1859-08-20-New York Tribune-Interview with Brigham Young

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New York Tribune

20 August 1859, page 1



I have been told that this is the first question and answer format interview published in a newspaper, however, I have learned that this is not true. According to a 1971 article in Journalism Quarterly the first published question and answer interview was published in the New York Herald on April 16, 1836[1].

Greeley's Interview with Brigham Young

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, July 13, 1859.

My friend, Dr. Bernhisel, M. C. (Mormon Church) took me this afternoon, by appointment, to meet Brigham Young, President of the Mormon Church, who had suggested a willingness to receive me at two PMJ. After some unimportant conversation on general topics, I stated that I had come in quest of fuller knowledge respecting the doctrines and polity of the Mormon church and would like to ask some questions bearing directly on these, if there were no objection. President Young avowed his willingness to respond to all pertinent inquiries. The conversation proceeded substantially as follows:

HG: Am I to regard Mormonism (so called) as a new religion or as simply a new development of Christianity?

BY: We hold that there can be no new Christian Church without a priesthood directly commissioned by and in immediate communication with the Son of God and Savior of mankind. Such a church is that of the Latter day Saints, called by their enemies Mormons; we know of no other that even pretends to have present and direct revelations of God's will.

HG: Then I am to understand that you regard all other churches professing to be Christian as the Church of Rome regards all churches not in communion with itself -- as schismatic, heretical, and out of the way of salvation.

BY: Yes, substantially.

HG: What is the position of your church with respect to slavery?

BY: We consider it of divine institution and not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants.

HG: Are there any slaves now held in this territory?

BY: There are.

HG: Do your territorial laws uphold slavery?

BY: Those laws are printed -- you can read for yourself. If slaves are brought here by those who owned them in the States, we do not favor their escape from their owners?

HG: Am I to infer that Utah, if admitted as a member of the Federal Union, will be a slave state?

BY: No, she will be a free state. Slavery here would prove useless and unprofitable. I regard it generally as a curse to the master. I myself hire many laborers and pay them fair wages. I could not afford to own them. I can do better than subject myself to an obligation to feed and clothe their families, to provide and care for them in sickness and health. Utah is not adapted to slave labor.

HG: Let me now be enlightened with regard to more especially to your church polity: I understand that you require each member to pay over one tenth of all he produces or earns to the Church.

BY: That is the requirement of our faith.

HG: What is done with the proceeds of this tithing?

BY: Part of it is devoted to building temples and other places of worship; part to helping the poor and needy converts on their way to this country; and the largest portion to the support of the poor among the Saints.

HG: Is none of it paid to the bishops and other dignitaries of the Church?

BY: Not one penny.

HG: How, then, do your ministers live?

BY: By the labor of their own hands, like the first Apostles. I am the only person in the Church who has not a regular calling apart from the Church's service.

HG: Can you give any rational explanation of the aversion and hatred with which your people are generally regarded by those among whom they have lived and with whom they have been brought directly into contact.

BY: No other explanation than that which is afforded by the crucifixion of Christ and the kindred treatment of God's ministers, prophets, and saints in all ages.

HG: How general is polygamy among you?

BY: I could not say. Some of those present (heads of the Church) have each but one wife; others have more; each determines what is his individual duty.

HG: What is the largest number of wives belonging to any one man?

BY: I have fifteen; I know of no one who has more; but some of those sealed to me are old ladies whom I regard rather as mothers than wives, but whom I have taken home to cherish and support.

HG: Does not Christ say that he who puts away his wife, or marries on whom another has put away, commits adultery?

BY: Yes, and I hold that no man should ever put away a wife except for adultery -- not always even for that. Such is my individual view of the matter. I do not say that wives have never been put away in our church, but that I do not approve of the practice.


Such is, as nearly as I can recollect, the substance of nearly two hours conversation. (Brigham Young) spoke readily, not always with grammatical accuracy, but with no appearance of hesitation or reserve, and with no apparent desire to conceal anything. We was very plainly dressed in thin summer clothing and with no air of sanctimony or fanaticism. In appearance, he is a portly, frank, good-natured, rather thick-set man of fifty five, seeming to enjoy life, and in no particular hurry to get to heaven. His associates are plain men, evidently born and reared to a life of labor, and looking as little like crafty hypocrites or swindlers as any body of men I have ever met.

I have a right to add here, because I said it to the assembled chiefs at the close of the above colloquy, that the degradation (or if you please the restriction) of women to the single office of childbearing and its accessories is an inevitable consequence of the system here paramount. I have not observed a sign in the streets, an advertisement in the journals, of this Mormon metropolis, whereby a woman proposes to do anything whatever. No Mormon has ever cited to me his wife's or any woman's opinion on any subject; no Mormon woman has been introduced or has spoken to me; and, though I have been asked to visit Mormons in their houses, no one has spoken of his wife (or wives) desiring to see me, or his desiring me to make her (or their) acquaintance, or voluntarily indicated the existence of such a being or beings.

One remark made by President Young I think I can give accurately, and it may serve as a sample of all that was offered on that side. It was in these words, I think exactly:

"If I did not consider myself competent to transact a certain businesss without taking my wife's or any woman's counsel with regard to it, I think I ought to let that business alone."

The spirit with regard to woman, of the entire Mormon, as of all other polygamic systems, is fairly displayed in this avowal. Let any such system become established and prevalent, and woman will soon be confined to the harem, and her appearance in the street with unveiled face will be accounted immodest.

I joyfully trust that the genius of the nineteenth century tends to a solution of the problem of woman's sphere and destiny radically different from this


  1. Nils Gunnar Nilsson, "The Origin of the Interview," Journalism Quarterly 48 (1971): 707-713. Citation from note 32 of Chapter 2 of Crouthamel, James L. Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989), p. 30.
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