1907 An Address -The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to the World
United States President Theodore Roosevelt began his Seventh Annual Message to Congress on December 3, 1907, with a statement that sums up the progressive spirit of the age: “No nation has greater resources than ours, and I think it can be truthfully said that the citizens of no nation possess greater energy and industrial ability.”1 Despite the economic Panic of 1907,2 the country demonstrated this attitude by continuing to forge ahead with the monumental task of building the Panama Canal.3 Since the beginning of President Roosevelt’s first term, the United States population had increased by nearly 10 million people (making the total just over 87 million), with 1.1 million people immigrating to the country in 1907 alone--Ellis Island’s busiest year ever.4 While Henry Ford continued his effort to make automobiles more popular and affordable, he also began offering more “luxury” models, introducing the Model R in 1907.5 Access to electricity also continued to increase, with eight percent of all American households wired for electricity by the end of the year.6
The population of all residents in Utah in 1907 was approximately 339,000, while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claimed 357,913 members worldwide. Its demographic dominance in the state grated on some Utah residents and unnerved some national citizens who did not belong to the faith. Although the efforts to unseat Apostle and Senator Reed Smoot had ended in Senator Smoot’s favor on February 20, 1907, the turmoil and negative publicity generated against the Church during the last few years was of concern to the leadership of the Church. In addition to reports on the these hearings (which was often unfavorable toward the Church), much of this volatility was inflamed by Thomas Kearns and his “American Party.” Mr. Kearns owned the Salt Lake Tribune, and used it as a vehicle for his attacks against the Church and its leaders.7 However, as Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out, “Not only was this campaign carried on locally, but similar articles were published and circulated by magazines throughout the United States, and through this campaign hatred against the President of the Church and the Church was engendered.”8
Thus, the First Presidency believed it would be beneficial to issue this Declaration9, “In the hope of correcting misrepresentation, and of establishing a more perfect understanding respecting ourselves and our religion” (Declaration, p. 1). President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund, are the sole signatories on the document, which they dated March 26, 1907, eleven days before it was read publicly on the first day of the April 1907 General Conference. It was read to the congregation by Elder Orson F. Whitney, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, immediately after President Smith’s opening address. Then President Francis M. Lyman offered his Quorum’s full support: “The council of the Twelve Apostles most heartily approve and endorse the principles and views in the address that has just been read.”10 The membership of the Church was then called upon to accept this Declaration, which they did unanimously.
Having endured many decades of allegations, accusations, and insinuations in the public presses, the Declaration represents, in part, a request for a fair public hearing on Church doctrine and practices. Near the beginning of the Declaration, the First Presidency alludes to exclusion of the Church11 from the Columbian Exposition12 and the accompanying Parliament of the World’s Religions in 189313 as one evidence that the Church had often been pre-judged “without investigation, and judgment has been pronounced without a hearing” (Declaration, pp. 5-6). Toward the end of the Declaration, the First Presidency also insists: “We refuse to be bound by the interpretations which others place upon our beliefs; or by what they allege must be the practical consequences of our doctrines. Men have no right to impute to us what they think may be the logical deduction from our beliefs, but which we ourselves do not accept. We are to be judged by our own interpretations, and by our actions, not by the logic of others, as to what is, or may be, the result of our faith” (Declaration, p. 15). The First Presidency’s call for the Church’s opportunity to represent itself instead of being represented by others foreshadows Krister Stendahl’s first rule of religious dialogue, “that relevant information about a religion should be gained from the very source and not from a competitor or a secondhand account.”14
Upon asserting the Church’s right to represent itself, the First Presidency then addressed a variety of topics where they felt the Church had been misrepresented. They drew heavily upon the Articles of Faith15 to clarify the Church’s Christian doctrines. They cited the Church’s history and numerous passages from the Doctrine and Covenants to refute the allegation that the Church was opposed to education. They defended the eternal doctrine of marriage and the centrality of wholesome, faithful family life. As the chief financial trustees of the Church, the First Presidency addressed concerns about the Church’s commercial ventures and the voluntary payment of tithing by Church members.16 They again quoted from and alluded to the Church’s own scriptural texts to explain the principles of authority and leadership in the Church, including the procedure for removing leaders (even its President17), if such were ever found guilty of immoral or negligent conduct. Citing several passages from the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, the First Presidency occupied several pages defending the Church’s stance on matters related to citizenship and patriotism. Even in regards to plural marriage, the First Presidency insisted that their resistance to laws enacted after the Church had engaged in this practice for many decades was done “in the spirit of maintaining religious rights under constitutional guaranties, and not in any spirit of defiance or disloyalty to the government” (Declaration, p. 12). In the wake of the Reed Smoot hearings and the level of discomfort many legislators and citizens had toward an Apostle also serving as a Senator, the First Presidency strongly reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to “the absolute separation of church and state” (Declaration, p. 14), with neither institution infringing on the specific functions of the other, and allowing all persons “absolute freedom” in the exercise of their civil and political rights. The Declaration concludes with peace-loving sentiments and a sincere exclamation of the Church’s desire to work with all people toward the common good: “‘Mormonism’ is in the world for the world’s good… ‘Mormonism’ seeks to uplift...We desire peace, and will do all in our power on fair and honorable principles to promote it...Our motives are not selfish; our purposes not petty and earth-bound; we contemplate the human race, past, present, and yet to come, as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor; and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now, and forever” (Declaration, pp. 15, 16).
Of all the proclamations, declarations, statements and epistles issued by the First Presidency of the Church from 1841 to 1907, this Declaration was perhaps the most widely published and disseminated. At this key transitional moment, the First Presidency expressed the desire of the Church to “[join] hands with the civilization of the age” while simultaneously seeking to fulfill its role as “a special harbinger of the Savior’s second coming” (Declaration, p. 15). It was a valuable document in its time for encouraging Church members in their faith and providing other interested parties with straightforward answers to questions or concerns they may have had about the Church. For members of the Church today and other interested parties who may benefit from the historical clarifications offered in it, the 1907 Declaration is still of great worth.
- Roosevelt, Theodore (1907), “December 3, 1907: Seventh Annual Message,” Miller Center, https://millercenter.org.. , accessed June 9, 2021.
- See Moen, Jon R. and Tallman, Ellis W. (2015), “The Panic of 1907,” Federal Reserve History, https://www.federalreservehistory.org.. , accessed June 9. 2021.
- See “Panama Canal” (2019), History, https://www.history.com.. , accessed June 9, 2021.
- See “Ellis Island Closes” (2020), History, https://www.history.com.. , accessed June 9, 2021.
- See “1907 Ford Model R Runabout,” The Henry Ford, https://www.thehenryford.org.. , accessed June 9, 2021.
- See Smitha, Frank E., “1907,” Macrohistory: Worldhistory, http://www.fsmitha.com/time/1907.htm , accessed June 9, 2021.
- See Murphy, Miriam B. (1994), “Kearns, Thomas,” Utah History Encyclopedia, https://www.uen.org/utah_history-encyclopedia.. , accessed June 10, 2021; Shipps, Jan (1967), “Utah Comes of Age Politically: A study of the state’s politics in the early years of the twentieth century,” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 2, https://issuu.com/utah10/docs.. , accessed June 9, 2021.
- Smith, Joseph Fielding (1938), The Life of Joseph F. Smith, p. 348; see pp. 345-351 for additional context, including Joseph F. Smith’s magnanimous response to the personal criticism levied against him, which is not an issue addressed in the 1907 Declaration. See also p. 381 for another brief synopsis of the negative publicity the Church had received during the first part of the 20th century
- The First Presidency refers to this document as a “Declaration” twice in the document itself; see Address, pp. 1, 16.
- Conference Report, April 1907, p. 9.
- See Smith, Konden R. (2008), “Appropriating the Secular: Mormonism and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 153-180, https://www.jstor.org.. , accessed June 10, 2021.
- See “World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” PBS: American Experience, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/.. , accessed June 10, 2021.
- See “Parliament of Religions, 1893,” Harvard University: Pluralism Project, https://pluralism.org/parliament.. , accessed June 10, 2021
- See Mauro Properzi (2015), "Learning about Other Religions: False Obstacles and Rich Opportunities," Religious Educator, vol. 16, no.1, pp. 129–149, https://rsc.byu.edu/vol-16-no-1-2015.. , accessed June 10, 2021.
- Written by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1842, these brief statements summarizing some of the main doctrines of the Church had been canonized in October 1880 (see Brandt Ed (1985), “The Origin and Importance of the Articles of Faith,” in Studies in Scripture, vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, pp. 411–20). James E. Talmage had also published his first edition of A Study of the Articles of Faith: Being a Consideration of the Principal Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1899.
- The response on the matter of tithing may have been at least partially prompted by a 1905 article written by Joseph F. Smith’s cousin Frederick M. Smith, a leader in the denomination then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which he alleged that Church authorities had “great amounts of money” given them “for which there is no account rendered” to the members of the Church; see Smith, The Life of Joseph F. Smith, p. 355.
