Brigham Young: Racist Prophet of the Mormons – Part 3

In January of 1852, Brigham Young encouraged the Utah territorial legislature to pass a law that prohibitted sex between white people and black people, and publically declared that black people (or people with a black grandparent or great grandparent) “Cannot hold the priesthood”:


Mormon Anti-Miscegenation in Utah Law

Brigham Young addressed the Utah territorial legislature on January 6, 1852 to push through a law that not only legalized slavery in the territory but also made black-white sexual relations illegal. As recorded by Wilford Woodruff in his journal, Young first explained to the legislature about Cain’s murder of Abel and his subsequent curse. God then marked Cain with black skin so all would see his curse, and his descendants would all be likewise cursed and marked. Young then explained, “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it.” Young then addressed intermarriage with “the seed of Cain”:

Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane[,] It would Bring the same [Priesthood] curse upon me And it would upon any man. And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children….Whenever the seed of Judah mingled with the seed of Cane they lost their priesthood & all Blessings.

As an Ensample let the Presidency, Twelve Seventies High Priest[s] Bishops & all the Authorities say now we will all go & mingles with the seed of Cane and they may have all the privilege they want. We lift our hands to heaven in support of this. That moment we loose the priesthood & all Blessings & we weould not be redeemed untill Cane was. I will never admit of it for a moment.[45]

Thus marriage, sexual intercourse, and reproduction between the chosen seed and the cursed seed bore eternal consequences of such a heinous nature that the only way to expiate for this deed, would be for the white person to voluntarily “come forward” and be ritually killed by his priesthood superiors in an act of blood atonement, along with his or her mixed-race children. Young ended his speech by declaring that blacks were by their very nature suited to serve, while whites were given the role of ruler. Preventing marriage between whites and blacks preserved this divine social order and prevented the Devil from ruling over the righteous by gaining power through mixed-race children. Young said, “The Devil would like to rule part of the time But I am determin[ed] He shall not rule at all and Negros shall not rule us….We must guard against all Evil.”

A month later, again addressing the legislature on the topic of divine slavery, Cain, the natural right of whites to rule and blacks to serve, and blood atonement for black-white marriages:

Were the children of God to mingle there seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the preisthood upon them[selves] but they entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it. If a man in an ungaurded moment should commit such a transgression, if he would walk up and say cut off my head, and [we then] kill man woman and child it would do a great deal towards atoneing for the sin. Would this be to curse them? no it would be a blessing to them.— it would do them good that they might be saved with their Bren [brethren]. A man would shuder should they here us take [talk] about killing folk, but it is one of the greatest blessings to some to kill them, allthough the true principles of it are not understood.[46]

Young’s law of course unanimously passed the all GA legislature. It is one of the few state or territorial laws in the history of the US to prohibit sex, instead of marriage. Section 4 not only prohibits slave owners (male or female) from having sex with their “servants” but all black-white sex was made illegal:

1852 Territorial Law

Sec. 4. That if any master or mistress shall have sexual or carnal intercourse with his or her servant or servants of the African race, he or she shall forfeit all claim to said servant or servants to the commonwealth; and if any white person shall be guilty of sexual intercourse with any of the African race, they shall be subject, on conviction thereof to a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars, nor less than five hundred, to the use of the Territory, and imprisonment, not exceeding three years.[47]

45. Wilford Woodruff Journal, undated entry between January 4, 1852 and February 8, 1852, pp. 97-99.

46. George D. Watts, “Speech by Governor Young (expressing his views on slavery) given in Joint Session of the Legislature etc.”, February 5, 1852, Brigham Young papers, LDS Archives.

47. “An Act in Relation to Service”, Acts, Resolutions, and Memorials Passed by the First Annual, and Special Sessions, of the Legislative Assembly, of the Territory of Utah, 1852, printed by Brigham Young Jr.

