April 20, 1904
Mr. Roberts is a resident of Centerville, Utah (north of Salt Lake about 10 miles). He was born in England, but came to the United States as a boy and has lived most of his life in Utah. He is currently one of the seven "first presidents of seventy" and has been such since 1888. He is also an assistant historian of the Church (there are 4 assistants total, with Anthon H. Lund being the Historian), and he assists President Joseph F. Smith in the organization of young men in the Church.
He was elected as a member of the constitutional convention for the State of Utah in 1894.
Mr. Roberts has authored several books, among which are the following: Biography of John Taylor; A New Witness for God; Outlines of Ecclesiastical History; The Gospel; The Missouri Persecutions; The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo; Documentary History of the Church (two volumes so far); Succession in the Presidency; and a pamphlet called 'Mormonism.'
Mr. Roberts has been married 3 times: first in 1877, next in 1886, and finally to his third wife in 1890. The last two marriages were to plural wives. The last marriage took place in a house of First Street in Salt Lake during April, 1890, and was performed by Daniel H. Wells - there were no witnesses.
Mr. Tayler. So far as the control of the membership of the church is concerned, as a church organization, where do the first presidents of the seventies rank as respects the apostles, for instance?Commentary: This section of testimony is actually straight-forward for any current member of the Church. It shows the position of authority of the presidents of Seventy within the Church hierarchy.
Mr. Roberts. They rank next to the apostles.
Mr. Tayler. What, if any, relation exists between the first presidents or the presidents of the seventies and the stake presidents?
Mr. Roberts. No relation whatever, further than a common relation of brotherhood.
Mr. Tayler. The first presidents, therefore, have no authority over the stake presidents?
Mr. Roberts. None at all.
Mr. Tayler. Nor the stake presidents over the presidents of the seventies, except as they would have over them in their individual capacity?
Mr. Roberts. As members.
In 1895, Mr. Roberts ran for a Congressional seat in Utah and was defeated by a Mr. Allen. During this time, he admits to having differences with Church authorities over his involvement with politics. Here is his description of the events of that time:
"Previous to my becoming a candidate for member of the constitutional convention, there had some unpleasantness arisen about men in high church standing having anything to do in politics, and the presidency of the church at that time decided that members of the quorum of apostles, members of my own council, the presidents of the seventy, and the presidents of the stakes, and the bishops of the wards, would better stay out of politics, and to that I consented or agreed. But during my brief absence from the State in the fall of 1894, I was nominated by our county convention to be a member of the constitutional convention, and on my return, being informed of the nomination, in conversation with some friends I stated that it was a nomination I could not accept owing to the previous arrangement that men of my standing in the church should not take part in politics.
"But I was informed that during my absence that order had been somewhat changed, at least, and that it was thought there would be too many men of standing in the community eliminated from so important a gathering as a constitutional convention, and that it had been decided better that liberty be granted men of the character I have described to enter into politics, and at least to accept these nominations. I inquired of the authorities of the church if that was correct, and was informed that it was.
"In 1894, in company with Mr. Rawlins, I stumped the State and was elected to the convention. ... In the midst of the campaign, at a meeting of the priesthood of the church in Salt Lake City, Mr. [Joseph F.] Smith made some reference to Moses Thatcher and myself ... as having accepted these nominations, which would take us away from our ecclesiastical duties, without consultation with any of the apostles or the first presidency; and his remarks were in the nature of a complaint of that conduct. Whereupon a number of men who had heard these remarks took it upon themselves to circulate the idea that Mr. Thatcher and myself were out of harmony with the church authorities, and that it would be agreeable to them to have us defeated. And very naturally we protested. I protested, and I think Mr. Thatcher also protested, against the action of these lesser authorities of the church making use of the casual remarks of Mr. Smith. The country was considerably agitated. Newspapers took it up; and that agitation resulted in the reconvening of the Democratic convention for the purpose of defining the attitude that the Democrats would take in that issue [the alleged exercise of religious influence in a political contest]."
The Chairman. Then you made this inquiry of the first presidency [to accept the nomination for the Constitutional Convention]?
