President Wilford Woodruff: The Manifesto

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 178

When President Wilford Woodruff announced an end to plural marriage, much of the governmental crusade against the Church ceased. Utah became a state with full representation in the United States government, and the Salt Lake Temple was finally completed and dedicated. However, the negative media campaign in the local and national newspapers continued to k to discredit the Church and its members.

His Life (1807–98)


Born on March 1 at Avon (currently Farmington), Connecticut, to Aphek and Beulah Thompson Woodruff


Age 26, baptized on December 31 in an icy stream near Richland, New York


Age 27–29, served a mission to the southern United States


Age 30, married Phoebe Carter on April 13; she died in 1885


Age 30–31, served a mission to the eastern United States and the Fox Islands


Age 32, ordained an Apostle by Brigham Young on April 26


Age 32–34, served a mission to Great Britain


Age 36, served a mission to the eastern United States


Age 36–39, served as president of the European Mission


Age 40, entered the Great Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young on July 24


Age 80, led the Church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after President John Taylor’s death on July 25


Age 82, sustained as President of the Church on April 7; retained George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith as counselors in the First Presidency


Age 91, died September 2 in San Francisco, California

His Presidency (1887–98)



Dedicated the temple in Manti, Utah, on May 17


The “Manifesto” (Official Declaration 1) was given to the Church; week-day religious education classes started


Dedicated the Salt Lake Temple


Emphasized genealogy (family history work) and temple work for the dead


The first Sunday of every month was chosen as a fast day for the Church

About President Wilford Woodruff

1. “Wilford Woodruff was one of the Church’s most successful missionaries and was also known for his prophetic insights and loyalty to the Church. He kept meticulous journals, which provide much information about the early history of the Church. He was serving as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when John Taylor died, and almost two years later he was sustained as the President of the Church.

2. “During his administration, the political crusade against the Latter-day Saints intensified, but the Church moved forward. Temples were operating in three Utah towns—St. George, Logan, and Manti—and the Salt Lake Temple was nearing completion. These houses of the Lord enabled thousands of Saints to obtain their endowments and do ordinance work for their kindred dead. President Woodruff had a lifelong interest in temple and family history work. He admonished the Saints on many occasions to perform ordinances in the temple for their ancestors.

3. “The following incident emphasizes the importance of the work the Saints were performing for the dead. In May 1884, Bishop Henry Ballard of the Logan Second Ward was signing temple recommends at his home. Henry’s nine-year-old daughter, who was talking with friends on the sidewalk near her home, saw two elderly men approaching. They called to her, handed her a newspaper, and told her to take it to her father.

4. “The girl did as she was asked. Bishop Ballard saw that the paper, theNewbury Weekly News,published in England, contained the names of more than 60 of his and his father’s acquaintances, along with genealogical information. This newspaper, dated 15 May 1884, had been given to him only three days after it was printed. In a time long before air transportation, when mail took several weeks to get from England to western America, this was a miracle.

5. “The next day, Bishop Ballard took the newspaper to the temple and told the story of its arrival to Marriner W. Merrill, the temple president. President Merrill declared, ‘Brother Ballard, someone on the other side is anxious for their work to be done and they knew that you would do it if this paper got into your hands.’ [Melvin J. Ballard: Crusader for Righteousness(1966), 16–17.] This newspaper is preserved in the Church Historical Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

6. “In spite of persecution, Church leaders still encouraged the colonization of unsettled areas in America’s west. Beginning in 1885, many Latter-day Saint families settled in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, establishing such towns as Colonia Juárez and Colonia Díaz. Other areas in northern Mexico also received immigrant Church members.

7. “Church members also looked north to Canada for a place to colonize. Charles O. Card, who served as president of the Cache Valley Stake, founded a Latter-day Saint community in southern Alberta in 1886. By the winter of 1888, more than 100 Latter-day Saints lived in western Canada, and more came during the 1890s, providing the labor to construct an irrigation system and a railroad. Many Church leaders matured in Alberta” (Our Heritage,98–100).

Understanding the Reading

About President Wilford Woodruff

Meticulous(par. 1)Very careful and precise 
Endowments(par. 2)Ordinances and covenants administered in the temple 
Kindred dead(par. 2)Relatives who had passed away 
Admonished(par. 2)Strongly counseled 
Colonization(par. 6)Settling 
Immigrant(par. 6)A person who moves from one country to another, usually for permanent residence 
Irrigation(par. 7)Watering 
Matured(par. 7)Developed their abilities 

The Manifesto

8. “As the 1880s drew to a close, the United States government passed additional laws that deprived those who practiced plural marriage of the right to vote and serve on juries and severely restricted the amount of property the Church could own. Latter-day Saint families suffered as even more fathers went into hiding. President Woodruff pleaded with the Lord for guidance. On the evening of 23 September 1890, the prophet, acting under inspiration, wrote the Manifesto, a document that ended plural marriage for Church members. The Lord showed President Woodruff in vision that unless the practice of plural marriage was ended, the United States government would take over the temples, thus ending work for the living and the dead.

9. “On 24 September 1890, the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles sustained the Manifesto. The Saints approved it in the October 1890 general conference. Today this document is included in the Doctrine and Covenants asOfficial Declaration 1.

Wilford Woodruff

10. “Following the Church’s action, federal officials issued pardons to Latter-day Saint men convicted of violating the antipolygamy laws and much of the persecution stopped. But, as President Woodruff explained: ‘I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write’ (“Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto,” included afterOfficial Declaration 1). God, not the United States Congress, brought about the official discontinuance of plural marriage” (Our Heritage,100–101).

Understanding the Reading

The Manifesto

Deprived(par. 8)Took away from 
Manifesto(par. 8)Statement of policy on plural marriage 
Discontinuance(par. 10)End 

The Genealogical Society

11. “Long before the Latter-day Saints founded a genealogical society, Church members gathered records documenting the lives of their dead ancestors. Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and Heber J. Grant are among those who obtained the names of thousands of ancestors for whom they performed temple ordinances. In 1894, the First Presidency directed that a genealogical society be organized with Elder Franklin D. Richards as its first leader. A library was established, and representatives of the society went throughout the world in search of names of people for whom temple ordinances could be performed. This society led to the creation of the Family History Department of the Church.

12. “During the April 1894 general conference, President Woodruff announced that he had received a revelation about genealogical work. He declared that God wanted the Latter-day Saints ‘to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have the children sealed to their parents and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to his people,’ he said, ‘and I think when you come to reflect upon it you will find it to be true’ [in Clark, comp.,Messages of the First Presidency,3:256–57]. Latter-day Saints are still encouraged to k out the records of their deceased ancestors and perform temple ordinances in their behalf.

13. “From 1885 to 1900, many Church members served genealogical missions. They were invited to Salt Lake City to receive a blessing for their mission from a General Authority. They were also provided with a missionary card and a letter of appointment. They visited relatives, recorded names from gravestones, and studied parish records and family Bibles, returning to their homes with valuable information that allowed temple work to be performed. Many missionaries reported spiritual experiences that gave them the firm assurance that the Lord was with them and often directed them to a needed source or relative. [ James B. Allen, Jessie L. Embry, Kahlile B. Mehr,Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894–1994(1995), 39–41.]” (Our Heritage,101–2).

Understanding the Reading

The Genealogical Society

Parish(par. 13)An area with its own church 

Dedication of the Salt Lake Temple

14. “President Wilford Woodruff devoted much of his life to temple work. He was the first president of the St. George Temple, and he dedicated the Manti Temple. Now, 40 years after the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple was laid, President Woodruff awaited with great anticipation the dedication of this landmark temple. Dedicatory services were held from 6 April to 18 May 1893, and approximately 75,000 people attended. [ Roberts,Comprehensive History of the Church,6:236.]

Salt Lake Temple

15. “Following the initial dedicatory service on 6 April, President Woodruff wrote in his journal: ‘The spirit and power of God rested upon us. The spirit of prophecy and revelation was upon us and the hearts of the people were melted and many things were unfolded to us’ [“Wilford Woodruff Journals” (1833–98), Apr. 6, 1893; in LDS Church Archives; spelling and punctuation modernized]. Some Latter-day Saints saw angels, while others saw past Presidents of the Church and other deceased Church leaders [ Richard Neitzel Holzapfel,Every Stone a Sermon(1992), 71, 75, 80].

16. “When President Woodruff celebrated his ninetieth birthday, thousands of Sunday School children filled the Tabernacle on Temple Square to honor him. He was deeply moved and, speaking with great emotion, told his young audience that when he was ten years of age he attended a Protestant Sunday School and read about apostles and prophets. When he returned home, he prayed that he might live long enough to apostles and prophets once more on the earth. Now he stood in the presence of men who were both apostles and prophets; his prayer had been answered many times over. [ Matthias F. Cowley,Wilford Woodruff(1909), 602.]

17. “A year later on 2 September 1898, President Woodruff died while visiting in San Francisco” (Our Heritage,102).

Ticket to temple dedication

Understanding the Reading

Dedication of the Salt Lake Temple

Initial(par. 15)First 

The Teachings and Testimony of Wilford Woodruff

18. “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff,ed. G. Homer Durham [1990], 157).

19. “I feel to exhort and counsel you, my young friends, to listen to the voice of God and obey it while young, as Samuel did, that you may be great, good, and useful, and the beloved of the Lord and your parents and by all good men. Obey your parents and honor them, for by doing this you will obtain those great blessings which God has promised you. …

20. “… You are now laying a foundation in the bloom and beauty of youth and in the morning of your days to step forth upon the stage of life to act a conspicuous part in the midst of the most important dispensation and generation in which man has ever lived. And I can say in truth and safety that the result of your future lives, the influence which you will exert among man, and finally your eternal destiny for time and eternity, will in a great measure depend upon the foundation which you lay in the days of your youth” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff,265–66).

