Year
1885

Mormon president goes underground

John Taylor, the president of the Mormon Church, goes “underground” to avoid arrest and continue resisting federal demands for reforms within the community of Latter-day Saints.

A former Methodist minister, Taylor converted to Mormonism in 1836, not long after Joseph Smith founded the religion in New York. Taylor quickly became one of Smith’s closest confidants and supporters, and he remained loyal to the controversial prophet and his church through years of persecution. When Smith was assassinated in Illinois in 1844 by an angry mob, Taylor was by his side and suffered several wounds during the attack. He escaped serious injury because a heavy pocket watch stopped a potentially fatal bullet.

After Smith’s death, Taylor became an equally loyal follower of the new church president, Brigham Young. Taylor led one group of Mormon emigrants westward to Salt Lake City where Young was building a thriving theocratic empire. In Utah, he continued to ascend in the church hierarchy, and when Young died in 1877, Taylor took over leadership of the church.

Taylor’s tenure as the leader of the Latter-day Saints was marked by growing tensions between the church and the federal government. The Mormon practice of polygamy became a lightning rod for federal criticism, yet this issue reflected a larger struggle regarding the church’s power over its members and the future state of Utah. Although the Mormons treasured the freedom to develop their new society free from outside interference, they also sought the benefits of being a part of the United States. Inevitably, these two goals conflicted. In 1851, the Mormons won territorial status for Utah, but the government remained suspicious of Taylor’s theocratic society. To the federal government, the Mormon political and economic domination of the region violated the separation of church and state. By attacking polygamy, federal authorities hoped they could also undermine the secular power of the church.

Taylor strongly opposed the federal attempts to undermine the Mormon theocracy. He believed the practice of polygamy was divinely ordained and state or federal anti-polygamy laws should not be allowed to prevail. Determined to assert the primacy of national secular law over the Mormon theocracy, U.S. marshals began arresting Mormons for practicing polygamy. Vulnerable to arrest themselves, Taylor and his leading administrators went underground on February 1, 1885. For the next two-and-a-half years, Taylor conducted church business from a series of secret hideouts in Salt Lake City.

Taylor’s underground administration managed to avoid arrest, but the federal actions were steadily undermining church power and influence. Grudgingly, in 1887, Taylor assented to one concession: making polygamy illegal in a proposed Utah state constitution. Congress found Taylor’s proposed compromise inadequate and rejected the petition for statehood. Taylor died that same year, still an exile in his own home. For several more years, the Mormon leadership continued the fight, but federal pressure eventually became so great that in 1890 Taylor’s successor publicly rejected polygamy. The theocratic government of the Latter-day Saints had been tamed, and Utah achieved statehood in 1896.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Portuguese king and heir assassinated

On February 1, 1908, King Carlos I of Portugal and his eldest son, Luis Filipe, are assassinated by revolutionaries while riding in an open carriage through the streets of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. Carlos ascended to the Portuguese throne in 1889 after the death of his ...read more

Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran

On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in triumph after 15 years of exile. The shah and his family had fled the country two weeks before, and jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were eager to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government under Khomeini’s ...read more

Oxford Dictionary debuts

On this day in 1884, the first portion, or fascicle, of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language, is published. Today, the OED is the definitive authority on the meaning, pronunciation and history of ...read more

Operation Plan 34A commences

U.S. and South Vietnamese naval forces initiate Operation Plan (Oplan) 34A, which calls for raids by South Vietnamese commandos, operating under American orders, against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations. Although American forces were not directly involved in the ...read more

Nixon announces his candidacy for president

Richard M. Nixon announces his candidacy for the presidency. Most observers had written off Nixon’s political career eight years earlier, when he had lost to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election. Two years after losing to Kennedy, Nixon ran for governor of California and lost in ...read more

NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk posts 103rd shutout

On this day in 1970, goaltender Terry Sawchuk earns his 103rd shutout, setting the NHL record for most regular-season shutouts that stood for nearly four decades. Terrance Gordon Sawchuk was born December 28, 1929, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Nicknamed “Ukey” for his Ukrainian ...read more

Serial killer Ted Bundy strikes again

On this day in 1974, University of Washington student Lynda Ann Healy disappears from her apartment and is killed by Ted Bundy. The murder marked Bundy’s entry into the ranks of serial killers as he had recently attacked his first victim, Sharon Clarke, in her Seattle home. By ...read more

U.N. condemns PRC for aggression

By a vote of 44 to 7, the United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution condemning the communist government of the People’s Republic of China for acts of aggression in Korea. It was the first time since the United Nations formed in 1945 that it had condemned a nation as an ...read more

Texas secedes

On this day in 1861, Texas becomes the seventh state to secede from the Union when a state convention votes 166 to 8 in favor of the measure. The Texans who voted to leave the Union did so over the objections of their governor, Sam Houston.A staunch Unionist,Houston’s election in ...read more