Interesting Quotes from Church History

“Forget everything I have said, or what … Brigham Young … or whomsoever has said … that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” [Bruce R. McConkie, “New Revelation on Priesthood,” in Priesthood, no editor given, but presumably edited by McConkie (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137, esp. 126-127.]

“I believe in the example that was set by the illustrious father of our country. On one occasion, it is told of him, as he was passing along with some of his aides, dressed in his uniform as general of the armies of the United States, that he met a colored man. The colored man, most reverently and courteously took off his hat and made a low bow to the general. The general took off his hat and bowed as courteously to the colored man. His associate generals remonstrated with him. They said, “General, it is beneath Your dignity to bow to a negro.” General Washington turned to them and said, “Gentlemen, I cannot afford to have a negro outdo me in courtesy,” So it would be well for us as Latter-day Saints, and as the children of the Latter-day Saints, and as the teachers of the children of this people, to teach courtesy and respect toward all mankind, and implant kindness in the hearts of our children towards the unfortunate especially. There is too little of it. I go along the street here and I see little boys with cigarettes in their mouths; I actually see young men, just budding into manhood with nasty stinking old pipes in their mouths, or with cigars between their teeth, as they walk along the streets. I see boys walk with beautiful young ladies on the sidewalks, smoking their cigars. I think it is contemptible to see boys with cigarettes and pipes and cigars in their mouths, puffing their infamous smudge into the faces of beautiful women. It is abominable. And when I see a man, a boy especially, with a cigar or a pipe in his mouth—the pipe is the worse, it stinks worse and it is more poisonous, a great deal, than the cigar is, although I have never tried either of them very much; but when I meet a youth with these attachments, I feel that if I could be justified under any circumstances in passing anyone by with contempt, they are the fellows that I would pass with contempt. I never like to bow or take off my hat to a boy or a young man with a cigar or a cigarette in his mouth. I don’t like to bow to a cigarette. I don’t like to bow and pay deference to a nasty old stinking tobacco pipe. I think that is more condescending by far than to bow to a courteous gentlemanly man who is unfortunate enough to be colored with a black skin. I have seen many polished gentlemen in my life who have been unfortunate enough not to be white, that is in their skin; but in their hearts and in their manners, in their courtesy and conduct, they were far superior to many of their boasting white brothers.

[President Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, April 1905, Deseret Sunday School Union, pg. 97.)

January 1843, Joseph Smith said:

“At five went to Mr. Sollars’ with Elders Hyde and Richards. Elder Hyde inquired the situation of the negro. I replied, they came into the world slaves mentally and physically. Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation. Go into Cincinnati or any city, and find an educated negro, who rides in his carriage, and you will see a man who has risen by the powers of his own mind to his exalted state of respectability. The slaves in Washington are more refined than many in high places, and the black boys will take the shine of many of those they brush and wait on. “Elder Hyde remarked, ‘Put them on the level, and they will rise above me.’ I replied, if I raised you to be my equal, and then attempted to oppress you, would you not be indignant and try to rise above me, as did Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and many others, who said I was a fallen Prophet, and they were capable of leading the people, although I never attempted to oppress them, but had always been lifting them up? Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization.” [History of the Church, 5:217-218]

Letter of the Prophet to John C. Bennett–On Bennett’s Correspondence Anent Slavery.


March 1842, Joseph Smith writes the following in a letter on the subject of slavery, “I have just been perusing your correspondence with Doctor Dyer, on the subject of American slavery, and the students of the Quincy Mission Institute, and it makes my blood boil within me to reflect upon the injustice, cruelty, and oppression of the rulers of the people. When will these things cease to be, and the Constitution and the laws again bear rule? I fear for my beloved country mob violence, injustice and cruelty appear to be the darling attributes of Missouri, and no man taketh it to heart! O tempora! O mores! What think you should be done?”

Your friend,

[History of the Church, 4:544]

Note:  O tempora! O mores!  is a Latin phrase meaning Alas for the times and the manners.

Once, as the Mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois he was told of a black man in Nauvoo named Anthony who had sold liquor on Sunday; which was a violation of the Nauvoo City Code. Mormon writer Mary Frost Adams tells us what happened:

“While he was acting as mayor of the city, a colored man named Anthony was arrested for selling liquor on Sunday, contrary to law. He pleaded that the reason he had done so was that he might raise the money to purchase the liberty of a dear child held as a slave in a Southern State. He had been able to purchase the liberty of himself and his wife and now wished to bring his little child to their new home. Joseph said, ‘I am sorry, Anthony, but the law must be observed and we will have to impose a fine.’ The next day Brother Joseph presented Anthony with a fine horse, directing him to sell it, and use the money obtained for the purchase of the child.” (Young Woman’s Journal, p.538)

(THE FOLLOWING IS NOT DOCUMENTED) The horse was Joseph’s prized white stallion, and was worth about $500; a huge sum at the time. With the money from the sale, Anthony was able to purchase his child out of slavery.

Millennial Star, February 15, 1851

Elder Orson Hyde:

We feel it to be our duty to define our position in relation to the subject of slavery. There are several in the Valley of the Salt Lake from the Southern States, who have their slaves with them. There is no law in Utah to authorize slavery, neither any to prohibit it. If the slave is disposed to leave his master, no power exist there, either legal or moral, that will prevent him. But if the slave chooses to remain with his master, none are allowed to interfere between the master and the slave. All the slaves that are there appear to be perfectly contented and satisfied.

