Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guest Posting: Heber J. Grant Recalls Two Excommunications

Posted and being discussed at Keepapitchinin: The Mormon History Blog.

The following recollections come from a 1937 letter of President Heber J. Grant to the family of John Morgan (1842-1894), a Civil War veteran and one of the Presidents of the Seventy. Paragraphs have been added for readability. [I've never blogged the whole letter here, because some of it — yes, the Three Nephites story — requires additional explanation.]

In early days the Bishops with their counselors were permitted to have trials and excommunicate men from the Church. One of my nearest and dearest and best beloved friends was excommunicated by the Bishopric of his Ward, and I considered it nothing short of an outrage. I desired to be present to testify in his behalf, but was not permitted to be at the meeting. I sat on the outside of the meeting house on the top of a high post. A fence was being built around the meeting house and the boards of the fence had not been put on, but the posts were set up and I climbed on top of one of these posts and could see and hear the people in the second story of the meeting house, and I heard the whole proceedings.

To many of the questions that were asked of my friend, I answered: “No, I would not do any such thing,” and I felt so mad at the Bishop’s counselor who was asking the questions of my friend and it was many years before I could have any respect for him. He was a very devoted Latter-day Saint, but he was not charitable. The thing that outraged me was that my friend was put in with a crowd of boys who were really no good, and they were all excommunicated at the same time.

It happened in early days that charges were made against John Morgan in the Thirteenth Ward, and the late Bishop Edwin D. Woolley and his counselors had a trial and excommunicated him. A ruling has since been made that the Bishoprics cannot excommunicate men holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, they can only disfellowship them and pass up their cases to the High Council for a final decision. The day following the excommunication of Brother Morgan he met President George A. Smith, and said:

“Well, President Smith, they cut me off the Church last night.”

“Did you deserve it?” said President Smith.


“Have you appealed your case to the High Council?”

“Oh, if they don’t want me in the Church they don’t need to have me.”

President Smith said: “Brother Morgan, do you know the Gospel is true?”

“Yes,” said John Morgan.

“Well, if you want to go to hell, go to hell.” And he walked off without any further comment.

John Morgan was a natural born fighter. Anyone who really knew him knew he was as full of fight for the Church of anything he believed in, as the saying is, as an egg is full of meat. He and Brother [B. H.] Roberts were both first class fighters in the mission field for the cause of truth.

Brother Morgan, after the remark of Brother George A. Smith, decided to appeal his case to the High Council of Salt Lake Stake. The Salt Lake Stake at that time included all of Salt Lake County. Brother Morgan being very popular, the Council House, which was located where the Union Pacific Building is now, where the trial was held, was filled by his pupils during the trial. The old Deseret University was formerly held in the Council House, which was located where the Union Pacific Building is now.

When the decision was rendered by President Angus M. Cannon, he announced that no matter what the audience voted it would not change the decision in the least, and said, so I was informed, “We should like very much to have an expression, however, from those who have attended the hearings in this case, as we have never had such a large audience before in any case that was ever held before the High Council. A vote was called, and it was practically unanimous.

Bishop Woolley was one who voted in favor of sustaining the decision of the High Council and expressed his great pleasure that the decision of the Bishop’s court had been set aside because of additional evidence that had been produced and it showed that the Bishop had made a mistake. Brother Cannon asked for those who were opposed to the decision to manifest it, I have forgotten whether it was by holding up their hands or by standing. I believe it was a standing vote, but I would not be sure.

Of course this entire statement that I am making comes from hearsay. My recollection is that [it was] Brother Hamilton G. Park who told me the story originally. I used to go around as a youngster in my teens with Brother Hamilton G. Park as a Teacher. He did all the teaching, by the way, and I simply made a report at the monthly meeting of the Bishopric and the Teachers. To my mind one of the most inspirational men I ever knew was Hamilton G. Park.

As I recall it there were six men who felt and voted that John Morgan should be excommunicated. They were Willie B. Godbe who I think was first counselor to Bishop Edwin D. Woolley at the time, Godbe’s brother, Anthony, James Cobb, E.L.T. Harrison, William Sherman, and Eli B. Kelsey. They have all since apostatized. Inasmuch as Bishop Woolley was the one who cut Brother Morgan off the Church he no doubt wanted to make amends as far as possible after Brother Morgan was reinstated and after he became the President of the Southern States Mission, and I recall that Brother Morgan many times was asked if he would come to the Thirteenth Ward and speak when he came to General Conference.

The pictures are Heber J. Grant; John Morgan, courtesy of Karen M.; and the Council House in 1869.