Mr. Roberts. Yes; one of the presidents of the church. I asked him if the rule with which I was acquainted had been altered, and he informed me that it had been. This was in 1894.
The Chairman. Who constituted the first presidency at that time?
Mr. Roberts. Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith.
The Chairman. Of which one did you inquire?
Mr. Roberts. Mr. Smith.
The Chairman. You have stated that your defeat would be "agreeable to them." Whom do you mean by them?
Mr. Roberts. I mean that the parties who carried this report from the priesthood meeting represented that it would be agreeable to the first presidency and the apostles for us to be defeated. It was out of these circumstances that the friction counsel refers to arose between the authorities and myself.
Mr. Tayler. In that convention and through that campaign you, in very bitter terms, inveighed against this intrusion of the church into politics?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir. I should like to disclaim any bitterness in the matter.
Mr. Tayler. I do not want to characterize improperly the language that you used vigorously and most earnestly then?
Mr. Roberts. Yes.
Mr. Tayler. So vigorously and so earnestly that the higher authorities of the church assumed a similar attitude toward you - of vigorous and earnest opposition to your position?
Mr. Robert. I think that is right.
Commentary: Short summary - Mr. Roberts was upset that he was told one thing by Joseph F. Smith in private, and then heard of a completely different opinion from him concerning his political involvement. This upset him. The subsequent "vigorous and earnest" expressions, from both sides, I'm sure did little to diffuse this situation.
I'm putting this next section of testimony in because I find it interesting in light of the history of the times. I wonder if this was a normal reaction for the people of this time.
Senator Overman. Was it necessary to get the consent of any of the authorities of the church to marry a plural wife?Commentary: This section of testimony speaks to the necessary authority: Just someone who has been given the authority to marry. And, this section speaks to how Mr. Roberts informed his two other wives of a new marriage: he didn't. This marriage was kept a secret for some two or three years from these wives. There appears to be a time when friends of Mr. Roberts knew of the marriage even before his other wives (if I'm reading the testimony correctly). I find this humorous only because of a hypothetical Q&A between Mr. Roberts and the other wives. "And, when were you going to tell us you got married again?"
Mr. Roberts. It was necessary to get those who were understood to hold the authority to perform the ceremony.
Senator Overman. Did your first wife or your second wife consent to your marrying the third wife?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
Senator Overman. Did they protest against it?
Mr. Roberts. I did not hear the question.
Senator Overman. Was there any protest on their part?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
The Chairman. Did they know of it at the time?
Mr. Roberts. Not at the time.
Mr. Tayler. When did they learn of it?
Mr. Roberts. I cannot answer that question.
Mr. Tayler. I mean about when - how long afterwards?
Mr. Roberts. Two or three years afterwards, I think.
Mr. Tayler. Did anybody know about it, so far as you know, until several years had elapsed?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
Senator Beveridge. How is that? I understand you to say, sir, that your marriage to your third wife was not known to any of your wives for three years.
Mr. Roberts. No; I cannot say when they knew it.
Senator Beveridge. Well, for a considerable period?
Mr. Roberts. Hardly that. There were a number of our friends who knew it.
Senator Beveridge. But not your other two wives?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
The Chairman. Why did you conceal this third marriage from your other wives?
Mr. Roberts. Chiefly for the purpose of relieving them from any embarrassment should the discovery of the marriage by made. Of course we understood that the marriage was illegal.
Senator Beveridge. Then, how could they be embarrassed?
Mr. Roberts. If called upon to testify, they would not wish to testify against me.
Senator Beveridge. Oh!
Mr. Roberts. If was known to a number of our friends I think shortly afterwards - that is, a few months afterwards. But it was not generally known until some time in 1895 or 1896, perhaps.
Senator Dubois. Could you, occupying the position which you did in the church, take a plural wife without the knowledge of the authorities?Previously in the testimony of B.H. Roberts, this piece about Daniel H. Wells was given. I am inserting it here so as to give clarity to the ecclesiastical position of Mr. Wells in the Church hierarchy.
