THE ORIGINS OF MORMON RACISM:
AN ACCOUNT OF ITS THEOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL ROOTS, 1830-1844

Charles M. Turner
HS 605C
29 July 1979

On June 9, 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reversed its
long-standing practice of withholding the L.D.S. priesthood from Negroes. On this
date, the Church-owned Deseret News printed the following announcement from the
First Presidency of the Church:

. . . we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these,
our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the upper room
of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.

He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed
that the long-promised day has come when every faithful,
worthy man in the church may receive the holy priesthood,
with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with
his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including
the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male
members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood
without regard for race or color.1

This announcement represented a sharp departure from traditional Mormon
doctrine and practice. Only twelve years earlier, in 1966, one of the Twelve
Apostles of the Mormon Church had stated with assurance that Negroes were
disqualified from holding the L.D.S. priesthood:

Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no
circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority
from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27.) The gospel message
of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them (Moses 7:
8, 12, 22) ....

The present status of the negro rests purely and simply
on the foundation of pre-existence . . . . he is receiving
here what he merits as a result of the long pre-mortal
probation in the presence of the Lord.

The negroes are not equal with other races where the
receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned,
particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that
flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man's origin.2

Until the receipt of the revelation announced on June 9, 1978, apologists
for the long-time Mormon practice of denying the L.D.S. priesthood to Negroes
had argued that a black skin was "the mark of Cain," and a punishment
for lack of valiance in one's pre-human existence.3 However, as the
institutional barriers to black equality gradually were dismantled in the
years following the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education school
desegregation decision, the L.D.S. Church became increasingly conspicuous as
a remaining bastion of discrimination. Pressure to abandon discrimination
grew, both within and outside the Church.4 Defenders of the status quo
maintained that the Church's practice could not be changed without a new
revelation, but no Mormon president had received one since Wilford Woodruff's
"Manifesto" ended polygamy in 1890.5 Finally, in the summer of 1978, came
the momentous announcement that President Spencer W. Kimball had received just
such a revelation.

How did the Mormon Church become enmeshed in such a doctrinal web, which
only a revelation could unravel? And how did a church with such a strong
missionary emphasis come to embrace a teaching which excluded one of the world's
three major racial groups from participation in some of its foundational
ecclesiastical rites? The answers to these questions are found in Mormonism's
early years and revolve around the life and thought of Joseph Smith, Jr., the
Church's first Prophet, Revelator, and Seer.

Mormonism was born in upstate New York amidst the religious revivals of
the early nineteenth century. At once a product of revivalist enthusiasm and
a reaction against certain of revivalism's excesses, Mormonism shared with
revivalism an emphasis upon individual religious experience and Biblical
literalism, while shunning much of its emotionalism.6 Much like their
contemporaries, the Cambellites, the early Mormons emphasized reasoned assent
to plain doctrine coupled with a recovery of primitive Christianity's purity.
But unlike the followers of Alexander Campbell, who insisted that the canon was
closed and that revelation had ceased at the death of the apostles. Mormons
held that restoration of the primitive purity of Christianity could only be
accomplished through ongoing revelation.7

Mormonism, then, is a religion of latter-day revelation. Accordingly, the
first place one must go in order to understand early Mormon racial doctrine and
practice is to Mormonism's revelatory documents.8 But these documents did not
originate in a vacuum. One of Joseph Smith's contemporary critics remarked that
the Book of Mormon pronounced upon all the great controversies of the Burned-
over District in the 1820's:

infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration,
repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement,
transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government,
religious experience, the call to the ministry, the
general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize,
and even the question of free masonry, republican govern-
ment and the rights of man . . . .9

Mormon racial doctrine and practice originated in a particular social-cultural
matrix. Therefore, a study of the roots of Mormon racism must go beyond an
examination of Mormonism's revelatory documents to an examination of the
environment in which these documents originated.

The first of Mormonism's revelatory documents is the Book of Mormon. First
published in 1830, it recounts the origin and history of the American Indians.
The Jewish patriarch Lehi—together with his family—is said to have fled
Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian captivity. These Hebrew refugees sailed
east across the Pacific and settled in America. The bulk of the Book of Mormon
is a history of Lehi's warring descendants, the Nephites and the Lamanites. Just
as the Book of Mormon attempted a final solution of numerous religious and
social questions of the day, so it claimed to provide conclusive evidence for
the widely held contemporary belief that the American aborigine was of
Hebraic descent.10

Being the story of America's aboriginal inhabitants, the Book of Mormon's
silence concerning Negroes is unremarkable. However, its account of Indian
skin color is a portent of things to come in Joseph Smith's later Negro
doctrine. The Book of Mormon tells how the descendants of Lehi's two sons—
the rightoues Nephites and the wicked Lamanites—peopled the American continent.
For over nine hundred years the Lamanites warred and intrigued against their
godly brethren, finally exterminating them in 385 A.D. in a great battle at
the hill Cumorah.11 But Joseph Smith did not stop with explaining the red
man's Hebraic origins and the genesis of the burial mounds which dotted the
upstate New York landscape. He also sought to show that the native Americans'
skin color was the result of a divine curse.

From the very outset of the saga, Nephi had prophesied that the Lamanites
would fall into unbelief and become a "dark and loathsome" people who would
ultimately destroy the righteous Nephites.12 The Book of Alma describes how
this came to pass:

. . . the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according
to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was
a curse upon them because of their transgressions and
their rebellion against their brethren. . . . therefore
they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them
.... And this was done that their seed might be
distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that
thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that
they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions
.... And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle
his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same
curse upon his seed. Therefore, whosoever suffered
himself to be led away by the Lamanites was called under
that head, and there was a mark set upon him.13

A dark skin, therefore, was the sign of God's curse, stemming from
Lamanite wickedness, and was intended to separate the righteous from the
corruptions of the wicked.14

But, having explained the origin of Indian (Lamanite) skin color, Joseph
did not leave them under perpetual divine malediction. Their condition was
not permanent. Just as in earlier times some repentant Lamanites had been
rewarded by God with lightened complexions,15 so latter-day repentance would
bring a similar result among the Indians. It was foretold how the coming

forth of the Book of Mormon would cause Lamanite rejoicing:

. . . for they shall know that it is a blessing unto
them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness
shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations
shall not pass away among them save they shall be a
white and delightsome people.16

So, although a darkened skin was a sign of divine malediction, neither
God's disfavor nor its consequences were necessarily permanent.
Repentant Indians would be welcomed into the Church, where they could enjoy
every privilege of membership, including the priesthood and temple blessings.17
As a consequence of their newly-found righteousness, the Book of Mormon
anticipated that their skins would gradually lighten. Indeed, the Book of
Mormon was dedicated to the Lamanites and predicted their conversion in the
latter days.18 From the year of its inception, the Mormon Church conducted
missionary work among the Indians,19 a policy which it has pursued actively
throughout its history.

To punish an individual for the sins of an ancestor was contrary to
Joseph Smith's teachings concerning human nature in the Mormon Church's
Articles of Faith.20 The second article forthrightly declares, "We believe
that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression."21
The Book of Mormon invites all mankind, irrespective of race, to repent and
come to the Lord: "... and he denieth none that come unto him, black and
white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and
all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." 22 Additionally, the Book of
Mormon embraces the ideals of human liberty and equality, and, in one
passage, repudiates slavery.23

Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon during the decade of the
1820's. The slavery question presumably had been set to rest with the
Missouri Compromise, and the immediate racial problem was the disposition of
the Indian tribes. The Book of Mormon treated the history of the Indians

at length, but that of the Negro not at all.24 In keeping with the well-
known "mark of Cain" interpretation of Genesis 4:15, a dark skin was
associated (in the Book of Mormon) with a divine curse, but such a skin
color was not held to be a barrier to repentance and church membership.
So matters might have remained, had not the slavery question risen to
prominence in the 1830's, both for the nation and for the fledgling Mormon
Church.

