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Leonard J. Arrington Diaries – “Underground”

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Charles Graves from Public Communications came in to say that he understood that the Tanners now have available for sale a reproduction of Joseph Smith’s diary covering the years 1832-34. This is the diary which Dean Jessee has been preparing for publication for some time. We had heard several months ago that some person working for the Tanners had checked out the microfilm on which this diary is photographed and had stolen it during a lunch period and had it reproduced and that the Tanners thus had a copy of our microfilm of the Joseph Smith material. This might have been done in our archives or it might have been done in the BYU archives, to which we have given a copy of the Joseph Smith material. It is unfortunate that their copy is out in advance of the one which Dean Jessee has been working on. What they are doing is illegal, of course– violates the copyright of our archives; but the Church policy has always been not to fight these matters in the courts, and I assume they won’t on this instance either. There is nothing particularly startling in the diary, except perhaps the spelling of Joseph Smith (more correctly the misspelling) which might be surprising. We have tried to prepare the Saints for the variant spellings of the Prophet by quotations in our articles we have published in the Ensign and BYU Studies, but usually Correlation required the Ensign to correct the spelling in the Ensign with the result that the ordinary member of the Church is not as well prepared as he might have been for this kind of eventuality. We understand that an article is coming out in Utah Holiday which describes the Tanner publication, which will then result in a big sale of it. Once again, it is unfortunate that Dean Jessee has not been able to complete our volume for publication. We planned this as early as 1972 and hoped for sure to have it out by 1974; but for a variety of reasons it has been postponed and postponed and now we are reaping the consequences of that postponement.  

[LJA Diary, 12 Jan., 1979]

During the past few days a trial took place in Salt Lake City which had great significance for Mormon historiography. For years Jerald and Sandra Tanner have published documents which were stolen or surreptitiously removed from the Church Archives or Xeroxed without permission. On the one hand the scholars were delighted to have access to documents which were restricted. On the other hand they could hardly condone the unethical if not illegal practice. In every instance, no matter how flagrant the theft or unwelcome the publication, the Church has chosen to overlook the action and simply to deny use to Tanner and his friends.

A few months ago Andy Ehat, graduate student at BYU, completed a thesis which traced certain sacred ceremonies in early church history—endowments, ordinances, etc. For this purpose he managed to obtain access to certain restricted documents, among them the diary of William Clayton which has been kept in the vault of the First Presidency. Jim Allen also obtained access to this document for use in preparing his biography of Clayton. Ehat and Allen exchanged notes and Xeroxes of documents. Some eighty pages of the Clayton diary were filed in Jim Allen’s office at BYU. The bishop of one of the BYU wards was allowed to use Jim’s office on Sundays and one evening each week. One of his counselors was looking through his files out of curiosity, saw the Clayton diary material, read some of it, was fascinated, and removed it long enough to make a Xerox copy. He showed it to friends, among them Richard Van Wagoner, who in turn shared it with others and a copy ended up with the Tanners. They quickly published it and to this date have sold something like 1800 copies.

Ehat felt crushed. For one thing, he was blamed for the leakage. For another, he had expected to publish his thesis and felt that it was now unpublishable because the heart of it, what came from the Clayton diary, had been published. He had been ordered by BYU to buy up the copies previously distributed, had been denied access to other documents, and otherwise lost some of his credibility. He decided to sue the Tanners and obtained the willing services of Gordon Madsen as attorney. Gordon talked with the Church lawyers in the attempt to get their support and help. Conferences were held and the church decided to stay out of it. Representing the Tanners was Brian Barnard.

On Wednesday, March 21, the trial was held by Judge Sherman Christensen, retired (father of Katherine Gardner), in federal district court in SLC. Madsen took depositions from various historians and had them testify. These included Ehat, Allen, Davis Bitton, Truman Madsen, Dean May, Richard Anderson, Dean Jessee, Lyndon Cook. Also testifying were Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Kent Wallgren, and at least one other whose name I didn’t get. Madsen had others prepared to testify, including Steve Christensen, but the judge suggested he not have other witnesses; he made his point. The trial went on all day Wednesday and Thursday. Chris Arrington, representing Time, attended the first two-thirds of the trial, but there was no one else from the media. No article in Deseret News or Salt Lake Tribune. No one from Sunstone.

On Friday, March 23, Judge Christensen gave his decision. He found for the plaintiff. He apparently delivered quite a lecture to the Tanners, put an injunction against further sales of the Clayton book, and fined the Tanners as follows, to be paid to Ehat: $900, representing the profit from the Clayton book; $3,000, representing what Ehat thought he would make from the publication of his thesis; $11,000, representing compensation for the loss of reputation, damage to character, etc. of Ehat.

I assume an article will appear in Sunstone reviewing the trial. At least Peggy Fletcher mentioned that she will assign it to Cissy. 

[LJA Diary, 25 Mar., 1984]

Until 1979, the diaries were kept in the most restricted repository the Mormon church has—the first presidency vault. That year, Assistant Church Historian Jim Allen received approval to work with the diaries. Without obtaining express permission to make a verbatim typed copy of the entire diaries, Jim Allen and Dean Jessee, another scholar employed by the church, did so. Then a master’s candidate at BYU, Andy Ehat, got permission from historian Don Schmidt to read the journals, and he made notes on the dates of entries he thought were significant. Later, Dean Jessee let Ehat see his typescript, and Ehat typed out seventy-seven pages of notes from it. He obtained a further eleven pages of notes from Jim Allen.

Ehat shared his notes with his former collaborator Lyndon Cook, and the notes were stolen from Cook’s office by BYU student Kelly Johnson in the summer of 1981. Copies were circulated in a widening circle that finally reached the Tanners, who published the notes (minus Ehat’s editorial comments) in June 1982 as “Clayton’s Secret Writings Uncovered.” The Tanners felt that the notes were in the public domain because they had been widely circulated, and they felt the diaries’ significance to Mormon history justified their decision to publish the notes. In effect, they felt the notes were “newsworthy.”

Insiders among Mormon historians saw the publishing of the Clayton material as a blow to their work. It would allow the most conservative general authorities to argue that the church archives should remain closely guarded, rather than open, so “enemies of the church” can’t get such material. Some historians feel this event was a significant setback to the professional History Division of the Church Historical Department, which was subsequently reassigned to the Brigham Young University campus, away from the archives. (The History Division was founded in 1972 and transferred in 1982.)

[Tanner Article, The Front Page, Utah Holiday; LJA Diary, May 1984]