot waste time by enumerating the multitudinous lapses and offences which all bring revenue to the Herring-safe.

Over all these matters Brigham has supreme control. His power is the most despotic known to mankind. Here, by the way, is the constitutionally vulnerable point of Mormonism. If fear of establishing a bad precedent hinder the United States at any time from breaking up that nest of all disloyalty, because of its licentious marriage institutions, Utah is still open to grave punishment, and the Administration inflicting it would have duty as well as vested right upon its side, on the ground that it stands pledged to secure to each of the nation's constituent sections a republican form of government, something which Utah has never enjoyed any more than Timbuctoo. I once asked Brigham if Dr. Bernhisel would be likely to get to Congress again. "No," he replied, with perfect certainty; "we shall send as our Delegate." (I think he mentioned Colonel Kinney, but do not remember absolutely.) Whoever it was, when the time came, Brigham would send in his name to the "Deseret News," whose office, like everything else valuable and powerful, is in his inclosure. It would be printed as a matter of course; a counter-nomination is utterly unheard of; and on election day would be Delegate as surely as the sun rose. The mountain stream that irrigates the city, flowing to all the gardens through open ditches on each side of the street, passes through Brigham's inclosure: if the saints needed drought to humble them, he could set back the waters to their source. The road to the only cañon where firewood is attainable runs through the same close, and is barred by a gate of which he holds the sole key. A family man, wishing to cut fuel, must ask his leave, which is generally granted on condition that every third or fourth load is deposited in the inclosure, for Church purposes. Thus everything vital, save the air he breathes, reaches the Mormon only through Brigham’s sieve. What more absolute despotism is conceivable? Here lies the pou-sto for the lever of Governmental interference. The mere fact of such power resting in one mans irresponsible hands is a crime against the Constitution. At the same time, this power, wonderful as it may seem, is practically wielded for the common good. I never heard Brigham’s worst enemies accuse him of peculation, though such immense interests are controlled by his one pair of hands. His life is all one great theoretical mistake, yet he makes fewer practical mistakes than any other man, so situated, whom the world ever saw. Those he does snake are not on the side of self. He merges his whole personality in the Church, with a self-abnegation which would establish in business a whole century of martyrs having a worthy cause.

The cut of Brigham's hair led me away from his personal description. To return to it: his eyes are a clear blue-gray, frank and straightforward in their look; his nose a finely chiselled aquiline; his mouth exceedingly firm, and fortified in that expression by a chin almost as protrusive beyond the rest of the profile as Charlotte Cushman's, though less noticeably so, being longer than hers; and he wears a narrow ribbon of brown beard, meeting under the chin. I think I have heard Captain Burton say that he had irregular teeth, which made his smile unpleasant. Since the Captain's visit, our always benevolent President, Mr. Lincoln, has altered all that, sending out as Territorial Secretary a Mr. Fuller, who, besides being a successful politician, was an excellent dentist. He secured Brigham's everlasting gratitude by making him a very handsome false set, and performing the same service for all of his favorite, but edentate wives. Several other apostles of the Lord owe to Mr. Fuller their ability to gnash their teeth against the Gentiles. The result was that be became the most popular Federal officer (who didn't turn Mormon) ever sent to Utah. The man who obtains ascendency over the mouths of the authorities cannot fail erelong to get their ears.

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