Question: Did Brigham Young institute slavery in Utah?

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Question: Did Brigham Young institute slavery in Utah?

Brigham Young instituted slavery in Utah

Some have asked if Brigham Young instituted slavery in early Utah. The answer is yes. The Church’s Gospel Topics Essay entitled "Race and the Priesthood" states:

In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.[1] The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black “servitude” in the Territory of Utah.[2] According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel.[3] Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah’s grandson Canaan as a result of Ham’s indiscretion toward his father.[4] Although slavery was not a significant factor in Utah’s economy and was soon abolished, the restriction on priesthood ordinations remained.[5]

The first part of the last line will be important to remember. There were only around 100 slaves in Utah at its highest point and the practice was officially abolished in all states by the United States Congress on June 19, 1862.

The policies concerning slavery were also designed by Brigham Young as other abolition states had designed them so that slavery could be gradually phased out in the Utah territory.[6]


Obviously this information shouldn’t be used to conclude that slavery is any less of a morally repugnant practice—in early Utah or anywhere else. It just serves as a means of contextualizing slavery so that it can be better understood today and reconciled with.


  1. Brigham Young, Speeches Before the Utah Territorial Legislature, Jan. 23 and Feb. 5, 1852, George D. Watt Papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, transcribed from Pitman shorthand by LaJean Purcell Carruth; “To the Saints,” Deseret News, April 3, 1852, 42.
  2. In the same session of the territorial legislature in which Brigham Young announced the priesthood ordination policy, the territorial legislature legalized black “servitude.” Brigham Young and the legislators perceived “servitude” to be a more humane alternative to slavery. Christopher B. Rich Jr., “The True Policy for Utah: Servitude, Slavery, and ‘An Act in Relation to Service,’Utah Historical Quarterly 80, no.1 (Winter 2012): 54–74.
  3. David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 178–182, 360n20; Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  4. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  5. ”Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013,
  6. Rich Jr., “The True Policy for Utah,” 55.