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Lorenzo Snow is the “One” Man 

          Wilford Woodruff died 2 September 1898, leaving Lorenzo Snow as the senior apostle and the “one” holding the keys of sealing.  As he contemplated future events at that time including the reorganization of the First Presidency, “he had been feeling a little gloomy, and perhaps a little discouraged at the prospect, and the vast responsibility that naturally would fall upon him as President of the Twelve Apostles, and with this feeling he went before the Lord...  and called upon him to let light come to his mind.  His prayer was answered, the Lord manifesting unto him clearly what he should do; also in regard to the counselors he should select when he became President of the Church.”[1]  President Snow also related: “ the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.”[2]

            As Church President in 1899, Lorenzo Snow was adamant in his attempts to stop polygamous sealings, perhaps in response to outside critics who had heard rumors about continued polygamous activities.  He articulated: “I will say now before this people, that the principle of plural marriage is not practiced. I have never, in one single instance, allowed any person to have that ceremony performed, and there are no such marriages at the present time, nor has [sic] there been during the time of my presidency over this church.”[3]

          To the apostles in 1900, he “said that there were brethren who still seemed to have the idea that it was possible under his administration to obtain a plural wife and have her sealed to him. He authorized and requested the brethren present to correct this impression wherever they find it. He said emphatically that it could not be done.”[4]  One year later he spoke to Apostle Brigham Young, Jr. who recorded: 

          In city, talk with Pres. Snow on plural marriage.  He said there cannot be a plural marriage solemnized in this church without my consent and I have never given consent for this to be done since I became President of the Church.  God has removed this privilege from the people and until He restores it, I shall not consent to any man taking a plural wife.  It is just as fair for one as it is for all to go without; the business is taken out from our hands and we cannot fight [the] United States.  It is [for] them and God to settle this question.  We are not in it.  There is no such thing as men taking plural wives and keeping it secret.  It cannot be done.  Has any one of the apostles a right to seal plural wives to men by reason of former concessions made to them by the Presidency?  No sir.  Such right must come from me and no man shall be authorized by me to break the law of the Land.[5] 

          While these statements were technically accurate, there is limited evidence that President Snow was aware that his Counselors, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, had been specially commissioned by Wilford Woodruff to authorize plural marriages without notifying President Woodruff in every case.[6]  Concerning this arrangement, President Snow reportedly stated “that he would not interfere with Brother Woodruff’s and Cannon’s work.”[7]  Historian Kathryn M. Daynes concluded: “When Lorenzo Snow became President and said that he authorized no new plural marriage, couples still continued to enter polygamous relationships through local leaders who had been given blanket authority in Mexico, through apostles, or through counselors in the First Presidency.”[8]

          Nevertheless, when President Snow learned that Anthony Ivins was performing plural marriages, he instructed him to stop.  Ivins immediately obeyed informing the Juarez Stake High Council that President Snow wanted no more plural marriages performed anywhere, including Mexico.  Similarly, when President Snow learned that A.F. McDonald was also “sealing plural wives to men” in Mexico,[9] he sent Apostle John Henry Smith to him with the following message: “No man in this earth today is authorized to exercise the keys but myself, and if A.F. McDonald or any other man is doing it and you find out that fact, you are authorized to deal with him or have the church dignitaries of that section deal with him in his fellowship.”[10]  Elder Smith informed Brother Macdonald who straightway complied. 



[1]   Journal History of the Church, 13 September 1898, Council Minutes.  In J. Max Anderson, “Mormon Fundamentalism,” section: Lorenzo Snow.  Also in I Know That My Redeemer Lives, 80.

[2]   LeRoi C. Snow, “Remarkable Manifestation to Lorenzo Snow;” Deseret News (Saturday, 2 April 1938), Church News Department Section, 3, 8; see also Improvement Era, September 1933, “An Experience of My Fathers” No. 11.  I Know That My Redeemer Lives, 76.

[3]   Eugene Young, “Revival of the Mormon Problem,” North American Review 168 (April 1899): 484-85.  In Quinn, “New Plural Marriages,” 69 and fn 240.

[4]   Journal History 11 January 1900.  In Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Mormon Polygamy 1890-1906,” 1992, 204-05.

[5]   Brigham Young, Jr., Journal, 13 March 1901; italics added.  In Quinn, “New Plural Marriages,” 72 and  Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 158.

[6]   Kenneth L. Cannon II, wrote: “Only statements made by Matthias Cowley in his 1911 trial for membership give any indication that Snow might have allowed some plural marriages to be performed.”  (Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Mormon Polygamy 1890-1906,” 1992, 205.)

[7]   Recounted by Matthias F. Cowley before the Quorum of the Twelve, 10 May 1911 (Collier and Knutson, Trials of John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley).  See also Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 184-88.

[8]   Daynes, More Wives than One, 209. 

[9]   John Henry Smith Diary, 27 May 1901.  White, Diaries of John Henry Smith, 485.  Also in Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 157.

[10]   Testimony of John Henry Smith in Smoot Case. In Quinn, “New Plural Marriages,” 89.