When a man in the Southern states embraces our faith, the Church says to him, if your slaves wish to remain with you, and to go with you, put them not away; but if they choose to leave you, or are not satisfied to remain with you, it is for you to sell them, or let them go free, as your own conscience may direct you. The Church, on this point, assumes not the responsibility to direct. The laws of the land recognize slavery, we do not wish to oppose the laws of the country. If there is sin in selling a slave, let the individual who sells him bear that sin, and not the Church. Wisdom and prudence dictate to us, this position, and we trust our position will henceforth be understood.

Our counsel to all our ministers in the North and South is; to avoid contention upon the subject, and to oppose no institution which the laws of the country authorize; but to labor to bring men into the Church and Kingdom of God, and and teach them to do right, and honor their God in His creatures.

1879, Abraham Smoot (the owner of 2 slaves) and Zebedee Coltrin claim Joseph Smith instituted the Priesthood ban in the 1830s (L. John Nuttal diary, May 31, 1879, pg. 170, Special Collections, BYU). The Smoot affidavit, attested to by L. John Nuttall, appears to refer only to a policy concerning slaves, rather than to all Blacks, since it deals with the question of baptism and ordination of Blacks who had “masters”. This affidavit says that Smoot, “W.W. Patten, Warren Parish and Tomas B. Marsh were laboring in the Southern States in 1835 and 1836. There were Negroes who made application for baptism. And the question arose with them whether Negroes were entitled to hold the Priesthood. And…it was decided they would not confer the Priesthood until they had consulted with the Prophet Joseph; and subsequently they communicated with him. His decision was they were not entitled to the Priesthood, nor yet to be baptized without the consent of their Masters. In after years when I became acquainted with Joseph myself in Far West, about the year 1838, I received from Brother Joseph substantially the same instructions. It was on my application to him, what should be done with the Negro in the South, as I was preaching to them. He said I could baptize them by consent of their masters, but not to confer the Priesthood upon them” (quoted in Wm. E. Berret, Historian, BYU VP of CES, The Church and the Negroid People).

But Coltrin says the ban was to be universally applied to all blacks. In L. John Nuttal’s Journal (pages 290-293) we find, “Saturday, May 31st, 1879, at the house of President Abraham O. Smoot, Provo City, Utah, Utah County, at 5 O’Clock p.m. President John Taylor, Elders Brigham Young, Abraham O. Smoot, Zebedee Coltrin and L. John Nuttall met. Coltrin: I have heard him [Joseph Smith] say in public that no person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood.” According to Coltrin, “…Brother Joseph kind of dropped his head and rested it on his hand for a minute, and then said, ‘Brother Zebedee is right, for the spirit of the Lord saith the Negro has no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood.’… Brother Coltrin further said: ‘Brother (Elijah) Abel was ordained a Seventy because he had labored on the Temple…and when the Prophet Joseph learned of his lineage he was dropped from the Quorum, and another was put in his place. I was one of the 1st Seven Presidents of the Quorum of Seventy at the time he was dropped.'” Coltrin claims that Abel was dropped from the quorum of Seventy sometime before or during 1837 when Joseph Smith Jr. learned that Abel was Black. Apostle Joseph F. Smith successfully argues against this point on the grounds of Abel’s two additional certificates of ordination to the office of Seventy, one dated 1841 and the other from some time in the 1850s after Abel arrived in Salt Lake City. Coltrin’s memory is shown to be unreliable in at least two specifics: His claimed date (1834) for Joseph Smith’s announcing the alleged ban is impossible, since Coltrin himself ordained Abel a Seventy in 1836. Also, he incorrectly identifies which of the quorums of Seventy Abel was ordained to. Abel, on the other hand, claims that “the prophet Joseph told him he was entitled to the priesthood.” President John Taylor, on the other hand, said that Abel’s ordination as a Seventy “was allowed to remain”. The other element that makes Coltrin’s story suspect is the claim that Joseph didn’t know Abel was black. Anyone who has looked at a picture of Abel has easily identified him as a black man.

From the Council meeting minutes of 4 June 1879 (Bennion papers as quoted in Neither White nor Black, Bush and Maas, Signature Books, pg. 101, note 29.)

Five days after Coltrin related his account: “Brother Joseph F. Smith said he thought brother Coltrin’s memory was incorrect as to Brother Abel being dropped from the quorum of the Seventies, to which he belonged, as brother Abel had in his possession, (which also he had shown brother J. F. S.) his certificate as a Seventy, given to him in 1841, and signed by Elder Joseph Young,Sen., and A.P. Rockwood, and a still a later one given in this city. Brother Abel’s account of the persons who washed and anointed him in the Kirtland Temple also disagreed with the statement of Brother Coltrin, whilst he stated that brother Coltrin ordained him a Seventy. Brother Abel also states that the Prophet Joseph told him that he was entitled to the priesthood.”

3 thoughts on “Interesting Quotes from Church History”

  1. I appreciated the excerpts on his site. Read some old and gleaned some new for my resources file. I’ll be back. Until then, thanks.

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