Mr. Roberts. I did do so, with the exception of Mr. Wells.
Senator Dubois. Mr. Wells was one of the authorities?
Mr. Roberts. He was.
Senator Dubois. Did Mr. Wells represent the authorities?
Mr. Roberts. I think likely he did.
Senator Dubois. Then you took your plural wife with the knowledge and consent of the authorities, did you not?
Mr. Roberts. I did not know of any of them having any knowledge of it except Mr. Wells.
Senator Dubois. Mr. Wells, as I said awhile ago, represented the authorities, did he not?
Mr. Roberts. He was one of the authorities.
Senator Dubois. What was his position at that time?
Mr. Roberts. He was councilor to the twelve apostles.
Senator Beveridge. To get to the point of Senator Dubois's question, do you know of anything that has come to your knowledge that leads you now to understand that Mr. Wells, when he learned of this contemplated marriage, told the other authorities, of whom he was one of the councilors?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
Mr. Tayler. Who was Daniel H. Wells? What was his position?Commentary: This discussion is focused on the authorities of the church and their knowledge, or lack thereof, concerning plural marriages. This goes directly to a point of complaint that the authorities of the church continue to encourage plural marriages either by not stopping them or by participating or officiating at them. Apparently no one outside of Daniel H. Wells knew that a first president of the seventy had taken a plural wife. This event did not come to the attention of any other Church authorities. I suppose that the men in authority do not speak to each other about these events??? If this is true, then there is a very real possibility for a great many plural marriages to take place without their knowledge. I cannot tell if this decision to keep the knowledge is calculated or situational.
Mr. Roberts. Daniel H. Wells at that time was sustained as councilor to the apostles. He had been a councilor to President Brigham Young, and was continued in that capacity - that is, a councilor to the twelve apostles, who were during an interim the presiding authorities of the church.
Mr. Tayler. Now, your language is somewhat guarded in that respect, and no doubt it is in order to be accurate about it, and not for any other reason. Do you mean he was not what we now understand to be one of the councilors to the first presidency?
Mr. Roberts. No; he was not, because there was no first presidency in existence at that time.
Mr. Tayler. Exactly. But his status was akin to that of a councilor to the first presidency?
Mr. Roberts. Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler. Had he been a councilor to the first president immediately preceding?
Mr. Robers. Yes.
Mr. Tayler. Was he a councilor to the next first president?
Mr. Roberts. No.
Mr. Tayler. The first president himself selects the councilors, I believe?
Mr. Roberts. He does.
Mr. Tayler. Daniel H. Wells had been for many years a very prominent official in the Mormon Church?
Mr. Roberts. Yes, sir.
Mr. Roberts is then asked about the plural marriage ceremony, and he talks about it, but only in a general way.
Mr. Tayler. Was the ceremony a simple ceremony, whereby -Commentary: OK, that's not much, but it is something. If correct, this means that the ceremony performed in the home, is the same ceremony performed in the temple and the same as the one performed in the Endowment House (before it was torn down). Nothing specific is mentioned, but it is interesting to know that he believed they were essentially the same in substance.
Mr. Roberts. I understood it was the usual ceremony used by the Mormon Church in the temples.
Mr. Tayler. Was it the same ceremony, practically, as that by which you married Celia Dibble?
Mr. Roberts. Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler. Was it the same as that by which you married your first wife?
Mr. Roberts. It was, as I understood it.
Mr. Tayler is curious as to why Mr. Roberts would violate a law of the land after knowing of the laws Congress passed, and the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States. Why did he feel himself "called upon to violate the law of the land":
"In explanation of that conduct I wish to say that from my boyhood I had been taught the rightfulness of plural marriage. I believed that doctrine and believed it to be a commandment of God. I knew that the law of God was in conflict with the statutes enacted by Congress. I regarded it as binding upon my conscience to obey God rather than man, and hence I accepted that doctrine and practiced it; that is all."
Of course, he cannot get away with this statement without a few questions from the committee members.
