Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Brigham, the Dictator

Brigham Young, the Dictator?


A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods
A work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims


One Nation under Gods, page 220 (hardback and paperback)

Young, although officially a governor, acted more like a dictator than anything else. He proudly admitted as much during an 1871 sermon, saying: "'I have been your dictator for twenty-seven years--over a quarter of a century I have dictated this people.'"77

Author's Sources


Endnote 77, page 553 (hardback)

77. Brigham Young, August 13, 1871, JOD (Liverpool: George Q. Cannon, 1862; lithographed reprint of original edition, 1966), vol. 14, 205.

Endnote 77, page 551 (paperback)

77. Brigham Young, August 13, 1871, JOD (Liverpool: Albert Carrington, 1872; lithographed reprint of original edition, 1966), vol. 14, 205.


Question: Did Brigham Young "proudly admit" to being a dictator?

President Young was speaking about spiritual matters, not political matters

The book One Nation Under Gods claims that Brigham Young, although officially a governor, acted more like a dictator than anything else, and that he "proudly admitted" as much during an 1871 sermon, saying: "'I have been your dictator for twenty-seven years--over a quarter of a century I have dictated this people.'"

In an attempt to show that Brigham Young was the political dictator of the Territory of Utah, the author has quoted from a speech of Brigham Young recorded in the Journal of Discourses. Does the context of the quote indicate that President Young "proudly admitted" to being a political dictator? The full quote, in context, is reproduced here (the portion in bold is the quote used by the author).

But to return to my question to the Saints, "How are you going to know about the will and commands of heaven?" By the Spirit of revelation; that is the only way you can know. How do I know but what I am doing wrong? How do I know but what we will take a course for our utter ruin? I sometimes say to my brethren, "I have been your dictator for twenty-seven years-over a quarter of a century I have dictated this people; that ought to be some evidence that my course is onward and upward. But how do you know that I may not yet do wrong? How do you know but I will bring in false doctrine and teach the people lies that they may be damned? Sisters can you tell the difference? I can say this for the Latter-day Saints, and I will say it to their praise and my satisfaction, if I were to preach false doctrine here, it would not be an hour after the people got out, before it would begin to fly from one to another, and they would remark, "I do not quite like that! It does not look exactly right! What did Brother Brigham mean? That did not sound quite right, it was not exactly the thing!" All these observations would be made by the people, yes, even by the sisters. It would not sit well on the stomach, that is, on the spiritual stomach, if you think you have one. It would not sit well on the mind, for you are seeking after the things of God; you have started out for life and salvation, and with all their ignorance, wickedness and failings, the majority of this people are doing just as well as they know how; and I will defy any man to preach false doctrine without being detected.

In other words, President Young was speaking about spiritual matters, not political matters. Yet, the author tries to equate President Young's quote with political dictatorship--a clear misuse of his source.

In today's society, the common definition of "dictator" carries a pejorative connotation. This is a direct outgrowth of twentieth-century world politics, particularly World War II, where the United States, with her allies, faced down dictatorial regimes. Consider the primary definition of 'dictator' as found in Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary of the English language:

One who dictates; one who prescribes rules and maxims for the direction of others.

This, of course, is the definition that Brigham Young would have been familiar with. He would not have been familiar with the pejorative use of the word that we are familiar with today. This definition is also consistent with the way that religious prophets lead their people. Yet, the author of ONUG tries to capitalize on a negative understanding of 'dictator', and somehow assert that President Young was a political dictator. His use is not consistent with the then-common definition of the word, or with the context in which it was used.


Notes