Free People of Color

by W.W. Phelps

(History of the Church, Volume 1, pages 377-379)

To prevent any misunderstanding among the churches abroad, respecting free people of color, who may think of coming to the western boundaries of Missouri, as members of the Church, we quote the following clauses from the laws of Missouri:

"Section 4.—Be it further enacted, that hereafter no free negro or mulatto, other than a citizen of someone of the United States, shall come into or settle in this state under any pretext whatever; and upon complaint made to any justice of the peace, that such person is in his county, contrary to the provisions of this section, if it shall appear that such person is a free negro or mulatto, and that he hath come into this state after the passage of this act, and such person shall not produce a certificate, attested by the seal of some court of record in someone of the United States, evidencing that he is a citizen of such state, the justice shall command him forthwith to depart from this state; and in case such negro or mulatto shall not depart from the state within thirty days after being commanded so to do as aforesaid, any justice of the peace, upon complaint thereof to him made may cause such person to be brought before him and may commit him to the common gaol of the county in which he may be found, until the next term of the circuit court to be held in such county. And the said court shall cause such person to be brought before them and examine into the cause of commitment; and if it shall appear that such person came into the state contrary to the provisions of this act, and continued therein after being commanded to depart as aforesaid, such court may sentence such person to receive ten lashes on his or her bare back, and order him to depart the state; and if he or she shall not depart, the same proceedings shall be had and punishment inflicted, as often as may be necessary, until such person shall depart the state.

"Sec. 5.—Be it further enacted, that if any person shall, after the taking effect of this act, bring into this state any free negro or mulatto, not having in his possession a certificate of citizenship as required by this act, (he or she) shall forfeit any pay, for every person so brought, the sum of five hundred dollars, to be recovered by action of debt in the name of the state, to the use of the university, in any court having competent jurisdiction; in which action the defendant may be held to bail, of right and without affidavit; and it shall be the duty of the attorney-general or circuit attorney of the district in which any person so offending may be found, immediately upon information given of such offenses to commence and prosecute an action as aforesaid."

Slaves are real estate in this and other states, and wisdom would dictate great care among the branches of the Church of Christ on this subject. So long as we have no special rule in the Church, as to people of color, let prudence guide, and while they, as well as we, are in the hands of a merciful God, we say: Shun every appearance of evil.

(To see the reaction to this speech see The Manifesto of the Mob)

THE EVENING AND MORNING STAR — EXTRA

July 16, 1833

Having learned with extreme regret, that an article entitled, "Free People of Color," in the last number of the Star, has been misunderstood, we feel in duty bound to stare, in this Extra, that our intention was not only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent them from being admitted as members of the Church.

On the second column of the one hundred and eleventh page of the same paper, may be found this paragraph:—"Our brethren will find an extract of the law of this state, relative to free people of color, on another page of this paper. Great care should be taken on this point. The Saints must shun every appearance of evil. As to slaves, we have nothing to say; in connection with the wonderful events of this age much is doing towards abolishing slavery, and colonizing the blacks in Africa.

We often lament the situation of our sister states in the south, and we fear, lest, as has been the case, the blacks should rise and spill innocent blood, for they are ignorant, and a little may lead them to disturb the peace of society. To be short, we are opposed to having free people of color admitted into the state; and we say, that none will be admitted into the Church; for we are determined to obey the laws and constitutions of our country, that we may have that protection which the sons of liberty inherit from the legacy of Washington, through the favorable auspices of a Jefferson and Jackson.

Notes from History of the Church, Volume 1

This article, "Free People of Color," referred to in the Prophet’s History, but not quoted in extenso anywhere by him, is here given entire, and is followed with The Evening and Morning Star extra, published on the 16th of January, 1833. The importance of these documents justifies their introduction in this manner. It will be observed that the mob in their manifesto charge that the Saints in their first article in question, "Invite free Negroes and mulattos from other states to become ‘Mormons,’ and removed and settle among us." On this false accusation the mob pretended to found the following apprehensions: "This exhibits them in still more odious colors. It manifests a desire on the part of their society, to inflict on our society an injury that they know would be to us entirely unsupportable, and one of this surest means of driving us from the country; for it would require then of the supernatural gifts that they pretend to, to see that the introduction of such a cast among us would corrupt our blacks instigate them to bloodshed."

The publication of the article, "Free People of Color," completely refutes the false accusation of the mob against the Saints.

This "Extra," as soon as the brother and learned what construction was being put upon the article "Free People of Color," was printed in the form of a handbill and circulated as promptly as possible. In it, however, the editor of the Star goes too far when he says that no free people of color "will be admitted into the Church." Stop Such was never the doctrine or policy of the Church. Indeed in the article "Free People of Color," the editor himself had said: "So long as we have no special rule in the Church as to free people of color, let prudence guide." And again, in the "Address of the Elders Stationed in Zion to the Churches Abroad," published in the July number of the Star, and also found on page 379 of this volume, occurs the following: "our brethren will find an extract of the law of this state relative to free people of color on another page of this paper. Great care should be taken on this point. The Saints must shun every appearance of evil. As to slaves we have nothing to say. In connection with the wonderful events of this age, much is doing towards abolishing slavery, and colonizing the blacks in Africa." This, with a passage from the article "Free People of Color," is quoted to show that the Church had formulated no doctrine or policy with reference to slaves or free people of color; and in forming his judgment of this matter the reader must remember the statement about not admitting such people into the Church is merely the view at that time of the editor of the Star, and by no means represents the policy of the Church. As a matter of fact they were very few, if any, people of color in the Church at this time. The "fears" of the Missourians on that head were sheer fabrications of evil-disposed minds.

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