The Chairman. This revelation or this manifesto of 1890 you think was inspired by God?Commentary: Not a revelation, but inspired (in a way) by circumstances surrounding the Church in 1890; and then implemented as a Church policy by President Woodruff. The Senators were trying to have him define the Manifesto as he had hinted - not a revelation, and not completely inspired. He didn't want any part of that; although, he answer was not as strong and confident as I would have supposed it should have been. I guess it stands to reason that if you break the laws of man and the Manifesto by living with polygamous wives, your opinion of the Manifesto may be a little different than others as to its inspiration/revelatory nature.
Mr. Roberts. Yes; in a way.
Senator Overman. You say the manifesto was a revelation of God?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
Senator Overman. What do you mean by being inspired of God?
Mr. Roberts. I believe that a revelation from God, of course, is a direct, uncolored communication from the Divine to man. I believe that a man may be an inspired man, but yet more or less of the human characteristics of the man may enter into his actions. I believe, however, that this manifesto was an official act of the church, that the church was perfectly competent to pass it, and I believe it binding upon the members of the church.
Senator Overman. That it was a human institution, rather than from God?
Mr. Roberts. I would not like to say it was not inspired of God. I rather think that President Woodruff, to meet the hard conditions confronting him, was inspired of the spirit of the Lord to take that course.
Recess for lunch is taken from 11:50 AM to 2:00 PM.
To start out, Mr. Robert is asked to define the basic duties of a Seventy.
Mr. Tayler. What are the seventies?Commentary: The Seventies are no longer a position that lay members of the Church in a Stake are called to (this was discontinued in 1986 - check wikipedia for more information and history). I think the use of the word propaganda is old for today, but I assume it was perfect for that time.
Mr. Roberts. The seventies constitute in the church with the twelve apostles what is recognized as the foreign ministry of the church. They are the propaganda of the church.
In further explanation I will say that the quorums consist of 70 persons, and over each quorum there is what we call a council of 7 presidents. Then the first quorum, organized in the same way, has a general jurisdiction over the entire body of seventies.
Senator Overman. How many seventies are there?
Mr. Roberts. There are about 145 quorums. All of the quorums, however, are not full. We estimate, perhaps, that there are between nine and ten thousand men in the body.
Mr. Tayler then directs the questioning back to the subject of the Manifesto and its perceived authority within the Church. It makes sense that this would be revisited because there just wasn't enough time before lunch to fully get a sense of his understanding along these lines.
Mr. Tayler. Now, Mr. Roberts, you have characterized this manifesto of 1890 in such a way as to leave the impression upon my mind that you would not call it a specific and direct revelation, such as other revelations that the people of your church believe in. Was that inference of mine justified by your statement?Commentary: This appears to be the understanding - in more detail - of B.H. Roberts concerning the manifesto. Earlier he stated that he wouldn't call it revelation, but rather, inspiration. Here he confirms that previous statement and says the inspiration was in the form of an administrative act. I won't touch this set of the discussion anymore, but rather let the words stand for themselves.
Mr. Roberts. I think it was.
Mr. Tayler. Then, will you define the character that you attribute to that manifesto as a revelation or inspiration, its origin and its force?
Mr. Roberts. I regard the manifesto as an administrative act of the president of the church, accepted by the church, and of binding force upon its members. But I regard it as an administrative act which President Woodruff, holding in his own hands the direct authority controlling that particular matter - that is, the matter of marriages - had a perfect right to make, and the acceptance of that action by the church makes that a positive binding law upon the church.
Mr. Tayler. And those who do not obey it are subject to the pains and penalties such as a church under its discipline may inflict upon its members who disobey it?
Mr. Roberts. Yes, sir.
He is asked once again to explain his viewpoint with keeping the manifesto and why he is breaking a law of the church. Like the previous witnesses that have testified before him, his response is extremely similar:
"... the part of it relating to plural marriages prohibits the bringing into existence of those relations. In the other case the relations exist and men in my status are confronted by a very awkward and trying situation. Of course, we know that our lives are in violation of the law of the land, and by this action of the church they are brought into violation of the rules and law of the church, and yet there are moral obligations and responsibilities that we feel, in our relations with our wives, we cannot easily - at least I cannot - set aside. Consequently, under those trying circumstances, I presume that others, with myself, are doing the best we can to meet what we regard as our moral obligations to those families. That is my status on the subject at least."