- This disciplinary body is known as the “common council of the Church” (see D&C 107:82-84). See also Widtsoe, John A. (1939), Priesthood and Church Government in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pp. 214, 253; and Joseph Fielding Smith (1953), Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:21.
The 1907 Declaration was recognized by defenders and detractors of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a milestone document in the Church’s history. Its combination of breadth and simplicity resonated with those that heard and read it. This statement from the Salt Lake Telegram, published on the same day it was read in general conference, clearly shows the influence the Declaration had on its contemporary audiences:
The most important address ever given to the world by the leaders of the Mormon church, and approved by the members in conference assembled, was that read at the opening session of the seventy-eighth annual conference by Apostle Orson F. Whitney this morning. The address, which consumed fifty minutes in the reading, was an answer to the numerous charges that have been made against the church, its leaders and its teachings.Read More: https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu..
The Woman’s Exponent contains an account of the presentation and acceptance of the Declaration at the 1907 General Conference. It notes that the vote to adopt the Declaration was unanimous, and contains the following explanation of the effect the Declaration had on those present:
The words seemed to thrill the assembly and to recall to memory some of the momentous occasions in the history of past events that have marked indelibly the onward progress of this people.Read More: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org..
After the issuance of the 1907 Declaration, the Ministerial Association of Salt Lake City published a “Review” in which they denounced the First Presidency’s statement. In response, B.H. Roberts, noted author, orator, and one of the seven presidents of the First Council of Seventy, gave a two and a half hour address answering the claims of the “Review”. One account described Elder Roberts’ defense of the 1907 Declaration as “keen and fine as a sharp-edged knife”, adding that his words were like:
...sledge hammer blows descend[ing] on [the Reviewer’s] arguments so hard and fast as to flatten out into less than transparency all semblance of logic and reasoning contained in the ministerial review.Read More: https://www.familysearch.org/library..
President Howard W. Hunter, President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, drew on the 1907 Declaration to teach about love, humility, and the expansive nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ:
In this gospel view there is no room for a contracted, narrow, or prejudicial view. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (History of the Church, 4:227.)
In 1907 the First Presidency presented to the general conference a declaration which includes this statement: “Our motives are not selfish; our purposes not petty and earth-bound; we contemplate the human race, past, present and yet to come, as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor; and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now, and forever.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, appendix, p. 16.)
In the gospel view, no man is alien. No one is to be denied. There is no underlying excuse for smugness, arrogance, or pride.
In 2001, Robert L. Millet, former dean of religious education at BYU, gave an address at Harvard Divinity School wherein he quoted from the 1907 Declaration. His address reads in part:
Knowing what I know, feeling what I feel and having experienced what I have in regard to the person and power of the Savior, it is difficult for me to be patient and loving toward those who denounce me as a non-Christian. But I am constrained to do so in the spirit of Him who also was misunderstood and misrepresented. While it would be a wonderful thing to have others acknowledge our Christianity, we do not court favor nor will we compromise our distinctiveness.
We acknowledge and value the good that is done by so many to bring the message of Jesus from the New Testament to a world that desperately needs it.
In the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017), the 1907 Declaration is quoted in relation to Doctrine and Covenants 134:29, which reads:
We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org..
Although it is dated March 26, 1907, the 1907 Declaration was read publicly for the first time on April 5, 1907 and subsequently published in the April 1907 Conference Report
[Featured Version] The Archive website also has a copy of the 1907 Declaration in the April 1907 Conference Report
Under the headline, “Mission of Mormonism,” the 1907 Declaration was printed in the Deseret Evening News on April 5, 1907
The 1907 Declaration was published in the Salt Lake Telegram on April 5, 1907:
The 1907 Declaration was also published in The Liahona, “a multimission publication begun by the Central States Mission in Independence on April 6, 1907” (Garr, Arnold K. , “Liahona The Elders’ Journal,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism,
https://eom.byu.edu/.. , accessed June 9, 2021) on April 13, 1907: https://www.familysearch.org/library..
To make sure the saints in Europe received this important 1907 Declaration, it was also published in the Millennial Star on April 18, 1907:
To emphasize the importance of the 1907 Declaration and hopefully encourage Church members to read it carefully, it was published in the May 1907 issue of the Improvement Era
The 1907 Declaration was made available in Dutch in Der Ster on May 15, 1907, pp. 161-174:
The 1907 Declaration was made available in German in Der Stern on May 15, 1907, pp. 146-152, 155-158:
The 1907 Declaration was made available in Danish in the Skandinaveans Stjerne on June 1, 1907, pp. 161-167, 170-175:
The 1907 Declaration can also be found in Clark, James R. (1970), Messages of the First Presidency, 4:143-155.