Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Early federal territorial officials

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Early federal territorial officials

A FAIR Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims

One Nation under Gods, page 227-228 (hardback and paperback)

  1. Broughton D. Harris found that census results for the State of Deseret were "false and exaggerated."
  2. Regarding Broughton D. Harris, Lemuel G. Brandebury and Justice Perry Brocchus: "Before the year ended, these officials fled Utah, believing that to stay would mean certain death….a total of sixteen federal officers would abandon their Utah posts and lodge similar complaints about Mormon threats, intimidation, and non-compliancy with federal laws and directives."

Author's Sources

Endnote 13, page 560 (hardback); page 558 (paperback)

  1. First claim: David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896, 57-58.
  2. Second claim: No source provided.

Question: Did federal officials flee Utah because they feared for their lives?

There is no evidence that the first federal appointees were threatened or at risk of their lives

Some, despite disagreeing with the Mormons and their administration, did not flee Utah, and suffered no consequences as a result. The St. Louis Republican criticized those who had left as having abandoned their posts, and noted that the judges' report did not suggest that any laws had been broken:

It will, at the first reading, strike everyone that the defense of these returning officers is fatally insufficient in the outset, in this: there is no overt act or crime charged or alleged to have been committed. The judges of the United States court go there, are well received, and from the time of their arrival to their coming away, no attempt is alleged to have been made, to infringe upon their jurisdiction, or refuse obedience to their decisions. On the contrary, as far as the statements go, there seems to have been a disposition to submit to their decisions, as in the case of the secretary and the funds in his hands (italics in original).[1]

Critics of Mormonism rely on the early testimony of some of the first federal officials appointed to Utah territory, and accept their testimony uncritically, despite the fact that virtually all historians' opinions are against the conclusion drawn.

Identifying the actors

  • Lemuel H. Brandebury - federal judge and territorial court chief justice
  • Perry Brocchus - federal judge and member of territorial supreme court
  • Broughton D. Harris - territorial secretary, had "$24,000 of territorial funds, as well as the seal and records of Utah."[2]

Secondary players

  • Henry R. Day - territorial Indian subagent
  • B. D. Harris - secretary of state
  • Jacob H. Holeman - territorial Indian agent

Things with the new federal appointees began badly

Young's relationship with the non-Mormon officials was damaged from the start when he began a census and called for an election of legislators before the arrival of the non-Mormon officials. Since the Secretary of State was supposed to supervise the census-taking and certify the validity of the election, Young appeared to have acted precipitously.

However, the non-Mormon territorial officials were slow in arriving. Chief Justice Brandebury arrived on 7 June 1851, and Secretary Harris, with Indian agents Stephen B. Rose and Henry R. Day, reached Salt Lake on 19 July, accompanied by Mormon representatives Almon W. Babbitt and John M. Bernhisel. Unwilling to wait for Secretary Harris's arrival, Young instructed his assistants to begin taking the census on 14 March 1851. He felt this was necessary in order to establish legislative and judicial districts and was anxious that an election be held so that territorial representatives could travel to Washington before inclement weather developed. Although the first Monday in August had been designated as election day, Young suggested that the election be held in May in Iron County while he was visiting there. He recommended that Bernhisel be named territorial representative, which recommendation was followed.[3]

Judge Brocchus was also disappointed in his desire to become territorial representative, and was upset to learn that John M. Bernhisel had already been elected.[4]

Historians have not been kind to these first federal appointees

Historian Howard Lamar described Brandebury and Brocchus as "political hacks" and concluded, "Had Fillmore searched the length and breadth of the land he scarcely could have found men less suited to deal with the Saints than the two non-Mormon judges" (Larson 1971, 8 n. 18). Brocchus, the last of the officials to arrive in Utah, arrived on 17 August 1851. In early September he was invited to speak at a general conference of the church. He showed a severe lack of tact by chastising the congregation for their religious beliefs and practices for nearly two hours, until in reaction the congregation became disorderly.[5]

Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote:

The authorities were kindly received by the saints; and had they been men of ability and discretion, content to discharge their duty without interfering with the social and religious peculiarities of the people, all would have been well; but such was not their character or policy. Judge Brocchus especially was a vain and ambitious man, full of self-importance, fond of intrigue, corrupt, revengeful, hypocritical.[6]

Judge Brocchus' speech

After Judge Brocchus' two-hour harangue of the Mormons, during which he attacked their beliefs and insisted that they should appeal to state governments for redress (though they had already done so for Missouri and Illinois and failed), Brigham Young replied:

Judge Brocchus is either profoundly ignorant, or willfully wicked, one of the two. There are several gentlemen on this platform who would be glad to prove the statements referred to in relation to him, as much more, if I would let them have the stand. His speech is designed to have political bearing. If I permit discussion to arise here, there may be either pulling of hair or a cutting of throats. It is well known to every man in this community, and has become a matter of history throughout the enlightened world, that the government of the United States looked on the scenes of robbing, driving, and murdering of this people and said nothing about the matter, but by silence gave sanction to the lawless proceedings. Hundreds of women and children have been laid in the tomb prematurely in [p.212] consequence thereof, and their blood cries to the Father for vengeance against those who have caused or consented to their death....I love the government and the Constitution of the United States, but I do not love the damned rascals who administer the government.

