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Winston Churchill Investigates the Mormon Question, 1910-1911

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 12, 2009

One hundred years ago, Latter-day Saints in England, especially those living in East Anglia and the northern parts of England, were in the midst of the harshest period of anti-Mormon sentiment in English history. Countless articles and public speakers warned the people against speaking with Mormon missionaries, claiming they were there to convert or kidnap young English girls and ship them to Mormon harems in Utah.

Public fears were raised to such a pitch that mob action against missionaries and members resembled the anti-Mormon activities of the Southern States Mission twenty years earlier: Meetings were disrupted by shouting and sometimes by invasion of mobs, stones were thrown through windows and at members and missionaries leaving meetings, one elder was tarred and feathered. To England’s credit, policemen were sometimes assigned to protect meetings and escort missionaries from meetings to their lodgings, and in at least one case mobbers were arrested, prosecuted, and found guilty.

In 1910, however, anger against Mormon “kidnappers” led to demands that the government investigate and, if possible, ban Mormonism or bar American elders from entering the country. Winston Churchill, as Home Secretary, was responsible for conducting the investigation.

Following are excerpts from Hansard’s Debates, the official record of Britain’s Parliamentary debates, for 1910 and 1911, reporting the matter raised in the House of Commons:

29 July 1910:

Expulsion of Mormons from Berlin.

Mr. Peto asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the expulsion of Mormon “apostles” from Berlin on Friday last, and their departure for Rotterdam, and to the presence of members of that body at Hungerford, Berkshire, and whether he will take steps to prevent meetings being held to spread their views in this country, during the Recess?

Mr. Churchill: I have seen a statement in the press about the expulsion of the Mormons from Berlin, but I have no official knowledge of the matter, and I have no information as to the presence of members of that body at Hungerford. I have no power to prevent the holding of such meetings as long as they are held in conformity with the law.

18 November 1910:

Mormon Agents in England.

Mr. Fitzroy asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware of the propaganda which is being carried on all over the country by the Mormons with a view to inducing women and young girls from English villages to go out to America to join their community, and whether he has taken or is taking any steps to prevent English women and girls from being subjected to these inducements to join a community which acts contrary to the laws of both England and the United States?

Mr. Churchill: Inquiry has from time to time been made into allegations which have reached the Home Office, but no ground for action has been found. I am informed that polygamy is now forbidden by the rules of the Mormon Church as well as by the law of the United States.

6 March 1911

Mormon Missionaries.

Mr. Arnold Ward asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the attention of the Government has been called to the growing activity in this country of Mormon missionaries from the United States; whether he has any official information showing that young English girls are being induced to emigrate to Utah, and if so, whether the Government propose to take any steps to safeguard English homes from this danger?

Mr. Churchill: My attention has been called to the matter, and I am making inquiries. I have at present no official information showing that young girls are being induced to emigrate to Utah.

Mr. Cathcart Wason: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any information that polygamy is still practised in Utah, and whether there is any objection to the girls going there?

Mr. Arnold Ward: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has official information that the United States Senate has reported that the leaders of the Mormon church have practised and encouraged polygamy?

Mr. Churchill: I am aware that the matter is causing a great deal of concern in certain quarters in this country. I am treating it in a serious spirit, and looking into it very thoroughly.

6 March 1911

Mormon Propaganda.

Mr. Harmood-Banner asked the Home Secretary if his attention has been called to the active propaganda of Mormon principles at present prosecuted in Liverpool and district, and whether in view of the character of the fundamental principles, His Majesty’s Government will employ means to abate the nuisance?

Mr. Churchill: I am making inquiry into this matter.

19 April 1911

Mormon Missionaries.

Mr. Houston asked the Home Secretary whether he has any official information showing that the German government has expelled Mormon missionaries from any portion of German territory, and whether he is prepared to introduce legislation to expel and exclude Mormon missionaries from this country?

Mr. Churchill: I have no official information on the point, but inquiries are being made through the Foreign Office. I am unable at present to make any statement as regards the second part of the question.

Mr. Houston: Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it is public knowledge that the German government did, six years ago, peremptorily expel Mormon missionaries from Germany on the grounds of their faith being against the interests of public morality; and is he aware that as late as last year, the twelve apostles of Mormonism who went to Germany for purposes of propaganda were peremptorily expelled?

Mr. Churchill: I have not yet made the inquiries which are necessary. I do not think there is any difference of opinion between us as to the character of this propaganda.

20 April 1911

Mormon Missionaries (Chesterfield.)