This ends the direct examination by Mr. Tayler. Mr. Van Cott then proceeds with the cross-examination.
Mr. Van Cott asks about the conflict between Church authorities and Mr. Roberts. Mr. Roberts is given a chance to explain everything he wants to, in detail, concerning this conflict.
"The commencement of the difficulty arose out of the remarks of Mr. Joseph F. Smith at a priesthood meeting in which he made complaint that Mr. Thatcher and I had accepted nominations for political office, which would take us from our religious duties, without leave of absence or without obtaining the consent to be released from our religious duties by the first presidency or any of the twelve.
"In explanation of their insistence that that is what we ought to have done, they made declarations in the press and out of that, as I say, grew the general excitement of the campaign. After the close of the campaign they proposed to reduce to writing, to a written rule, the idea or the doctrine that men upon whose whole time the church had a claim should obtain leave of absence or permission in that sense to engage either in business that would take them away from their religious duties or in receiving political nominations.
"I was unwilling at first to subscribe to that rule, for the reason that it had been charged in the prologue or preface to the Democratic declaration of principles that through that means they might seek to control the political affairs of the State. It was charged, I think, in speeches and in the papers, that they might give their consent, for instance, to one man to participate in politics and withhold it from another, or the people might be led to interpret their willingness to excuse one man from religious duties to mean that they favored both his nomination and his election and in this way bring their influence to bear upon the politics of the State.
"It was upon that point especially that I made my contest against them. In the course of several meetings with them for the purpose of discussing these matters, however, they satisfied me that it was not their intention to control the politics of the State, but they sought only the management of their own ecclesiastical affairs; and in consequence of being convinced that that was their purpose I joined with them in signing the rule that hereafter men should not accept positions of any kind that would take them from the performance of their ecclesiastical duties without the consent of their superiors."
Senator Bailey then dissects the political rule of the Church, trying to determine if any church or body of men, ought to hold sway over citizens of the country who want to run for political office or who are appointed to political office. Here's a sampling:
"I should regard any organization in this country - religious, industrial, or of any other character - as not to be tolerated if it teaches that those who profess to follow it cannot perform the duties of a good citizen. You are a man of great intelligence and you are thoroughly familiar with the subject, and I would like to hear what explanation - you can give as good a one as any man connected with the church - they have for declaring that a man cannot be a good Christian and a good citizen at the same time, in effect.
"I never like to see a man's religion and patriotism in conflict. That is the embarrassing thing to me."
Both Mr. Roberts and Senator Bailey go back and forth for a few minutes on this. My take on this is that Senator Bailey doesn't believe Mr. Roberts fully understands what this political rule of the Church actually requires of its leadership. Mr. Roberts cannot get Senator Bailey to comprehend that it is merely the Church trying to manage its leadership.
Mr. Tayler asks a few more questions, and the story he paints here with his questions is quite interesting with regards to possible Church interference in the politics of the State.
Mr. Tayler. Now, in the campaign of 1895, feelings ran very high on the subject of alleged church interference in politics, did it not?Commentary: Wow, if the Church was engaged in that, I would consider it a very serious charge. Mr. Lyman disclaimed the statement, so apparently nothing came of this. I wonder if this was just a frivolous statement made by an anti-Mormon, or if there was actually some sliver of truth in the statement.
Mr. Roberts. Yes.
Mr. Tayler. Very high. And doubtless there were a good many inflammatory and perhaps ill-considered statements made by those on either side of that question?
Mr. Roberts. I think that is true.
Mr. Tayler. You yourself talked rather heatedly on the subject, did you not?
Mr. Roberts. I think I did, sometimes.
Mr. Tayler. Do you remember the statement that was made during that campaign that Apostle [Francis M.] Lyman had attended a meeting of his people somewhere outside of Salt Lake City, elsewhere in Utah, in which he urged them to divide up - part of them to go on one side, part of them to the other side, and part of them to stay in between - so that they might switch at will from one side to the other?
Mr. Roberts. My recollection is that such a charge was made against Mr. Lyman, which, however, in justice to him, I ought to say he disclaimed.
The cross has now completed, and so the Chairman decides it is time for him to take over. He then submits his usual "tell me about the Mormon temple ceremony" line of questions to Mr. Roberts for answers.
The Chairman. Do you know, Mr. Roberts, of any change in the ceremony performed in the endowment house, and as it is performed today in the temple?Commentary: Questions asked and answered. I cringed only when the reference to the LDS ceremonies were "analogous" to the Masonic fraternity.
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
The Chairman. The ceremony is the same. Now, will you state to the committee what the ceremony was, or is, as nearly as you can?
Mr. Roberts. Well, the ceremonies consist of what would be considered a series of ceremonies, I take it, of which I only have a general impression.
The Chairman. You have something more than a general impression in your own case?
Mr. Roberts. No; I think not.
The Chairman. Can you tell the committee any portion of that ceremony?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
The Chairman. Why not?
Mr. Roberts. Well, for one reason, I do not feel at liberty to do so.
The Chairman. Why not?
Mr. Roberts. Because I consider myself in trust in relation to those matters, and I do not feel at liberty to make any disclosures in relation to them.
The Chairman. It was then a secret?
Mr. Roberts. Yes.
The Chairman. Does this religious denomination have, as one of its ceremonies, secret obligations or covenants?
Mr. Roberts. I think they could not be properly called secrets. Of course they are common to all worthy members of the church, and generally known by them.
The Chairman. Well, secret from the world?
Mr. Roberts. Secret from the world.
The Chairman. The obligations and covenants, whatever they are, then, you are not at liberty to disclose?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir. I would be led to regard those obligations as similar to those who perhaps have passed through Masonic fraternities, or are members of Masonic fraternities.
The Chairman. Then your church organization in that particular is a sort of Masonic fraternity?
Mr. Roberts. It is analogous, perhaps, in some of its features.
The Chairman. The reason you have assigned is accepted. The obligation, whatever it is, taken in the endowment house, is such that you do not feel at liberty to disclose it?
Mr. Roberts. That is right.
The Chairman. Do you recall whether any penalty was imposed upon a person who should disclose the covenants?
Mr. Roberts. No, sir.
The Chairman. You do not remember?
Mr. Roberts. Beyond the disfavor and distrust of his fellows.
There is more questioning on the ceremony, but Mr. Roberts continues to state that he cannot reveal what the Chairman wants to know. In the end, it is finally dropped.
He is allowed to answer a general question on the content of the endowment ceremony, which I think is worthy to be included here.
Mr. Worthington. I would like to ask, Mr. Roberts, whether this obligation or ceremony to which you refer, in the endowment house, relates entirely to things spiritual, or whether it relates to things temporal also?
The Chairman. Would it not be better, Mr. Worthington, to let him state what the obligation is?
Mr. Worthington. Yes, so far as I am concerned, I would very much prefer it; but I understand the suggestion by Senator Pettus was that he was interpreting that which he would not state. Of course I do not know anything more about this than the members of the committee do, but I think it might very well be that a witness might be allowed to state, and might properly say, that he would answer here as to anything that related to any temporal affairs, but as to things which related to matters between him and his God, or which be conceived to be between him and his God, he would not answer here or anywhere else, and that would not be an interpretation, but would simply be taking the protection which I understand the law gives to every man - that as to things which do relate entirely to religious matters, they are matters which he has a right to keep within his own breast.
Mr. Roberts. I regard them as relating to things spiritual, absolutely.
Commentary: That was a good explanation - a bunch of interpretation or rights and what could/could not be said with limited information. In the end, Mr. Roberts was allowed to give his opinion and short interpretation of what the Senators were not allowed to see. I wonder if the committee dismissed it all because they could determine if his conclusion was valid or not due to a lack of source material to judge from.