[excerpted from:]

“I would confine them to their own species”

LDS Historical Rhetoric & Praxis Regarding Marriage Between Whites and Blacks

Connell O’Donovan   March 28, 2009

viewed 8/25/13


Also at the urging of Brigham Young, slavery of blacks and native Americans was made legal in Utah:


… Though no law authorized or prohibited slavery in Utah, there were slaves in the territory, and all appeared to be “perfectly contented and satisfied.” … By 1850 nearly 100 blacks had arrived, approximately two-thirds of whom were slaves. Bernhisel had performed his task well.74

The official acceptance of slavery in the Mormon community extended fully to slave owners as well. Bishops, high councilmen, and even an apostle were ordained from their small number. However, by chance or design, a number of the slaveholders were sent to San Bernardino in 1851 to establish a Mormon colony, and in the process their slaves became free.75

The “laissez-faire” approach to slavery in Utah was short-lived, and came to an end early in 1852. As the Mormons quickly learned, Mexicans had carried out slaving expeditions into the region for decades, buying Indians from local tribes who staged raids for “captives of war.” Periodically children were offered for sale to the Mormons. The enslavement of Indians, a “chosen people” in Mormon theology, posed a much more serious problem than had Negro slavery. Governor Brigham Young took action to stop the raiding parties, and in January 1852, requested legislation on the slavery question.76

In his request Brigham Young made a definite distinction between Indian and Negro. After condemning the Indian slave trade, he observed, “Human flesh to be dealt in as property, is not consistent or compatible with the true principles of government. My own feelings are, that no property can or should be recognized as existing in slaves, wither Indian or African.” However, in view of the “present low and degraded situation of the Indian race” and their current practices of “gambling, selling, and otherwise disposing of their children,” the Governor would condone a “new feature in the traffic of human beings”—”essentially purchasing them into freedom, instead of slavery.” This was not simply buying the children and setting them free, but also caring for them and elevating them to “an equal footing with the more favored portions of the human race.” …

Negro slavery was different:

It has long since ceased to become a query with me, who were the most amenable to the laws of righteousness; those who through the instrumentality of human power brought into servitude human beings, who naturally were their own equals, or those who, acting upon the principle of nature’s law, brought into this position or situation, those who were naturally designed for that purpose, and whose capacities are more befitting that, than any other station in society. Thus, while servitude may and should exist, and that too upon those who are naturally designed to occupy the position of ‘servant of servants’ yet we should not fall into the other extreme, and make them as beasts of the field, regarding not the humanity which attaches to the colored race; nor yet elevate them, as some seem disposed, to an equality with those whom Nature and Nature’s God has indicated to be their masters, their superiors….77

The suitable regulations were shortly forthcoming, and within a few weeks Young signed into law acts legalizing both Negro and Indian slavery.78

74. The figures are my own estimate, based largely on accounts included in Carter, Negro Pioneer, pp. 9, 13, 15-33, 38-39, 44; and Beller, “Negro Slaves,” p. 125. The official census figures for Utah in 1850 report 50 Negroes, of which 24 were slaves. See Negro Population 1790-1915 (Washington, D.C.: Department of Commerce, 1918), p. 57.

75. Apostle Charles C. Rich was one of at least eight slaveholders to be sent on the mission to San Bernardino. Most of the “ex-slaves” continued to be “servants” for their masters, and several appear to have returned electively to Utah when the mission was recalled. At least one of the slaveowners, Robert M. Smith of the San Bernardino bishopric, attempted to take his slaves to Texas but was prevented from doing so by the sheriff of Los Angeles County. See W. Sherman Savage, “The Negro in the Westward Movement,” Journal of Negro History, 25:537-8. Also, Beller, “Negro Slaves,” pp. 124-26; Andrew Jenson, “History of San Bernardino 1851-1938,” typescript, LDS Church, p. 10; and Joseph F. Wood, “The Mormon Settlement in San Bernardino 1851-1857,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1967), pp. 150-52. Apostle John Taylor and N. H. Felt were later cited as informing a “Chicago Paper” that “some slaves had been liberated … since they were taken to Utah; others remain slaves. But the most of those who take slaves there pass over with them in a little while to San Bernardino [sic]…. How many slaves are now held there they could not say, but the number relatively was by no means small. A single person had taken between forty and fifty, and many had gone in with small numbers.” Millennial Star, 27 Jan. 1855, 17:62-63.