Captain Faber asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the Mormon campaign, whether Mormon missionaries are making house to house calls in Chesterfield, and offering money bribes to girls to emigrate, and whether he contemplates any action against the Mormons?

Mr. Churchill: I am informed that tracts have been distributed at houses in Chesterfield by Mormons, but that no instance is known to the police of the offer of money bribes to emigrate. As I have already stated, the whole question is receiving consideration, and if the hon. and gallant Member has any definite information, I shall be glad if he will communicate it to me.

Captain Faber: Is it not possible to include Mormons in the Aliens Act?

Mr. Churchill: That is a very difficult question, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look into the matter he will realize that it is not so simple as it seems at first sight.

Captain Faber: Is it not the fact that no law can touch them unless they really practice polygamy in this country?

Mr. Churchill: There is very wide toleration of opinion in this country, and it is only when those opinions merge into action contrary to the law that the law can step in.

Mr. Houston: Has the right hon. Gentleman received any information from the Foreign Office with regard to the expulsion of Mormons from Germany?

Mr. Churchill: They can do a great many things by police action in Germany which we cannot do in this country, and to do which I do not propose to ask the House to give me powers.

25 April 1911

Mormon Missionaries (Expulsion from Germany).

Mr. Houston asked the Home Secretary whether he has yet received any information from His Majesty’s Ambassador at Berlin as to the expulsion of Mormon missionaries from Germany, and if not, whether he can state when he expects to receive information?

Mr. Churchill: No information on the point has yet been received from His Majesty’s Ambassador at Berlin, but the matter is being carried forward, and I expect to learn at a very early date the result of the inquiries which are being made.

Mr. Houston: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in various parts of the country, notably in the North, the spirit and temper of the people is rapidly rising, and may result in rioting and conflict with the police unless prompt steps are taken?

Mr. Speaker: That does not arise out of a question about Mormonism in Germany.”

8 May 1911

Mr. Houston asked the Home Secretary whether he has yet received any reply from the British Ambassador at Berlin as to the expulsion of Mormon missionaries from Germany: if so, will he state the nature of the reply; if the German Government have so dealt with Mormon missionaries in Germany, does he propose to adopt similar measures in Great Britain; or, if not, whether he will introduce legislation prohibiting Mormon propaganda in Great Britain, and the nature of such legislation?

Mr. Churchill: A reply has now been received from the British Ambassador at Berlin to the effect that no special legislative measures for prohibiting or restricting the Mormon propaganda have been adopted in Germany. Steps are taken by the police to expel any foreign members of the sect who may render themselves obnoxious in any way, but, as I have already stated in this House, the police in Germany have a great many powers that are not possessed by the police in this country. I am not yet in a position to state the full result of my inquiries with regard to Mormon propaganda in this country and America, but I have not so far discovered any ground for legislative action in the matter.

Mr. Houston: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the hostility to this propaganda is growing rapidly in this country, and that in some instances benches of magistrates are so sympathetic with the rioters that they have dismissed the complaints against them made by the police?

Mr. Churchill: I think anything in the nature of rowdyism and mob action ought to be sternly suppressed by those responsible for the maintenance of the peace[.]

When no further official mention of the issue had been made by 1914, LDS missionary Arthur L. Beeley wrote to the Home Office seeking the outcome of the Home Secretary’s investigation:

Durham House,
295 Edge Lane, Liverpool,
May 14th, 1914.

Sir:

On the 8th of May, 1911, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Winston Churchill, made the following statement in the House of Commons: “I am not yet in a position to state the full result of my inquiries with regard to Mormon propaganda in this country and America, but I have not so far discovered any ground for legislative action in the matter.”

I am desirous of ascertaining the conclusions drawn, or the result of the inquiries on the “Mormon” question, spoken of above, and should therefore deem it a favor to receive an official copy of same.

In the event that this is not available, could the records containing such facts be viewed by appointment, and could citations be made to some reliable periodical containing the facts in the case?

Thanking you in anticipation of this favor, and apologizing for this intrusion upon your valuable time,

I am, Sir, Yours sincerely,

(Signed) Arthur L. Beeley.

Rt. Hon. Reginald McKenna, K.C.,
Home Office,
Whitehall,
London, S.W.

to which he received this reply:

Home Office,
Whitehall,
22nd May, 1914.

Sir,

In reply to your letter of the 14th instant, with reference to the Mormon propaganda in this country and in America, I am directed by the Secretary of State to say that no official report has been published, but that the extensive enquiries which were made did not reveal any grounds for legislative action.

The Secretary of State regrets that it would be contrary to practice to accede to your request to be allowed to see the official records dealing with this matter.

