The part of the account where President Taylor puts those who were present under covenant to obey the principle of plural marriage seems authentic. That was why he was in hiding, after all. He left public view and presided over the church in exile, risking arrest if found.
He sacrificed a great deal to retain the principle of plural marriage. I think that did happen, or could have happened because it is entirely consistent with the events underway at the time.
His denunciation of the “manifesto” also seems authentic to me. His motto was “the kingdom of God or nothing” and he proved himself willing to suffer for a cause he believed to be true. He refused to compromise with the Federal Government, and his refusal was known, public and held to his core. So putting people under a covenant to recommit them to resist, as he was doing by example, seems authentic. It requires no embellishment.
But there is a part of the story I left out of the account. I will mention it only in general terms, as I consider the specifics sacrilege. Those who are Fundamentalist are familiar with it. It involves President Taylor, while denouncing the manifesto, rising from the floor, levitating in the air about a foot off the ground, making certain gestures, and reciting an oath very similar in content to the first Temple covenant penalty in place in 1886.
This addition is designed to add terrible significance to the denounciation. It is to inspire awe and terror in the mind of the listener/reader, but it is entirely out of place. The idea that you needed to add a Temple sign and penalty component to the denounciation of the manifesto is too strange to attribute to President Taylor. It doesn’t fit. It seems to me altogether as an embellishment put into the account in order to make the event seem more holy, more sacred and therefore more trustworthy. It does the opposite. Details like these do not belong in the account. They detract. They suggest someone is afraid they won’t be believed if they tell the story the way it was. It falls apart to my mind because it takes far too much upon itself.
This leads in turn to another addition to supplement the account which also lacks scriptural support: The appearance of Joseph Smith as the slain, hand-shaking, disembodied Prophet. This detail is added, I assume, because there was concern that unless the event was tied directly to Joseph Smith some people would resist acknowledging the authority.
However, disembodied spirits do not “shake hands.” (D&C 129: 6-7.) Joseph’s presence and hand-shaking, like the other added embellishments, are necessary to put the whole thrust of the story over. The purpose is to put into the hands of five men the ability to freelance in sealing plural marriages.
Here, then, is the nub of the whole story: “John Taylor set five apart and gave them authority to perform marriage ceremonies, and also to set others apart to do the same thing as long as they remained on the earth[.]” This is critical for what the Fundamentalists want to justify. They must have this in order to be able to claim post-John Taylor and post-Manifesto marriage sealings were authorized and authoritative.
First, to be clear: I think John Taylor did give authority to these five men to seal other plural marriages. In the time and setting, it makes absolute sense. They were sealing outside of the Temples, and this was being done by the highest church authorities. There is every reason to believe the difficulties of avoiding Federal prosecution tipped in favor of giving authority for others to move plural marriage sealings forward. Just like today there are others who seal marriages in addition to the church President.
HOWEVER, –and this is the problem in the account which nagged the telling of this tale and required its embellishment– this kind of delegation won’t work to perpetuate the practice indefinately. Even if President Taylor wanted to extend his reach and allow other men to be sealers during his underground days, it won’t work once President Taylor died. Their commission is entirely dependent upon the delegation by President Taylor, and cannot run independent from him. When he died, their commission needed to be renewed by President Woodruff. When it wasn’t, then their commission ended.
This is because of the very revelation upon which Fundamentalist doctrine is grounded: Section 132. In Section 132 the power to seal is consolidated in but one man at a time, “and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” according to the revelation establishing the very doctrine they defend. (D&C 132: 7.) If this was John Taylor when the sealing authority was given, then the one man who could authorize it was John Taylor. When he died, the one man would have been Wilford Woodruff. You can’t, in any event, have “five set apart and given authority” who would later rival Wilford Woodruff’s claim to the position. That alone is contrary to the order in Section 132. This has been discussed in Beloved Enos. The claims are unscriptural and indefensible.
This scriptural impediment to the claim is the very reason we see added the light under the door, the three voices, the levitating and sacreligious oath pronouncing President Taylor, and the disembodied Joseph Smith shaking hands and presiding over the affair. They are added, though they could not possibly have happened in that way, precisely to overcome the scriptural impediment to the authority claimed by Fundamentalists to be able to continue to seal plural marriages.
I disbelieve the account, though I do not question whether President Taylor gave the ability to seal to other men in order to overcome Federal harrassment at the time he was president. But that delegation ended with his death.
To now have various pretenders all claiming they can track back to John Taylor and one of these five men their “line of authority” to seal plural marriages is a deception. There is only one man at a time who can do this. Even the church now disclaims they can perform such rites.