Joseph Smith's first revelatory pronouncement concerning Negroes
occurred in December, 1830. This early statement is occasionally overlooked
by students of Mormon racial attitudes. It is important because it
demonstrates that a significant element in the Prophet's Negro doctrine already
existed before Mormonism's troubles in Missouri began.25

Excited by God's latter-day revelation in the Book of Mormon, the early
Saints—true to the restorationist impulse—speculated about the "lost books"
mentioned in the Bible. Of particular interest were various writings known
to the Apostolic Church, such as the prophecy of Enoch cited in Jude. To the
joy of his little flock (then numbering around seventy souls), Joseph Smith
announced the Lord's revelation of certain "doings of olden times, from the
prophecy of Enoch," in December, 1830.26 Of critical interest is the
following verse:

And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people
which were the sons of Adam save it was the seed of
Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not
place among them.27

Here was an explicit application to Negroes of the conclusions implicit
in the Book of Mormon's treatment of the Indians. The old racist speculations
about the mark of Cain were given the sanction of an explicit revelation:
Cain's descendants were set apart from the rest of Adam's children by a
black skin.
28 In addition, two rather confused verses stated that the
offspring of one of Seth's grandsons by the name of Canaan were cursed
with a black skin, and that Enoch did not even bother preaching repentance
to these cursed inhabitants of the antediluvian world.29

The happy reception of the lost prophecy of Enoch encouraged the Prophet
Joseph, and, together with his new scribe Sidney Rigdon, he worked on
revisions of the Old and New Testaments during the years 1831 and 1832.
The Prophet spent many of his spare hours in Ohio working to restore the
plain and precious truths which had been lost from the Bible.30 Joseph
ceased work on his inspired revision in February, 1833, and the unsettled
state of the Church kept him from ever publishing it in the form he had
intended.31 Among the materials, dating from the 1831-1832 period, which
Joseph never published, is the following revision of two critical verses in
Genesis:

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his
youngest son had done unto him, and he said. Cursed
be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his
brethren.

And he said. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and
Canaan shall be his servant, and a veil of darkness
shall cover him, that he shall be known among all men.32

These verses together with the passage from Enoch's lost prophecy show
that by early 1833 Joseph Smith had embraced several key articles in a
racist creed. The "mark of Cain" and the "curse on Canaan" referred Negroid
characteristics back to an ancient divine curse. Just as he elaborated upon
popular beliefs about the Indians in the Book of Mormon, so Joseph gave the
sanction of divine revelation to contemporary racist exegesis regarding
Negroes. But Joseph parted company with pro-slavery apologists at certain key
points.33 While agreeing that blackness was a result of God's curse and that
it was intended to prevent racial amalgamation, he had not drawn anti-
egalitarian conclusions from these premises. Rather, the Book of Mormon had
embraced equality, warned those who looked contemptuously upon the dark-
skinned, and promised the benefits of the Gospel to all races. Up until the
year 1833, there was little in Mormon doctrine to suggest that Negroes
were to be subject to ecclesiastical discrimination.

In practice, just the opposite of discrimination was the case. Elijah
Abel, a black man, was baptized into the Church by Ezekiel Roberts in
September, 1832. Another Negro, known as "Black Pete," was a member during
the early days at Kirtland, and was reputed to be a revelator. Black
membership in the Church was never great, however, as Parley P. Pratt later
stated, "In fact one dozen free negroes or mulattoes never have belonged to
our Society in any part of the world, from its first organization to this
day, 1839."34

Matters might have continued in this fashion, had the Saints remained
quartered near Lake Erie. The early Mormons were of New England stock,35
settlers who sought opportunity in western New York and Ohio. A non-
exclusionary policy toward Negroes posed few social problems for them. But
the Saints did not long confine themselves to New York and Ohio. They had
been directed by revelation to settle in Jackson County, Missouri.

The early Mormons, like many of their contemporaries, were millennialists.
They anticipated the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Various signs and
tribulations would precede this glorious event, which would usher in the
millennial kingdom.36 The Mormons added a novel twist to millennial doctrine,
however; the Kingdom of God was to be established in America, with its capital
at "Zion." In a series of revelations in 1830 and 1831, it gradually became
clear that Zion was located in the heart of the American continent, in
Missouri's Jackson County.37 The government's policy of removing Indian
tribes to reservations on the Missouri frontier was God's doing. Here the
"remnant of Israel" was being gathered in preparation for their latter-day
conversion and participation in the Kingdom at Zion. Mormon believers
began pouring into the land of Zion to prepare for Christ's coming and to
escape the tribulations of the end times.38

Conflict soon broke out between the growing numbers of Mormons and the
older settlers in Jackson County. There were a number of deep-rooted causes
for this conflict: economic, social, cultural, political, and religious
factors all played a part.39 One of the central bones of contention was
slavery. The Mormon immigrants from the north were viewed with deep
suspicion by the southern-born "old settlers." As early as the spring of
1832, a rumor of Mormon slave tampering had circulated among the older
Missourians.40

The Mormon expectation that the apocalyptic conflagration—an imminent
event—would be attended by slave uprisings did nothing to calm the old
settlers' fears. On December 25, 1832—fifteen days after President Jackson's
famous Nullification Proclamation—Joseph Smith received a revelation that
rebellion was about to break out in South Carolina.41 This, he foretold,
would lead to civil war between the northern and southern states. The
southern states would call upon Great Britain and other nations for aid,
and the war would then become world-wide. South Carolina's rebellion would
usher in the end times, replete with bloodshed, famine, plagues, earthquakes,
thunder, and lightning. And, most significantly, Joseph's prophecy foretold
that civil war would be accompanied by slave uprisings:

And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves
shall rise up against their masters, who shall be
marshaled and disciplined for war.42

Although this revelation was not put in print until 1851, it was circulated
in manuscript form among the Saints. Its expectations can only have
exacerbated already strained feelings in Missouri.43

The spark which ignited this explosive situation was an article in
the July, 1833 issue of the Evening and Morning Star, the Mormon newspaper
in Jackson County, Missouri. The editor, W. W. Phelps, recognized how touchy
the racial situation was for the Saints, and warned of the dangers if free
Negro Church members should join the brethren in Zion. Entitled, "Free
People of Color," Phelps' article quoted two clauses from the Missouri law
regarding free Negroes:

"Section 4.--Be it further enacted, that hereafter
no free negro or mulatto, other than a citizen of someone
of the United States, shall come into or settle in this
state under any pretext whatever; and upon complaint . . .
if ... such person shall not produce a certificate . . .
evidencing that he is a citizen of such state, the
justice shall command him forthwith to depart from this
state . . . [upon pain of jailing and ten lashes].

"Section t.--Be it further enacted, that if any
person shall . . . bring into this state any free negro
or mulatto, not having in his possession a certificate of
citizenship as required by this act, (he or she) shall
forfeit any pay, for every person so brought, the sum of
five hundred dollars . . . ."

Phelps then went on to observe:

Slaves are real estate in this and other states,
and wisdom would dictate great care among the branches
of the church of Christ in this subject. So long as
we have no special rule in the church, as to people of
color, let prudence guide; and while they, as well as
we, are in the hands of a merciful God, we say: Shun
every appearance of evil.44

Another article in the same issue of the Evening and Morning Star
gave the following advice to those Saints planning to immigrate to Zion:

Our brethren will find an extract of the law of this
state, relative to free people of color, on another page
of this paper. Great care should be taken on this point.
The saints must shun every appearance of evil.--As to the
slaves we have nothing to say. In connection with the
wonderful events of this age, much is doing towards .
abolishing slavery, and colonizing blacks, in Africa.45