I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant,

(Signed) A.J. Eagleston.

Arthur L. Beeley, Esq.,
Durham House,
295 Edge Lane, Liverpool.

Mormonism was not, as you no doubt know, ever suppressed in England, although attacks against it remained severe until the early 1920s. I do not know whether the Home Secretary’s records have been publicly released in the generations since 1911 – if someone does know, please indicate that in comments.

Arthur L. Beeley published a pamphlet summarizing what he knew of the 1910-1911 investigation, my transcription of which I have posted here.



12 Comments »

  1. Churchill was awesome. I may be reading between the lines too much, but I definitely get the feeling he was a little irritated by the whole thing. Europe is teetering on the brink of a World War, and these right honourable gentlemen keep bugging him about the Mormons.

    Comment by Doug Hudson — June 12, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  2. Plenty of irony here, and wonderfully dry retorts by Churchill. How can one not love his reply, “As I have already stated, the whole question is receiving consideration, and if the hon. and gallant Member has any definite information, I shall be glad if he will communicate it to me.”

    Adding to the interesting mix were Britain’s royal family ties to Germany before WWI (when Mountbatten was Battenberg), and Churchill’s maternal family ties to Palmyra, New York.

    Thanks for this very interesting post, Ardis, and for your absolutely workhorse devotion to selecting and relaying the relevant reports, and then transcribing the Beeley pamphlet. That’s how serious history is done!

    Comment by Rick Grunder — June 12, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  3. “Churchill’s maternal family ties to Palmyra New York.” I’ve never heard of this before. The whole topic is fascinating. It also gives insight to Elder Benson story of being mobbed on his mission there…

    Comment by Clark — June 12, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  4. This is fascinating. I had no idea the mobbing had reached such a fevered pitch in Great Britain.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 12, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

  5. Wonderful! One more reason for my belief that Churchill was an extraordinary man. (If wise men were raised up in the 18th century to establish this nation, why not a wise man to save the United Kingdom, and ultimately, the Western democracies, in the 20th?)

    In 1904, Elder Hugh B. Brown, a brand new missionary, was sent to Cambridge, in East Anglia. His mission president said “You might be interested to know that the last Mormon elders in Cambridge were driven out by a mob at the point of a gun. And he was told that the next Mormon elder that came to town would be shot on sight. I thought you’d be glad to know that.” His wry comment, 60 years or so later, was that he wasn’t glad to know that, but thought it well that he did. He describes the reception they received when they arrived in Cambridge, which is consistent with what Ardis writes. The story is here, beginning at about 42 minutes. (But, listen to the whole talk–it’s well worth the hour!)

    Comment by Mark B. — June 12, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  6. I didn’t know that the Randolph family had ties to Palmyra. But they do have ties to the Center of the Universe. Jennie Randolph Churchill was born in Brooklyn, less than a half mile from where I sit. (I have tried several times without success to embed a link to Google Street View–if you care to see the place, search for 428 Henry Street, Brooklyn, and find the house on the west side of the street.)

    Comment by Mark B. — June 12, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  7. I love this response by Chruchill:

    They can do a great many things by police action in Germany which we cannot do in this country, and to do which I do not propose to ask the House to give me powers.

    The members of the House of Commons quoted here come off a bit like Monty Python’s Upper Class Twits.

    Comment by kevinf — June 12, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  8. Thanks for this great story. Another reason to admire Churchill.

    It’s nice to know that he resisted piling on and joining the mob mentality.

    Comment by David H. Sundwall — June 12, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  9. [...] new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!Keepapitchinin gives us another reason to like Churchill. Whether he liked Mormons or just didn’t care, he refused to join the anti-Mormonism of his [...]

    Pingback by Another reason to like Churchill | A Soft Answer — June 12, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  10. I agree with kevinf who says the members of the house of commons appear to be Upper Class Twits.

    And I love Churchill’s comment to them in the Beeley transcription that Ardis posted. When Mr. Houston asked again about Germany expelling the Mormons, then asked if “the right hon. Gentleman” was aware that rioting and conflict in the north of England would escalate if something were not done, Churchill dryly replied, “That does not arise out of a question about Mormonism in Germany.”

    Comment by Maurine — June 12, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

  11. Hmmm, very interesting!

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — June 13, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  12. [...] the world, leading activists in England to form the “British anti-Mormon League” and  ask the home secretary, Winston Churchill, if the same thing couldn’t be done in [...]

    Pingback by Mormon Literature 100 Years Ago — 1912 | A Motley Vision — January 25, 2012 @ 10:06 am

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