76. “Governor’s Message, to the Legislative Assembly of Utah Territory, January 5, 1852,” LDS Church Archives. This was the organizational meeting of the legislature. The Mormons turned down the first two children offered for sale in the winter of 1847-48; when the Indians threatened to kill them if they weren’t purchased, one was bought, and the other was killed. Two others brought shortly thereafter were also purchased. H. H. Bancroft, History of Utah (1889; reprinted Bookcraft, SLC, 1964): p 278. See also Orson Whitney, History of Utah (Salt Lake City: Geo. Q. Cannon & Sons Co, 1892), 1:508-11; Daniel W. Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians (Salt Lake City, 1890, 1960 ed), pp. 48-51; several articles in the Utah Historical Quarterly 2 (July 1929), 67-90; and Brigham Young’s comments (e.g. Journal of Discourses, 1:104, 170-71; 6:327-29).

77. Ibid.

78. “An Act in relation to Service,” approved 4 Feb. 1852; “A Preamble and An Act for the further relief of Indian slaves and prisoners,” approved 7 Mar. 1852.

[excepted from:]

Neither White nor Black

Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss, eds.

Chapter 3

Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview

Lester E. Bush, Jr.

viewed 8/24/13


Brigham Young was pleased with the pro-slavery legislation because he believed that it helped to keep blacks out of Utah:


No other territory legalized both Indian and Negro servitude. New Mexico eventually legalized slavery in 1859, but census figures the following year listed slaves only in Utah among the western territories. Actually the Negro population throughout the West was negligible, and several territorial legislatures even banned Negro immigration. A recent study has argued convincingly that antislavery sentiment in frontier territories was in part reflective of racial prejudice, and was designed to exclude Negroes from the region.80 Brigham Young interpreted Utah’s anomalous proslavery legislation as accomplishing this same end. In a message commending the legislature late in 1852, he observed, “The law of the last session so far proves a salutary measure, as it has nearly freed the territory of the colored population; also enabling the people to control all who see proper to remain, and cast their lot among us.”81

80. Eugene H. Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro Prejudice and the Slavery Extension Controversy (Urbana; University of Illinois Press, 1967).

81. “Message to the Legislature of Utah from Governor Brigham Young,” 13 Dec. 1852, in Millennial Star, 15:422.

[excepted from:]

Neither White nor Black

Chapter 3

Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview


Although Brigham Young’s position on slavery appears to contradict the anti-slavery views expressed by Joseph Smith in 1844, Young believed his views on this subject were already established in the Mormon church:


Other more obvious factors contributed to the legalization of Negro slavery in Utah. Without the influx of southern converts with their slaves, no legislation would have been required. Perhaps the most fundamental factor was the declaration by Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders that the Lord had willed that Negroes be servants to their “superiors.” During his tenure as head of the Church, Young showed none of the variability on this subject manifest under Joseph Smith. He fully accepted the traditional genealogy of the Africans through Canaan and Ham to Cain, and repeatedly taught that this connection gave divine sanction to the servile condition of the Negroes. Nonetheless, he did not claim new information on the subject. As early as “our first settlement in Missouri…. we knew that the children of Ham were to be ‘servant of servants,’ and no power under heaven could hinder it, so long as the Lord should permit them to welter under the curse, and those were known to be our religious views concerning them.”82

82. Journal of Discourses, 2:172 (18 Feb. 1855).

[excepted from:]

Neither White nor Black

Chapter 3

Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview