Cursing, it would seem, forms something of a theme in Mormon legal history. Not only was it a way of dealing with unsolved crimes, but it also seems to have been used as a way of controlling frivolous litigation. In 1856, Brigham Young delivered a particularlly blistering sermon denouncing lawyers. Speaking of the law courts, he thundered, “It is a cage of unclean birds, a den and kitchen of hell, and I am going to warn you of it.” And warn he did. In particular, he was hard on:
[T]he lustful, wicked, cursed, hellish appetites of professed brethren, in striving to cheat their neighbors, by employing lawyers to deceive or lie for them, which are synonymous terms in the eyes of justice, and by bringing in witnesses to screen the guilty and deceive a jury, whereby they are liable to give a wrong verdict.
And so Brigham cursed the lawyers (and their clients it would seem): “Men who love corruption, contention, and broils, and who seek to make them, I curse you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Lest one think that this was a simple case of cussing or rhetoric, Brigham went on, “I curse you, and the fruits of your lands shall be smitten with mildew, your children shall sicken and die, your cattle shall waste away, and I pray God to root you out from the society of the Saints.”
Ever the pragmatist, however, Brigham was not content to sit on his hands and simply leave it at his prayers. Faith without works, for Brigham, was dead. For example, during one of his frequent trips south his wagon became stuck in the sand. One of the accompanying brethren asked, “Brother Brigham, should we pray?” Brigham supposedly responded, “We prayed this morning. Let’s get out and push.” Having cursed the lawyers in the morning, Brigham also did a bit of pushing. He reported:
I sent Thomas Bullock to take your names; I wanted to know the men who were coaxing hell into our midst, for I wish to send them to China, to the East Indies, or to where they cannot get back, at least for five years. . . . [W]e will send off the poor curses on a mission, and then the devil may have them, and we do not care how soon they apostatize, after they get as far as California.
It is hard to tell whether or not Brigham followed through on this threat. It is worth noting, however, that before this sermon was given Brigham had sent one of Utah’s earliest lawyers — Hosea Stout — on a mission to China. Furthermore, in 1856, a short time after Brigham delivered this sermon, Zerubbabel Snow (pictured here), a Mormon attorney and the apparent object of Brigham’s ire in this sermon (he all but names Snow) was sent on a mission to Australia, where he remained until 1859.
On the other hand, upon returning to Utah, the Mormon-dominated state legislature appointed Snow to be a judge in Utah county.