The 100-year-old daily newspaper, the Manteca Bulletin (Manteca, CA), carried an article on October 29, 2008 written by managing editor Dennis Wyatt. The article was mainly about the way Mormons were being mistreated over their unflagging support of California’s Prop 8. To fill out the story, Mr. Wyatt wrote, “The Mormons are historically the most persecuted religion in the United States,” followed by some historical details. While the designation of “most persecuted” might be reasonably challenged, it is true that Mormonism and its followers, historically, have not had an easy time of it. Nevertheless, Mr. Wyatt’s historical overview turned out to be more propaganda than truth.
Mr. Wyatt began,
“What brought down the wrath of Congress to pass a law going after the Mormons? Yes, polygamy was part of it but when push came to shove it was the entire faith that irked the powers that be.
“The Mormons had been chased from New York…”
The Mormons were not chased from New York. Joseph Smith moved his young church from New York to Ohio because there had been great missionary success in Ohio and there was a stronger base of membership there.
“The church’s Relief Society – long before it was the fashion -campaigned for women’s rights. In 1870, Utah became the first state to give women the right to vote.”
Wyoming was actually the first territory to grant women the right to vote (1869). Utah did not become a state until 1896, but as a territory, it followed closely on the heels of Wyoming in giving the vote to women.
“Congress in 1882 passed the Edmunds Act to outlaw cohabitation with more than one woman. President Arthur sent federal agents to Utah…all Mormons who practiced polygamy were disenfranchised, stripped of the right to vote and many jailed.”
This is true enough, but Mr. Wyatt failed to mention that bigamy (polygamy) had been illegal since 1862, but Mormons refused to comply with the law. Because of the legal difficulty involved in proving that plural marriage ceremonies had taken place (making polygamy nearly impossible to prosecute), the Edmunds Act made bigamous cohabitation a misdemeanor. Much easier to prove, the Edmunds Act resulted in 1,300 Mormons being jailed as “cohabs” in the 1880s. Mormons who remained in violation of the law were indeed barred from jury service, public office, and voting.
“Congress sent the U.S. Army to attack the Mormons. Why? Because 140 non-Mormon settlers – many who had abused local Indians – were massacred by the Indians at Mountain Meadows. Newspapers urged the government to invade Utah on the false assumption the Mormons were behind the attack.
Mr. Wyatt’s statement above is wrong on every point. Congress did not send the U.S. army to attack the Mormons. Troops were sent to Utah in 1857 to insure “the establishment and maintenance of law and order” in the territory (Gen. Winfield Scott to his officers, quoted in Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 79). The non-Mormon emigrants massacred at Mountain Meadows numbered 120, not 140. They were not all killed by Native Americans, nor had the emigrants “abused” anyone. The massacre, which was undeniably planned and executed by Mormons, took place in September 1857, while the U.S. army orders sending troops to Utah originated several months earlier, in May of the same year. Though newspapers in the country were supportive of President Buchanan’s decision to stop the Utah rebellion by installing federally appointed officials in the territory, the newspapers were not responsible for the President’s decision, nor did his decision have anything whatsoever to do with the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a horrific event that was still months away.
I don’t know Mr. Wyatt’s background, but it sure would have been nice if he’d done his homework.