The Rough Draft of the Manifesto

By September 24, 2018

The George Q. Cannon Diaries, recently published by the Church Historian’s Press, reveal a wealth of information about nineteenth-century Mormonism, politics, and polygamy. The journal entry that I wanted confirmed was from September 24, 1890, which featured a copy of the “original” or “first draft” of the Woodruff Manifesto, before church leaders and lawyers added edits.

Historians have known for some time that Wilford Woodruff wrote an initial draft of the Manifesto, but now we also know what happened that day. After Woodruff presented what he had written on the morning of the 24th, George Reynolds, Charles Penrose, and Jon Winder reviewed the document to be “arranged” for presentation to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and publication in the press.

At 2:30 PM, the First Presidency (Woodruff, Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith) made “slight alterations.” I’m fascinated by the fact that Cannon kept a copy of the original in his diary,” because it is frequently the case that when important documents are framed there is a disposition to attribute their authorship to one and another, and I have been often credited with saying and doing things which I did not say nor do.” In short, he didn’t want anyone mistaking that he had written the document. He mentioned that at least one change suggested was surrounding the word “permission” because it may have thrown doubt onto the validity of marriages already entered into.

The LDS First Presidency in 1890 (Photo from 1894)

The last portion of Cannon’s entry before copying the original is as follows:  ”

This whole matter has been at President Woodruff’s own instance. He has felt strongly impelled to do what he has, and he has spoken with great plainness to the brethren in regard to the necessity of something of this kind being done. He has stated that the Lord had made it plain to him that this was his duty, and he felt perfectly clear in his mind that it was the right thing.” (Cannon Diary)


“It is reported by the press of the nation that the Utah Commission in their recent report to Congress state that the Mormons are still carrying on the plural marriages in our temples or otherwise; and that ………. marriages have been attended to during the past month; and the press throughout the land is stirred up bitterly against us, and are making many false accusations against us for political effect, to take away our rights as citizens. We wish here to state to the government and people of the nation that these charges are false; and also to say, that as soon as the Edmunds-Tucker law was passed President John Taylor gave orders for all plural marriages to cease, that no plural marriages should be performed in our temples; and further, that he took steps to not only obey the law himself but to have the people, and we have endeavored to carry out the same principle since his death. There has never been any plural marriages in any of our temples since the passage of that law, by our consent or to our knowledge. And inasmuch as the nation has passed a law forbidding plural marriages we feel to obey that law, and leave the event in the hands of God. We have not been teaching neither are we now teaching that principle to the church or the world since the passage of that law; and wherever any member of the church has taught it he has been reproved for the same. Therefore we make this public declaration that we are neither teaching nor practicing the doctrine of polygamy. And while we have been accused of preaching it in our public sermons there is no sentence which we have uttered since the enactment of that law that can rightly be construed as teaching that doctrine. Our teachings to the members of the church have been to obey the law. And in one instance where a man testified that he had married a plural wife in the endowment house, this marriage was not with our permission or knowledge, neither could we ever learn who performed the ceremony; but in consequence of this testimony we had the endowment house taken down.

As to man’s religious belief, that is something with which we have nothing to do; we can deal only with their acts – a doctrine held by the highest court of the nation. Our religious faith is based upon the Bible. We believe fully in all the principles taught by Jesus Christ and the apostles, and we teach no gospel or religion but that taught by them. And we now publicly declare that our advice to the Latter-day Saints is to obey the law of the land, leaving the nation responsible for their acts in this respect.

We are misrepresented by the press and those who are opposed to us. It is reported that the Utah Commission has reported that there have been some 80 cases of plural marriages in the last month. There is no truth in those charges.”

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives Politics Public History Research Tools


  1. I’ve never seen this before. Was he seriously claiming that the Saints had ceased plural marriages in 1887 after the adoption of the Edmunds-Tucker Act? If so, wasn’t this full on liar liar pants on fire territory?

    Comment by Kevin Barney — September 24, 2018 @ 11:54 am

  2. I think so, KB. I also think that’s where the legal language embedded in the published Manifesto came from.

    Comment by J Stuart — September 27, 2018 @ 11:19 am

  3. I’m mostly commenting to subscribe, but I did want to add:

    My understanding is that the language is all about plausible deniability. That is, the 1st presidency told the apostles NOT to seek permission to perform plural marriages, so they (the 1P) could claim “there has never been any plural marriages in any of our temples since the passage of that law, by our consent or to our knowledge” as written above.

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 1, 2018 @ 12:05 pm


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