It seems clear that Phelps intended to discourage uninformed black Church
members from migrating into a hornets' nest. Perhaps Elijah Abel (who later
moved to Nauvoo) or "Black Pete" was contemplating such a move. However,
his observation that blacks were free to join the Church ("we have no special
rule"), his attempts at explaining slave-state legalities to northerners for
whom they were obviously alien, and his injudicious enthusiasm over the imminent
latter-day end of slavery were too much for the older Missourians. The quotation
of the Missouri statute requiring citizenship papers was interpreted as a set
of instructions for soon-to-come Mormon Negro immigrants.46

The slavery question was the catalyst which precipitated the "old settlers"
into action against the Mormon newcomers. A mass meeting drew up a manifesto
demanding expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County. Furiously backpeddling
to retrieve the situation, Phelps published an "Extra" of the Evening and
Morning Star on July 16, 1833. In it he protested that his intention "was not
only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent
them from being admitted as members of the Church." He professed to share
with the older Missourians a fear of slave insurrections, and concluded:
"To be short, we are opposed to have free people of color admitted into the
state; and we say, that none will be admitted into the Church . . . ."47 In
his haste to defuse the explosive situation, Phelps overstated matters. The
Church had no discriminatory policy directed against Negroes, as he himself had
noted in the July issue when he counseled prudence.

Phelps' "Extra" proved to be of no avail. The Missourians turned to mob
violence. On July 20, Phelps" printing office at Independence was destroyed,
and Bishop Edward Partridge was tarred and feathered. Faced with the mob's
superior force, the Saints were forced into an agreement to leave Jackson
County. Attempts by the Church leaders to secure protection from state
authorities proved fruitless, and, in November, the majority of the Saints were
ruthlessly driven out of Jackson County. Exposed to sever sufferings due to
cold and hunger, they sought refuge in Clay County, Missouri.48

Events in Missouri forced Joseph Smith to come to grips with the
Negro question. His initial reaction, recorded in December, "was typical
of a New Englander, which he was ... a revelation that unequivocably
condemned slavery."49 In the revelation God declared:

That every man may act in doctrine and principle
pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency
which I have given unto him, that every man may be
accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
Therefore it is not right that any man should be
in bondage one to another.50

But such an anti-slavery stance jeopardized the Saints' tenuous position
in Missouri, where the legislature planned to set aside a separate area for
Mormon settlement. It also threatened to repel potential Southern converts
and contributors.51 Joseph's journey to Missouri at the head of the relief
expedition known as "Zion's Camp" (May-July, 1834), when he secretly visited
Jackson County and witnessed the devastation, must have impressed upon him
the explosiveness of the slavery issue.52NOTES

The policy of excluding Negroes from the priesthood began to develop
during this period. Unfortunately, the document which records the earliest
developments is dated forty-five years after the fact and was recorded at a
time when Mormon leaders were anxious to justify their restrictive racial policies.
In 1879, Zebedee Coltrin recollected events from 1834. That spring, he and
J. P. Green were sent by the Prophet on a southern expedition to solicit
support for the suffering Missouri Saints. During the homeward journey, the
two men fell into argument over Negroes' right to the priesthood, a question
presumably raised by questions they faced in the South. Coltrin argued that
Negroes had no such right, and the incensed Green threatened to report his
comrade for "preaching false doctrine." Upon their return to Kirtland, Green
did just that when the two men gave account of their mission to Joseph Smith:

. . . Brother Green was as good as his word and reported
to Brother Joseph that I said that the Negro could not
hold the Priesthood. 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.'
He made no reference to Scripture at all, but such was his
decision. I don't recollect ever having any conversation
with him afterwards on this subject. But I have heard him
say in public that no person having the least particle of
Negro blood can hold the Priesthood.

