Question: Would those that defied Brigham Young be "sheared down" and put to death?

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Question: Would those that defied Brigham Young be "sheared down" and put to death?

Those who make this claim quote only a fragment of Brigham's speech: He was speaking of military necessary in the event of retreat before the invading U.S. Army

It is claimed that "any man who defied Young's orders would be put to death was made evident in his statement 'When the time comes to burn and lay waste our improvements, if any man undertakes to shield his, he will be sheared down.'" The quote is taken from its context. Brigham was speaking of military necessary in the event of retreat before the invading U.S. Army.

As is typical in such cases, those who make this claim quote only a fragment of Brigham's speech. The more complete text reads:

...I have told you that if there is any man or woman that is not willing to destroy anything and everything of their property that would be of use to an enemy, if left, I wanted them to go out of the Territory; and I again say so to-day; for when the time comes to burn and lay waste our improvements, if any man undertakes to shield his, he will be sheared down; for "judgment will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet." Now the faint-hearted can go in peace; but should that time come, they must not interfere. Before I will suffer what I have in times gone by, there shall not be one building, nor one foot of lumber, nor a stick, nor a tree, nor a particle of grass and hay, that will burn, left in reach of our enemies. I am sworn, if driven to extremity, to utterly lay waste, in the name of Israel's God....
I naturally dislike to have any trouble, and would not, were I not obliged to; but we are obliged to defend ourselves against the persecution of our oppressors, or have our constitutional rights rent from us, and have ourselves destroyed.... If the people prefer it, they may stop their improvements and take care of their wheat, and cache a supply of grain, flour, &c., where no other persons can find it; though we can raise grain here all the time,—yes, all the time....We have no desire to kill men, but we wish to keep the devils from killing us....I am not speaking of the Government, but of the corrupt administrators of the Government.[1]

Brigham was anticipating the need for a 'scorched earth' policy against the invading U.S. army.

Brigham makes the following statements that the critics ignore:

  • Those who do not wish to destroy their property before the army arrives may leave in peace.
  • Those who remain will be left alone, if they do not interfere with the military necessity of scorched earth, should it be necessary.
  • This would only happen "if driven to extremity."
  • Brigham does not want trouble or war, or killing, but he fears violence against his people—for which they had ample precedent.
  • Brigham provides the option of caching their goods out of the army's reach rather than destroying them.
  • Brigham's quarrel is not with the United States, but with "corrupt administrators."

The only threat made is to those who, under military conditions, actively seek to resist the legal order of the territorial governor and militia commander to refuse aid and supplies to a military enemy. The property could not be preserved in such a case, because it would either be destroyed or appropriated by the enemy army. Military and militia commanders in all ages would have done nothing less, and Brigham's stance was moderate and merciful—no one was compelled to remain, no one was compelled to destroy anything.

But, if retreat became necessary, he would not allow supplies or shelter to fall into the hands of the enemy, which could cost Utahan lives if the war turned hot. This is not a dictatorship or megalomania; it was simply military prudence.

Notes

  1. Brigham Young, (13 Sept 1857) Journal of Discourses 5:232.