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The Mormons Or Latter-day Saints





In the American of the United States there exist two distinctly opposed
natures: the one positive and practical, the other inclined to
mysticism. The two do not clash, but live, on the contrary, on
perfectly good terms with one another. This strange co-existence of
reality and vision is explained by the origin of the race.

The American is, to a very great extent, a descendant of rigorous
Puritanism. The English, who preponderated in numbers over the other
elements of the European immigration into North America, never forgot
that they had been the comrades of Penn or of other militant
sectarians, and never lost the habit of keeping the Bible, the ledger,
and the cash-book side by side. They remained deeply attached to their
religion, which they looked upon as a social lever, although for many
of them their faith did not go beyond a conviction of the immanence of
the supernatural in human life. Thus it was that their spirits were
often dominated by a belief in miracles, all the more easily because
their intellectual culture was not always as highly developed as their
business ability, and consequently the clever manufacturers of
religious wonders were able to reap incredible harvests among them.

There is perhaps no country where the seed sown by propagandists
springs up more rapidly, where an idea thrown to the winds finds more
surely a fertile soil in which to grow. A convinced and resolute man,
knowing how to influence crowds by authoritative words, gestures and
promises, can always be certain of attracting numerous followers. In
America the conditions are without doubt propitious for the founders of
new religions.


I

How is a new religion started in the United States? Joe Smith wakes up
one morning with the thought that the hour has come for him to perform
miracles, that he is called thereto by the Divine Will, that the
existence and the secret hiding-place of a new Bible printed on sheets
of gold have been revealed to him by an angel, and that its discovery
will be the salvation of the world. He proclaims these things and
convinces those who hear him, and the Book of the Mormons which he
produces becomes sacred in the eyes of his followers.

In ever-increasing numbers they hasten first to Illinois, then to Utah;
and when Brigham Young, Smith's successor, presents the Mormon colony
with religious and political laws which are a mixture of Christianity,
Judaism and Paganism, and include the consecration of polygamy, they
found a church which claims more than a hundred thousand adherents, and
is ruled by twelve apostles, sixty patriarchs, about three thousand
high priests, fifteen hundred bishops, and over four thousand deans.

After being dissolved by the decree of the 10th of October, 1888, the
Church of the Latter-Day Saints seemed to be lost, without hope of
revival. The State of Utah, where Brigham Young had established it in
1848, was invaded by ever-growing numbers of "Gentiles," who were
hostile to the Mormons, but these latter, far from allowing the debris
of their faith to bestrew the shores of the Great Salt Lake, succeeded,
on the contrary, in strengthening the foundations of the edifice that
they had raised. The number of its adherents increased, and the colony
became more flourishing than ever. If, at one time, it was possible to
speak of its dying agonies, those who visit it to-day cannot deny the
fact of its triumphant resurrection.

Two principal causes have been its safeguard: the firm and practical
working-out of the economic and philanthropic principles upon which its
organisation has always rested, and the resolute devotion and
capability of those who direct it as the heads of one great family.
Every member is concerned to maintain the regular and effective
functioning of its mechanism, and all work for the same ends in a
spirit of religious co-operation.

We must not lose sight of the fact that in addition to the elements
they borrowed from Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Islam, the
Mormons introduced into their new Gospel a social ideal inspired by the
Communistic experiments of the first half of the nineteenth century.
The founders of Mormonism--Joseph Smith, Heber Kimball, George Smith,
the brothers Pratt, Reuben Hedlock, Willard Richards, and Brigham
Young--were not visionaries, but men risen from the people who desired
to acquire wealth while at the same time bringing wealth to those who
took part in their schemes. We find in their doctrine, and in their
legal and religious codes, not only the idea of multiple union claimed
by Enfantin and his forty disciples of MÚnilmontant, but also the
theories of Buchez, who desired to free labour from the servitude of
wages, to bring about solidarity of production, and to communalise
capital, after first setting aside an inalienable reserve. They
followed the example of Cabet in making fraternity, which should
guarantee division of goods, the corner-stone of their social
structure, and, avoiding the delusions of ConsidÚrant and other
Communists, they brought about, stage by stage, the rapid and lasting
development which has characterised their successive establishments in
Missouri, Illinois, and on the borders of California.