The same document records A. O. Smoot's recollections to the same effect:

... W. W. Patten, Warren Parrish and Thomas 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 Prieshood /sic/. And by those
brethren it was decided they would not confer the Priest-
hood until they had consulted the Prophet Joseph, and
subsequently they communicated with him. His decision,
as I understood 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 the 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.53

The Missouri experience, coupled with the growing L.D.S. missionary
effort in the South, dictated this new departure in Joseph's policy. The
Saints could not expect to find security in Missouri or missionary success in
the South until this critical question was resolved. Theology and
ecclesiology do not develop in a vacuum. There is an interplay between
culture and theology. The changed social matrix in which the Saints now
found themselves led to new departures in religious doctrine and practice.
Although there is no mention of the priesthood question, this new departure
is definitely reflected in the Church's declaration on "Government and Laws
in General," which was adopted at the general assembly of the Church,
August 17, 1835, at Kirtland, Ohio, which met to adopt the new book of
Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter-day Saints. The final
article stated:

We believe it just to preach the gospel to the
nations of the earth . . . ; but we do not believe it
right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach
the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will
and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or
influence them in the least to cause them to be dis-
satisfied with their situations in this life, thereby
jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we
believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to
the peace of every government allowing human beings to
be held in servitude.54

This was the Church's first official policy declaration concerning
Negroes. Unlike many of the earlier pronouncements, which dealt with
the theology of race, this was a practical statement of policy, intended
to defuse the Missourians' fear of slave tampering and to ease the task of
missionaries in the South. It is a fine illustration of the interplay
between social change and religious belief and practice.

Joseph Smith did not confine himself to a pragmatic statement of
policy. In 1835 he translated the Book of Abraham, one of his landmark
revelations. One passage in the Book of Abraham provided the theological
justification for all the following years of discrimination against blacks
holding the L.D.S. priesthood, long after the slavery question had been put
to rest.

The story of the Book of Abraham's translation is fascinating. Joseph
had been studying Greek and Hebrew. This, coupled with his ability in rendering
"Reformed Egyptian" characters, had caused his reputation as a translator to
spread abroad.55 A test of Joseph's translating powers came during the
summer of 1835, when Michael Chandler brought a collection of mummies and
papyri to Kirtland and inquired if the Prophet could translate them. Joseph
proceeded to give a brief demonstration of his abilities, and, after the
Mormons had purchased the antiquities, he proceeded to translate them in
earnest. He announced that the papyri contained the writings of the patriarchs
Abraham and Joseph, and from July through November he worked intermittently on
his translation of the Book of Abraham (Joseph's writings were never trans-
lated).56 Although the Book of Abraham did not appear in print until 1842,
the text dealing with Negroes was completed during 1835.57 The critical
text read:

Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins
of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites
by birth.

From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus
the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman,
who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus,
which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies
that which is forbidden.

When this woman discovered the land it was under
water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from
Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
Now the first government of Egypt was established by
Pharaoh, the eldest sons of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham
. . . .

Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his
kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his
days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established
by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the
first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and
also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings
of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed
him as pertaining to the Priesthood.

Now, Pharaoh, being of that lineage by which he could
not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the
Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham58 ....

This passage carried Mormon racial doctrine a step beyond Joseph Smith's
previous teachings. Until this time, Joseph had confined himself to the
"mark of Cain" and "curse on Canaan" motifs. This text developed these
motifs in a unique fashion. To be sure, southern racists had justified
slavery by arguing that Ham's wife was a descendant of the cursed race of
Cain, and that thereby the curse (and its mark of blackness) was transmitted
to the African peoples.59 But Joseph taught that Ham's wife, Egyptus,
was a descendant of the antediluvian "Canaan" whose descendants had been
cursed with blackness. Through Egyptus, the curse survived the flood and
was transmitted to the Hamitic peoples. (Apparently Joseph also believed that
Egyptus was a descendant of Cain, because in 1842 he referred to Negroes as
"sons of Cain.")60 And Joseph now added a critical dimension to the "curse"
and "mark" motifs. Ham's offspring were ineligible to hold the priesthood,
due to the cursed blood transmitted through their mother. Even a righteous
Hamite, such as the first Pharaoh, "could not have the right of Priesthood."
This passage became the standard proof text for denying L.D.S. priesthood to
Negroes until President Spencer Kimball's 1978 revelation.

The Negro doctrine was developed amidst many external pressures on the
Saints. After the troubles in Missouri began, Joseph was anxious to
dissociate the Church from suspicion of abolitionism. The non-slaveholding
Mormons were deeply suspect in Missouri. Some of Joseph's own statements
gave them further grounds for mistrust, and the abolitionist sentiment among
some Church members in Kirtland was a known fact. Oliver Cowdery, the editor,
published an anti-abolitionist notice in the Northern Times in October, 1835.
He took note of some abolitionist letters-to-the-editor he had received, and
declared that he would have nothing to do with abolitionism, since it would
only disturb the peace and constitutional harmony of the nation.61 Joseph
Smith's warnings to Patten, Parrish, Marsh, and Smoot concerning discretion
in their southern missionary labors date from this period. In 1838 he recorded
his answers to a series of frequently asked questions, including one about
abolitionism:

Thirteenth—"Are the Mormons abolitionists?"
No, unless delivering the people from priestcraft,
and the priests from the power of Satan, should be
considered abolition. But we do not believe in
setting the negroes free.62

Following the visit to Kirtland of an abolitionist speaker, Joseph
wrote his longest attack on abolitionism, which appeared in the April,
1836, Messenger and Advocate. He expressed his desire to dispel false
impressions which might be created by the abolitionist's presence; the
lectures sounded forth upon "nearly naked walls," observed Joseph. Mormon
abolitionists were rebuked for desiring to withdraw from fellowship with
slaveholding brethren. Such attitudes, he said, harmed the southern
missionary effort. Furthermore, he stated, he did not believe "that the
people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold
slaves, then the South have to say the North shall." Such sentiments threatened
to divide the union. He then launched into an elaborate Biblical defense of
slavery. Negro servitude, he argued, was a consequence of God's curse on Ham's
son Canaan (Gen. 9:25,26). The world's history demonstrated this singular
prophecy's remarkably fulfillment. The abolitionists were interfering with
God's plan, feverishly working against His decrees. But, "God can do His own
work, without the aid of those who are not dictated by His counsel." Joseph
was determined not to offend slaveholding southerners and cited several of
their favorite Biblical texts in support of slavery. He concluded with the
hope that "no one who is authorized from this Church to preach the Gospel,
will so far depart from the Scriptures, as to be found stirring up strife and
sedition against our brethren of the South."63

Despite this and other strong denials of abolitionist sentiment,64
relations with the "old settlers" in Missouri deteriorated badly during the
first half of 1836. At a June 29th meeting, at Liberty, Missouri, the
old settlers passed resolutions to expel the Saints from Clay County. Among
the several reasons cited for desiring the Mormons' departure were the
following:

They are eastern men, whose manners, habits, customs,
and even dialect, are essentially different from our
own. They are non-slaveholders, and opposed to slavery,
which in this peculiar period, when abolitionism has
reared its deformed and haggard visage in our land, is
well calculated to excite deep and abiding prejudices
in any community where slavery is tolerated and protected.65

In July, both the Missouri Saints and Joseph Smith strongly denied the charge
of abolitionism. Joseph cited the April issue of the Messenger and Advocate
as proof: "... you can easily see it was put forth for no other reason
than to correct the public mind generally, without a reference or expectation
of any excitement of the nature of the one now in your country.66

