Question: What was the effect of the Mormon Reformation?

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Question: What was the effect of the Mormon Reformation?

"Like many other enthusiastic movements, the Reformation had created unanticipated disruption within the community as lay members scurried to prove their loyalty and faithfulness"


How do we assess the Reformation? Like many other enthusiastic movements, the Reformation had created unanticipated disruption within the community as lay members scurried to prove their loyalty and faithfulness. The harsh discipline and Brigham Young's exercise of power in demanding obedience during the second phase of the movement provoked excessive demonstrations of loyalty and consequent disruption. The destruction of the Polysophical Society temporarily stymied the development of the humanities and fine arts in the community. The sermons on repentance and blood atonement seem to have led members to confess to sins they had not committed and may also have incited a few fanatics more orthodox than the General Authorities to murder dissidents (Larson 1958, 54). The emphasis on the visible trappings of orthodoxy that fueled those new plural marriages led inevitably to divorce or unhappy homes among the unprepared. The effort to achieve status in the kingdom or to demonstrate loyalty and spirituality by seeking advancement to the Melchizedek Priesthood disrupted the normal functioning of the Aaronic Priesthood quorums. Moreover, the excesses of the second phase of the Reformation added fuel to the charges lodged in Washington against the Mormons that led to the Utah War.

On the other hand, in spite of the harsh beginnings and in spite of the excesses, the reformation produced some worthwhile reforms. One of these was the increased emphasis on kindness and love in the third phase. This emphasis on love and charity may have contributed to the revival of the Female Relief Society in early 1857. Joseph Smith had first organized the Relief Society in Nauvoo on 17 March 1842. Although some Church members had organized Relief Societies to provide charitable help for Indians as early as 1854 and some general purpose Relief Societies had been organized as early as January 1855, the larger association authorized by Joseph Smith had remained dormant since the exodus from Nauvoo (Jensen 1983, 105-25).

When the Reformation turned from raining pitchforks to urging love and charity, local leaders revived the organization to aid the poor in a number of wards in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward furnished some of the leadership of this movement. On 14 February 1857, Woodruff, Hoagland, Joseph Horn, and Robert L. Campbell attended the organizational meeting. Bishop Hoagland had called Phebe Woodruff as president, and Mary Isabella Horn and Mary Southworth as counselors. They and the other sisters in the ward spent their Relief Society meetings quilting, sewing, and making carpets for the poor. By June 1857, they had clothed all the poor of the ward and made a sizeable donation to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (Woodruff 1983-85, 5:20, 59-60).

The home missionary system of the first phase inaugurated an effort at cooperative revival that promised much for the future and undoubtedly contributed to the development of a Godly community. Regular visits to the homes of members by such priesthood holders and Relief Society women as home teachers, home missionaries, and visiting teachers have provided a sense of concern and connection with the larger community of the Saints. [1]


In summary, the Reformation moved through three overlapping phases--a structural reform phase, a phase of intense demand for a demonstration of spiritual reform, and a phase of love and reconstruction. In the first phase, Church leaders tried to achieve reform through the home missionary effort. After Brigham Young and his counselors had become convinced that the missionaries had not achieved the desired result, they pressed the movement into the second phase. Missionaries continued to preach as the leadership rained pitchforks on member's heads and hearts. Generally loyal to their leaders, members scurried to prove their faithfulness by confessing sins and asking for rebaptism, entering plural marriages, and seeking advancement from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood. [2] Larson:

Certainly, one unfortunate result of the Reformation was to give color to anti-Mormon propaganda which circulated in the East and helped send the United States Army marching on Utah to put down an imaginary rebellion....[3]


  1. Alexander, "Wilford Woodruff and the Mormon Reformation," 36.
  2. Alexander, "Wilford Woodruff and the Mormon Reformation," 36.
  3. Gustave O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26/1 (January 1958): 47.