II

Militant as well as constructive, the Mormon leaders, like many other
reformers, believed themselves to be charged with a mission from on
high, and were quick to condemn as rebels all who failed to rally to
the standard of the "Latter-Day Saints." Joe Smith was not content
with making thousands of converts, but, after having turned his colony
at Independence into an "Arsenal of the Lord," and surrounding himself
with a veritable army, he proclaimed that, as the Bible gave the saints
empire over all the earth, the whole State of Missouri should be
incorporated in his "New Jerusalem." The "Gentiles" replied with a
declaration of war, and Joe Smith and his twelve apostles were seized,
publicly flogged, divested of their garments, tarred and feathered, and
chased out of the State with shouts and laughter and a hail of stones.

The Mormons took up arms. The Governor of Missouri called out the
militia. Vanquished in the encounter that followed, the Mormons had to
abandon all their possessions and take flight. They then founded a
town called Far West, and remained there for three years, at the end of
which time fresh aggressions and more battles drove them out of the
State of Missouri into that of Illinois, where they built the large
town of Nauvoo. Many thousands of fresh recruits were won over, but
once again their designs for the acquisition of land--as well as of
souls--stirred up a crusade against them. Joe Smith and the other
leaders of the sect were taken prisoners and shot--a procedure which
endowed Mormonism with all the sacredness of martyrdom. To escape
further persecutions, the Saints decided on a general exodus, and the
whole sect, men and women, old people and children, numbering in all
about eighty thousand souls, set forth into the desert.

It was a miserable journey. They were attacked by Red Indians, and
decimated by sickness; they strayed into wrong paths where no food was
to be found; they were buried in snowdrifts; and many of them perished.
But the others, sustained by an invulnerable faith, and by the undying
courage of their leaders, pushed on ever further and further, until in
the summer of 1847, after the cruel hardships of a journey on foot over
nearly three hundred leagues of salt plains, the head of the column
reached the valley of the great Salt Lake. Here Brigham Young's
strategic vision beheld a favourable situation for the re-establishment
of the sect. He himself, with a hundred and forty-three of his
companions--the elite of the church--directed the construction of the
beginnings of the colony, and then returned to those who had been left
behind, bringing back a caravan of about three thousand to the spot
where the New Jerusalem was to be built.

It was given the name of Utah, and Filmore, the President of the United
States, appointed Brigham Young as governor. The latter, however,
desired to become completely autonomous. He was soon in conflict with
those under him, and his open hostility to the American constitution
caused him to be deposed. His successor, Colonel Stepton, finding the
situation untenable, resigned almost at once, and the Mormons,
recovering their former militancy and independence, then sought to free
themselves altogether from the guardianship of America, and to be sole
masters in their own territory. In order to reduce them to submission,
President Buchanan sent them a new governor in 1857 with some thousands
of soldiers. The Mormons resisted for some time, and finally demanded
admittance into the Union. Not only did Congress refuse this request,
but it passed a law rendering all polygamists liable to be brought
before the criminal courts. The War of Secession, however, interrupted
the measures taken against the sect, which remained neutral during the
military operations of the North and South. Brigham Young, who had
remained the Mormons' civil and religious head, occupied himself only
with the economic and worldly extension of his church, until in 1870,
five years after the termination of the war, the attention of Congress
was once more directed towards him. For the second time the Mormons
were forbidden by law to practise polygamy, under penalty of
deportation from America, but they resisted energetically and refused
to obey. Defying the governor of Utah, General Scheffer, they rallied
fanatically round Brigham Young, who was arraigned and acquitted--and
the Mormon Church remained ruler of the colony.

After Young's death, government was carried on jointly by the twelve
apostles, until on October 17th, 1901, George Smith was elected
universal President of all branches.

A Frenchman, Jules RÚmy, who visited the Mormons some time back, has
given a striking description of them:--

"Order, peace and industry are revealed on every side. All these
people are engaged in useful work, like bees in a hive, thus justifying
the emblem on the roof of their President's palace. There are masons,
carpenters, and gardeners, all carrying out their respective duties;
blacksmiths busy at the forge, reapers gathering in the harvest,
furriers preparing rich skins, children picking maize, drovers tending
their flocks, wood-cutters returning heavily loaded from the mountains.
Others again are engaged in carding and combing wool, navvies are
digging irrigation canals, chemists are manufacturing saltpetre and
gunpowder, armourers are making or mending firearms. Tailors,
shoemakers, bricklayers, potters, millers, sawyers--every kind of
labourer or artisan is here to be found. There are no idlers, and no
unemployed. Everybody, from the humblest convert up to the bishop
himself, is occupied in some sort of manual labour. It is a curious
and interesting sight--a society so industrious and sober, so peaceful
and well-regulated, yet built up of such divers elements drawn from
such widely differing classes. . . .

All these people, born in varied and often contradictory faiths,
brought up for the most part in ignorance and prejudice, having lived,
some virtuously, some indifferently, some in complete abandonment to
their lowest animal instincts, differing among themselves as to
climate, language, customs, tastes and nationality, are here drawn
together to live in a state of harmony far more perfect than that of
ordinary brotherhood. In the centre of the American continent they
form a new and compact nation, with independent social and religious
laws, and are as little subject to the United States government that
harbours them as to that, for instance, of the Turks."

Such they were, and such they have remained, ever developing their
activities and industries, and--as another traveller has said--having
no aim save that of turning their arid and uncultivated "Promised Land"
into a fertile Judea--an aim in which they have marvellously succeeded.


III

Mormonism owes its success chiefly to its practical interpretation of
the Communistic ideals, and to its determination to encourage labour by
means of religion and patriotism, setting before it as object the
satisfaction of each individual's social needs, under the direction of
those who have proved themselves capable and vigilant and worthy of
confidence. It is a republic from which are banished the two most
usual causes of social collapse--idleness and egotism; a hive,
according to its founder, in which each bee, having his particular
function, is always under the eye of those who direct individual
activities in the interests of collective welfare. The President of
the Mormon Church is its moving spirit. He surveys it as a whole,
encourages or moderates its energies, according to circumstances,
preserves order and regularity, and exercises his paternal influence
over every cell of the hive, giving counsel when needed, redressing
grievances, preventing false moves, yet leaving to every corporation
not only its administrative freedom but its own powers for industrial
extension.

Under these conditions the Church of the Latter-Day Saints unites the
social and economic advantages of individual and collective labour.
The corporations are like stitches that form a net, holding together
through community of interests and a general desire for prosperity, yet
each having its own separate formation and the power to enlarge itself
and increase its activities without compromising the others or
lessening their respective importance. One of the most remarkable is
the "Mercantile Co-operative Society of Sion," the central department
of wholesale and retail trade. It was founded in 1863 by Brigham
Young, who was its first president, and is in direct relationship with
the Mormon colonies all over the world, having a capital fund of more
than a million dollars which belongs exclusively to the Mormons. Its
organisation, like that of all Mormon institutions, is based upon the
deduction of a tithe of all profits, which practically represents
income tax. The "Sugar Corporation" has an even larger capital, and
was founded directly by the church through the advice of Brigham Young,
who recommended that Mormon industries should be patronised to the
exclusion of all others. The salt industry also is of much importance,
the Inland Crystal Salt Company having at great expense erected
elaborate machinery in order to work the salt marshes around the Great
Lake, and to obtain, under the best possible conditions, grey salt
which is converted into white in their refineries. Other corporations
under the presidency of the supreme head of the Mormon Church are the
"Consolidated Company of Railway Carriages and Engines," the "Sion
Savings Bank," the "Co-operative Society for Lighting and Transport,"
and the chief Mormon paper, the _Desert Evening News_, which is the
official organ of the church, and has a considerable circulation.


IV

These corporations are not only commercial or industrial institutions,
but are animated by a spirit that is pre-eminently fraternal. Their
heads are concerned with the well-being of every member, and material,
moral or intellectual assistance is given to all according to their
needs.

To each corporation is attached a "delegate," whose functions do not
appear to be of great importance, but who renders, in reality, services
of considerable value. The man who holds this post is one of
unimpeachable honesty and integrity, with a kind and conciliatory
disposition, chosen for these qualities to act as intermediary between
the bishop and the "saints" of all classes, from the highest to the
lowest. He has free entry into the Mormon homes, and is always ready
to give advice and counsel to any member of the church in his district;
and he even penetrates into the houses of the Gentiles, wherever a
Mormon, man or woman, may happen to be employed. Take, for instance,
the case of a young Scandinavian servant-girl, living with
"unbelievers." The mother, who had remained in Europe, wished to
rejoin her daughter, but the girl had not been able to raise more than
a third of the sum necessary to pay the expenses of the journey. The
delegate took note of this and referred the case to the bishop, who,
after inquiry, sent the old mother the required amount.

