With the end of the Mexican War, the United States gained possession of the Salt Lake Valley in 1848. It was officially declared an American territory in 1850. Although the Mormons wanted the territory to be officially named Deseret, Congress decided instead to name it Utah, after the Ute Indians who lived in the region.
The Mormons lived for approximately forty-six years- from 1850 to 1896-within America's Utah Territory. Initially, Brigham Young was appointed Utah's territorial governor. He took his oath of office on February 3, 1851. With American recognition, Young moved aggressively and strategically to build the Mormon version of the kingdom of God in the Utah Territory. Young was pragmatic, strong-willed, and determined, even if it meant standing against the laws of the United States. When non-Mormon judges and appointed officials arrived in the Utah Territory in 1851, they were shocked to discover a Mormon theocracy and the practice of polygamy. When they returned east, they provided a detailed report to President Millard Fillmore, which created an ongoing suspicion in Washington, D.C., concerning Mormon Utah.
In 1852, Brigham Young-who had many wives-announced boldly that polygamy was now an authorized practice of the LDS Church. In 1854, Young also built a large, beautiful home that became known as his Beehive House because of the roof's beehive-shaped cupola. It was from the Beehive House that Young served as both governor and Prophet, and a connecting structure housed his many wives and children.
Starting in 1854, the Republican Party's platform denounced the twin evils of slavery and polygamy. When Republican James Buchanan became U.S. President in 1857, he replaced Brigham Young as territorial governor of Utah with non-Mormon Alfred Cumming and sent an army to Utah to enforce the change. As a result, what has become known as the Utah War began. In defiance of federal troops, Young called the Mormons to prepare to defend themselves. They created blockades and dug trenches in preparation for a battle. Young had instructed the Mormons to burn everything, rather than surrender to federal forces. In the end, things settled down, and Governor Cumming was finally accepted by the Mormons, albeit reluctantly. But it was also during this time of LDS distrust of and resistance toward outsiders that on September 11, 1857, Mormons attacked an unarmed non- Mormon wagon train, killing more than a hundred innocent people. This dark episode in Mormon history is called the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Although the Civil War distracted much of the nation from the practices of the Mormons, in 1862 Abraham Lincoln did sign into law the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which made polygamy in America a crime and limited the amount of property that the LDS Church could own. Until the Civil War was over in 1865, there was little enforcement of the Morrill Act, and the Mormons continued to build the Salt Lake temple, start public-works projects, and build more settlements.
Mormon isolationism, however, was greatly threatened when in 1869 America's transcontinental railroad made traveling to Utah no longer a major undertaking. Brigham Young's last years were invested in promoting Mormon cooperative businesses as he saw his isolationist form of Mormonism facing great dangers from non-Mormon settlers and the potential enforcement of America's anti-polygamy laws.
Brigham Young died on August 29, 1877, at the age of seventy- six. He had married at least twenty wives and fathered fifty-six children. Through his self-determination, the Mormon population eventually grew in the Utah Territory to approximately 135,000. After Brigham Young's death, Utah Mormonism would be required to make significant changes before receiving acceptance and legitimacy in America.
Utah Mormonism after Brigham Young (1877-1896)
The next two decades following the death of Brigham Young- from 1877 to 1896-were characterized by an outright battle between Mormonism and the United States over the issues of LDS theocracy and polygamy.
Following the death of Brigham Young, John Taylor became the third Mormon President and Prophet in October 1880, the same year that the fiftieth anniversary of the Mormon Church was celebrated. Taylor's revelation promoting the LDS practice of polygamy in 1886 set the stage for a major showdown with the United States government. He declared:
I have not revoked this [polygamy] law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so amen.
Mormons Go Underground
Taylor's declaration was a proclamation of defiance against the United States' newly passed Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1882, once again outlawing the practice of polygamy. Because Mormons refused to follow American anti-polygamy law, over the next few years hundreds of resistant Mormons were jailed. Many of the Mormon men practicing polygamy, including LDS leadership, went underground. On July 25, 1887, Prophet Taylor died on the run from the United States federal authorities.
The United States simply would not accept a self-proclaimed independent theocratic kingdom to exist in open defiance of the laws of the nation. In 1887, the United States passed a law that dissolved the Mormon Church organization, and required all property worth over $50,000 to be turned over to the federal government. In 1890, it was also determined that Mormons would not be able to vote. The very existence of the Mormon theocratic society was in danger of collapsing, and a revelation from God was the only answer.
The 1890 Manifesto and Utah Statehood
On April 7, 1889, the fourth President and Prophet, Wilford Woodruff, began leading the LDS Church. Woodruff reported receiving a revelation from God in September 1890 that authorized him to stop the LDS practice of polygamy. Woodruff's official declaration against polygamy has come to be known as the Manifesto, recorded today as Official Declaration 1 located at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants. A second manifesto would also be made by President and Prophet Joseph F. Smith in 1904, and a church policy was enacted that would excommunicate all polygamists.
Following the 1890 Manifesto, the isolated Utah Mormonism shaped under Brigham Young was moving toward accommodation and legitimacy. In 1891, they dismantled the Mormon People's Party and began to align themselves with the Republican and Democratic political parties. As a result, church property was soon returned and Utah statehood was near.
Utah Mormons under Statehood (1896-Today)
By the time Utah became an official state on January 4, 1896, Mormons were desiring to assimilate into the mainstream of American life and begin improving their national and public image. Another major step toward American assimilation took place when LDS Prophet Spencer Kimball received a revelation in June 1978, declaring that Mormonism would no longer exclude male blacks from its priesthoods. It is recorded as Official Declaration 2 and is located at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The modern LDS Church no longer exhibits the extreme isolationism of nineteenth-century Mormonism created under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Instead, Mormonism now works hard at promoting through an extensive public-relations campaign their desire to be accepted in American life.