21. “There are two powers on the earth and in the midst of the inhabitants of the earth—the power of God and the power of the devil. In our history we have had some very peculiar experiences. When God has had a people on the earth, it matters not in what age, Lucifer, the son of the morning, and the millions of fallen spirits that were cast out of heaven, have warred against God, against Christ, against the work of God, and against the people of God. And they are not backward in doing it in our day and generation. Whenever the Lord set his hand to perform any work, those powers labored to overthrow it” (“Remarks Made at the General Conference on the Afternoon of Monday, October 5, 1896, in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City,”Deseret Evening News,Oct. 17, 1896, 9).

22. “We are living in one of the most important generations that man ever lived on Earth and we should write an account of those important transactions which are taking place before our Eyes in fulfillment of the prophecies and the revelation of God” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898 Typescript,ed. Scott G. Kenney, 9 vols. [1983–85], 4:444; spelling modernized).

23. “Put your trust in God and rely on his promises, living up to the light and knowledge you possess; and all will be well with you whether living or dying” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff,260).

24. “I have always looked upon the life of our Savior—who descended beneath all things that He might rise above all things—as an example for His followers. … There is something about all this that appears sorrowful; but it med necessary for the Savior to descend below all things that he might ascend above all things” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff,4).

25. “I have been blessed at times with certain gifts and graces, certain revelations and ministrations; but with them all I have never found anything that I could place more dependency upon than the still small voice of the Holy Ghost” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff,45).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of Wilford Woodruff

Graces(par. 25)Blessings from God, privileges 
Dependency(par. 25)Faith or trust 

Other Significant Events from the Life of Wilford Woodruff

In 1838 the Lord called Wilford Woodruff to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and also called him and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve to go on a mission to Great Britain (D&C 118heading, 3–4, 6). Elder Woodruff went over the “great waters” to Great Britain and helped bring thousands of people into the Church. In 1840, during a period of five months, over 1,800 people in the Herefordshire area of England were baptized through the efforts of Elder Woodruff and his companions. This included one group of almost 600 people who had been meeting together and praying that they would find the truth. Elder Woodruff wrote: “The whole history of this Herefordshire mission shows the importance of listening to the still small voice of the Spirit of God, and the revelations of the Holy Ghost. The people were praying for light and truth, and the Lord sent me to them” (in Matthias F. Cowley,Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: History of His Life and Labors As Recorded in His Daily Journals[1964], 120).

In 1856 Elder Woodruff was called to be the Church historian, and the Church has almost 7,000 pages of his personal journals, which contain many of the teachings and events from the life of Joseph Smith. He felt that writing a history of the Church was one of his callings: “The devil has sought to take away my life from the day I was born until now, more so even than the lives of other men. I m to be a marked victim of the adversary. I can find but one reason for this: the devil knew if I got into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would write the history of that Church and leave on record the works and teachings of the prophets, of the apostles and elders” (in Cowley,Wilford Woodruff,477).

While Elder Woodruff was president of the St. George Temple, he was visited by the spirits of the men who helped begin the government of the United States. They asked for their temple work to be done. Elder Woodruff helped to do the temple work for these men and other people from history, including Christopher Columbus and important religious leaders who had died before the restoration of the gospel. (Journal of Discourses,19:229.)

Reflecting on his life, President Wilford Woodruff wrote: “My life abounds in incidents which to me surely indicate the direct interposition of God whom I firmly believe has guided my every step. On 27 distinct occasions I have been saved from dangers which threatened my life” (in Cowley,Wilford Woodruff,vi).

Studying the Reading

Do two of the following activities (A–C) as you study “President Wilford Woodruff.”

Activity A iconExplain It to a Friend

The Church discontinued the practice of plural marriage more than 100 years ago. However, some people still misunderstand that doctrine and ask questions about it today. Study paragraphs 8–10 and write what you would say to a friend who asked you to explain plural marriage. Include some details about the history of the Church and your feelings about having modern prophets.

Activity B iconStudy President Woodruff’s Life

  1. 1.

    StudyDoctrine and Covenants 118:1, 6;124:127–29;136:13;138:53; andOfficial Declaration 1. List what you learn about Wilford Woodruff from each of those scriptures.

  2. 2.

    Study paragraphs 1–7, 11–17 and the information in the chart about his life and presidency (p. 178). List what you think he should be remembered for and briefly explain why you think we should remember each of them.

Activity C iconTeachings of President Woodruff

President Wilford Woodruff taught: “If you do your duty, and I do my duty, we’ll have protection, and shall pass through the afflictions in peace and in safety” (in “A Remarkable Statement,”Improvement Era,Oct. 1914, 1165). Study paragraphs 18–25 and do the following:

  1. 1.

    List what President Woodruff said Church members have a duty to do.

  2. 2.

    Choose three duties from your list and briefly write how you could do each one better.