Again, two neighbours might be disputing over the question of the
boundary between their respective properties. The delegate would do
all in his power to settle the affair amicably, and to restore harmony;
and failing in this would bring the two parties concerned before the
bishop. Or there might be an invalid requiring medicine and treatment,
an old person needing help, a layette to be bought for a new-born
child--in all such cases the delegate sees that the needs are supplied,
for the strength of this Church of the Latter-Day Saints lies in the
fact that all the Mormons, from the President down to the humblest
workman, call themselves brothers and sisters and act as such towards
one another. Thanks to the delegate, who is friend, confidant and
confessor in one, immediate help can be obtained in all instances, and
no suffering is left unrelieved.

Thus it comes about that there are no poor among the Mormons, and very
few criminals. The delegate has no need to search into the secrets of
men's minds, for all are open to him. To a great extent he is able to
read their innermost hearts, for men speak freely to him, without veils
or reservations. As far as is possible he sees that their desires are
granted; he notifies all cases of need to the Relief Societies; he
conducts the sick and aged to the hospitals; he is the messenger and
mouthpiece for all communications from the people to the bishop and
from the bishop to his flock.

It is the delegate also who is charged with the duty of seeing that
one-tenth of each person's income, whatever its total sum may be, is
contributed for the upkeep of the Mormon faith and its church. He
reminds the dilatory, and admonishes the forgetful, always in friendly
fashion. In fact it is he, who--to use a popular expression--brings
the grist to the mill. This contribution of a tenth part obviates all
other taxation, and as it is demanded from each in proportion to his
means, its fairness is disputed by none.


V

Brotherly co-operation also prevails in the Mormon system of
colonisation. The leaders of the church have always been aware of the
dangers of overcrowding, and at all times have occupied themselves with
the founding of new settlements to receive the surplus population from
the centres already in activity. It is for this reason that the church
has been so urgent in seeking and demanding new territory to irrigate
and cultivate, in Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho, and even
as far afield as Canada. The transplanting of a swarm from the parent
hive is undertaken with the greatest care. Let us take for example the
colonisation of the Big Horn Valley, in the north of Wyoming. Before
coming to a decision the apostles themselves inspected the locality,
which had been recommended as suitable for a new colony of saints.
Finding that it fulfilled all requirements, they published their
resolve in the official Press, and invited all who desired to become
members of the colony to present themselves before their bishop with
the necessary guarantees. The President of the church then sought out
a brother capable of organising the scheme, and this brother, proud and
grateful at being chosen for such a mission, sold all his goods and
took up his new responsibilities. On the appointed day the new
colonists grouped themselves around their leader, with their wagons,
baggages, provisions, agricultural tools, horses and cattle, and so on.
One of the twelve apostles being appointed as guide, they set forth for
the Big Horn Valley. Here they built their dwelling-places, dug a
canal to provide water for the whole settlement, founded all kinds of
co-operative societies, including one for the breeding of cattle--and
prospered.

In this way, upon a Socialism quite distinct from that of the European
theorists, and differing widely from that practised by the New
Zealanders, are built up institutions, which have given proof, wherever
started, of their power of resistance to human weaknesses. The Mormon
colonies, fundamentally collectivist, like the sect from which they
originally sprang, still bear the imprint given to them by the
initiators of the movement. Each one becomes industrially and
commercially autonomous, but all are firmly held together in a common
brotherhood by the ties of religion. The Big Horn Mormons, although so
far away, never for a single day forget their brothers of Salt Lake
City, and all alike hold themselves ever in readiness to render mutual
assistance and support.


VI

The Mormon considers activity a duty. Co-operation implies for him not
only solidarity of labour but union of will, and these principles are
applied in all phases of his public or private life--in politics,
education, social conditions of every kind, and even amusements. He
holds it obligatory under all circumstances to contribute personal help
or money according to his means, knowing that his brothers and sisters
will do likewise, and that he can rely upon them with absolute
certainty.

Nevertheless, dissension does occasionally arise in the heart of this
close-knit brotherhood. The authority of the President, or that of the
apostles and bishops may be the cause of rivalries and jealousies, as
in the case of Joseph Morris, Brigham Young's confidant, who wished to
supplant his chief. He and his partisans were assaulted and put to
death by Young's adherents. A spirit of discord also manifests itself
at times in the national elections, and there are plottings and
intrigues, especially when there seems to be hope of supremacy in
Congress, or when one of the twelve apostles offers himself as
candidate for the Senate without first consulting the Mormon Church.

Such shadows are inseparable from all human communities. What it is
important to study in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints is the
evolution of a communism which has more than half a century of activity
to its credit, and which, in contrast to so many other fruitless
attempts, has given marked proofs of a vitality that shows no sign of
diminishing.





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