Nevertheless, the Saints decided to leave Clay County peaceably. In
September they began relocating in an almost uninhabited site, which became
known as Far West, Caldwell, County. The respite from harassment was of short
duration. First the Saints in Ohio were driven to seek refuge in Far West.
And then in early 1839 the Mormons were driven from Missouri by violent
persecution. They abandoned the slave state of Missouri for the free state of
Illinois, settling in a small hamlet along the Mississippi called Commerce,
which they renamed "Nauvoo."67

Joseph Smith's thought and policy toward Negroes during the Nauvoo years
(1840-1844) reveal some interesting zig-zags. On the one hand, Elijah Abel, a
good friend of the Prophet who had been admitted to the priesthood in 1836
(following the translation of the Book of Abraham's history of Ham and Egyptus)
was ordained a Seventy on April 4, 1841.68 Yet it was during the previous month
that Joseph at last commenced publishing the Book of Abraham, with its racist
doctrine.69

It seems clear that Joseph's earlier pro-slavery statements had been a
response to the Saints' precarious position in Missouri, although his fear
that civil unrest would result from abolitionism was probably sincere enough.
It is unlikely that Joseph ever felt sympathy for slavery, given his earlier
egalitarian pronouncements in the Book of Mormon. His statements during
the Nauvoo years confirm such a conclusion. In a January, 1843 conversation
with Orson Hyde, he declared his opinion that the degraded condition of Negroes
was due to deprivation:

. . . 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 or respectability.
The slaves in Washington are more refined than many in
high places ....
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.70

Trying to use the Mormon vote to gain some national political leverage,
Joseph Smith declared himself a presidential candidate in 1844. His
platform contained the following slavery plank: 1) that the slave states
move to abolish slavery by 1850; 2) that Congress appropriate funds (from
the sale of public lands and from cuts in congressional salaries) to pay
slaveholders a fair price for their freed slaves; and 3) that the "poor
black man" be unshackled and hired for labor like any other human being; for
"an hour of virtuous liberty on earth is worth a whole etermity /sic/ of
bondage."71 And, in an April interview with Josiah Quincy, he repeated this
plan, while repudiating abolitionism as an unconstitutional meddling with
property rights and a dangerous threat of insurrection. His anti-slavery
sentiments were clearly expressed in his criticism of the Missouri Compromise
as an unjustifiable concession to slavery designed to promote Henry Clay's
presidential ambitions.72

Freed from the constraints imposed by the Saints' stay in Missouri,
Joseph once again expressed the same egalitarian social philosophy which had
appeared in the Book of Mormon and in his earliest writings. But Joseph
was more than a social theorist and political commentator. His prophetic
pronouncements were revered as divine revelations and were preserved as such.
The racial speculations which he incorporated into the Book of Mormon,
the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham were destined to outlive his
own era and to become Mormon dogmas. Later Mormon leaders made doctrines
of the "mark of Cain," the "curse on Canaan," and black ineligibility to hold
the priesthood. Furthermore, there were some loose ends in Joseph's
revelations which needed to be tied together. An effort was made to reconcile
the idea of an entire race resting under a divine curse with the idea that no
one is punished for an ancestor's sin. The reconciliation was accomplished
through reference to the pre-existent state, so that one was not cursed
because born a Negro, but born a Negro because cursed for pre-existent
failings.73 Such theology was well enough suited for the days of Plessy v.
Ferguson, but in the days following Brown v. Board of Education it increasingly
became an albatross hanging on the Mormon Church's neck. Joseph Smith had
sought to explain the 19th century world in 19th century categories. But
approaching the end of the 20th century, his racial speculations no longer
seemed helpful explanations of the inferior status of blacks. In the generation
which witnessed the rise of Black Power, they seemed anachronistic, genetically
absurd, a barrier to L.D.S. missionary efforts, an embarrassment to the Church,
and the object of increasingly militant and frequent protests.74 Just as social
pressures resulted in the abandonment of polygamy without repudiation of
Joseph Smith's prophetic pronouncements on the subject, so similar forces
led to the abandonment of racial discrimination in similar fashion. And
both required a similar mechanism of abandonment: a new revelation.