I know [U.S. President] Zachary Taylor, he is dead and damned, and I cannot help it. I am indignant at such corrupt fellows as Judge Brocchus coming here to lecture us on morality and virtue. I could buy a thousand of such men and put them into a bandbox. Ladies and gentlemen, here we learn principle and good manners. it is an insult to this congregation to throw out such insinuations. I say it is an insult, and I will say no more.

After some reflection, a mellowed Young sent the judge a conciliatory letter suggesting an exchange of apologies...:

Dear Sir, —Ever wishing to promote the peace, love, and harmony of the people, and to cultivate the spirit of charity and benevolence to all, and especially towards strangers, I propose, and respectfully invite your honour, to meet our public assembly at the Bowery, on Sunday evening next, at 10 A.M., and address the same people from the stand that you addressed on the 8th inst., at our General Conference; and if your honour shall then and there explain, satisfy, or apologize to the satisfaction of the ladies who heard your address on the 8th, so that those feelings of kindness which you so dearly prized in your address can be reciprocated by them, I shall esteem it a duty and a pleasure to make every apology and satisfaction for my observation which you as a gentleman can claim or desire at my hands.

Should your honour please to accept of this kind and benevolent invitation, please answer by the bearer, that public notice may be given, and widely extended, that the house may be full. And believe me, sir, most sincerely and respectfully, your friend and servant,...

P.S.—Be assured that no gentleman will be permitted to make any reply to your address on that occasion.

Brocchus refused the invitation, asserting that his speech "in all its parts were the result of deliberation and care" and that he did not feel he had said "anything deserving the censure of a justminded person."[7]

The federal officials leave Utah

Soon thereafter, many of the appointees would leave the state, including Brandebury, Brocchus, Harris, and Day:

Brocchus decided to vacate the territory but before leaving told the governor [Brigham Young] that he wanted to "bury the hatchet, shake hands and forget the past." He also asked Young to apologize to those whom he might have offended. Young announced the apology in a meeting the following day, 28 September, and two days later informed Brocchus by letter that his apology would be accepted if he agreed to control his tongue and cease to vilify "those who must everlastingly be your superiors."[8]

Said Brigham later:

The expression, "Old Zechariah Taylor is dead and in hell, and I am glad of it," which the returning officers, in their Report, alleged was said by me, I do not know that I ever thought of, until I heard Brocchus himself mention it on the stand in the Old Bowery. When he made the statement there, I simply bore testimony to the truth of it. But until then, I do not know that it ever came into my mind whether Taylor was in hell or not, any more than it did that any other wicked man was there. I suppose he is where all the ignorant wicked are gone, and where they will continue to go.[9]

Inconsistencies in the stories

Brandebury, Brocchus, Harris, and Day would leave Utah, and later claim that they left because of "the lawless and seditious conduct of the inhabitants of Utah, and Day said specifically that he could 'no longer take the abuse that was being given to the United States and its officials by the Mormons.'"[10]

However, Holeman remained, and while he "complained of the Mormons taking Indian lands [and] also accused Young of using his office and government funds to further Mormon colonization," he seems to have been in no fear for his life.[11]

Brigham Young's office journal would also report on August 18, 1860 of a member's visit to the east:

Bro[ther] G. Cannon observed that many persons of distinction whom he had seen were favorable to mormonism. he had seen Brandebury who was when here associated with Brochus and Harris, he believed Brandebury repented of the course he had taken when in Utah.

There would be no reason for Cannon to lie; the journal was not for public consumption or public-relations purposes. Why would Brandebury have something of a 'change of heart,' if his life had been threatened while in Utah?

The appointees' report that the Mormons were seditious and threatening their lives certainly affected attitudes in the east

But, the new president (Millard Fillmore) did not seem to accept that the appointees were being entirely truthful, and worked with Utah's territorial representative to find appointees that would better interface with the Mormons.[12]

Note on secondary source: Bigler

Some critics of Mormonism rely frequently on Bigler's Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847—1896 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998).

Bigler's work has a prevalent anti-Mormon bias and presentist approach. As one reviewer noted:

Bigler claims that previous historians, presumably LDS ones, have been "too close to the events [of Utah history] to treat them without bias" (p. 16). If this is the case, Bigler does not correct bias so much as invert it....Forgotten Kingdom's assertions apply a seemingly inequitable bias or go contrary to established understandings of well-scrutinized historical patterns. In every instance, Bigler's interpretive choices paint an unfavorable portrait of Latter-day Saints.

Forgotten Kingdom seems to display a problematic interpretive bias in the opposing ways in which it interprets specific similar historical events. In cases where Mormon actions might seem questionable, the worst possible interpretations are often given and Mormons are condemned. In cases where the actions of federal officials might seem questionable, the best possible motives are often assumed and Bigler provides friendly justification.[13]

Also see use of Bigler with similar misrepresentation in:


  1. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 3:535-537. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. Michael W. Homer, "The Judiciary and the Common Law in Utah Territory, 1850-61," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 21 no. 1 (Spring 1998), 98-99.
  3. Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1998), 210.
  4. Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1998), 210.
  5. Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts : a Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 215. ISBN 0252069803.
  6. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco, CA: The History Company, Publishers, 1890), 465.
  7. Campbell, 211-12.
  8. Campbell, 213.
  9. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:185.
  10. Campbell, 105.
  11. Campbell, 105.
  12. Campbell, 218-220.
  13. Eric A. Eliason, "Review of: Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847–1896," FARMS Review of Books 12/1 (2000): 95–112. off-site