Act in Relation to Service

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The Act in Relation to Service, which was passed in 1852 in the Utah Territory, made slavery legal in the territory. The law also legalized Indian slavery.


California was admitted to the Union as a free state following passage of the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise also allowed the Territories of Utah and New Mexico to choose whether to make slavery legal in those territories. With New Mexico leaning toward entering the Union as a free state, Brigham Young, Territorial Governor of Utah felt it would be easier to enter the Union as a slave state in order to preserve the balance of power in Congress. As such, he encouraged passage of the Act in Relation to Service.[citation needed]

Black slavery[edit]

Negro slavery was permitted in the territory, but the pioneers had passed no rules about the treatment of blacks, as they had with Indian slavery. There was no requirement that black slaves receive any education. However, blacks were not permitted to be sold to others without their own consent. Since the Mormons had actively proselyted in the southern United States prior to their arrival in Utah, a few Mormons (including apostles Charles C. Rich and Abraham Smoot) were slave owners. Certainly the act would have been appreciated by slaveholders living in Utah.

The act had a few special provisions unique to slavery in Utah. Slaves brought into the Territory had to come “of their own free will and choice”; and they could not be sold or taken from the Territory against their will. Though a fixed period of servitude was not prescribed for Negroes, the law provided "that no contract shall bind the heirs of the servant … for a longer period than will satisfy the debt due his [master]." Several unique provisions were included which terminated the owner’s contract in the event that the master had sexual intercourse with a servant "of the African race," neglected to feed, clothe, shelter, or otherwise abused the servant, or attempted to take him from the Territory against his will. Some schooling was also required for slaves between the ages of six and twenty.

Section Four of the statute prohibited sexual relations or miscegenation between whites and blacks. The section read in part, "if any white person shall be guilty of sexual intercourse with any of the African race, they shall be subject, on conviction thereof to a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars, nor less than five hundred, to the use of the Territory, and imprisonment, not exceeding three years."

Ironically, Brigham Young declared following the passage of the statute, "I am as much opposed to the principle of slavery as any man in the present acceptation or usage of the term. It is abused. I am opposed to abusing that which God decreed, to take a blessing and make a curse of it. It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain as servants, but those they serve should use them with all the heart and feeling, as they would use their own children and their compassion should reach over them and round about them, and treat them as kindly, and with that human feeling necessary to be shown to mortal beings of the human species. Under these circumstances their blessings in life are greater in portion than those that have to provide the bread and dinner for them."[1]

Indian slavery[edit]

When the Mormons arrived in Utah, it was originally part of Mexico. Following the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave much of the Western half of the continent to the United States Government. The Compromise of 1850 created the territories of Utah and New Mexico, among other things.

Mormons were initially opposed to Indian slavery. During Indian wars prior to the arrival of Mormons in 1847, Indians often captured women and children during raids on other tribes, and sold them to the Spanish residents of the area. Brigham Young initially told the Indians that it was against the law to trade slaves. Upset by this news, in one graphic incident, Ute Indian Chief Arrapine, a brother of Chief Walkara, insisted that because the Mormons had stopped the Mexicans from buying these children, the Mormons were obligated to purchase them. In his book, Forty Years Among the Indians, Daniel Jones wrote, "[s]everal of us were present when he took one of these children by the heels and dashed its brains out on the hard ground, after which he threw the body towards us, telling us we had no hearts, or we would have bought it and saved its life."[2]

Incidents such as this led the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah on 4 February 1852 to pass an act legalizing Indian slavery. The purpose was to induce Mormons to buy Indian children who otherwise would have been abandoned or killed. It provided that Indian children under the proper conditions could be legally bound over to suitable guardians for a term of indenture not exceeding twenty years. The master was required to send Indian children between the ages of seven and sixteen years to school for a period of three months each year and was answerable to the probate judge for the treatment of these apprentices. As a result of this act, many Mormon families took small Indian children into their homes to protect them from slavery or from being left destitute. John D. Lee, for example, wrote in his journal about a group of Indians who "brought me two more girls for which I gave them two horses. I named the girls Annette and Elnora."[3]

Indian servitude required persons with Indian servants to demonstrate that they were "properly qualified to raise or retain said Indian," and limited the indenture to a maximum of twenty years. Masters were also required to clothe their "apprentices … in a comfortable and becoming manner, according to his, said master’s, condition in life." Yearly schooling was mandatory between the ages of seven and sixteen, and the total education requirement was significantly greater than for Negroes.


The slavery portion of the act was repealed on June 19, 1862 when Congress prohibited slavery in all US territories. The anti-miscegenation portion remained in effect until 1963.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Young, Brigham (1987), Collier, Fred C., ed., The Teachings of President Brigham Young: Vol. 3 1852–1854, Salt Lake City, Utah: Colliers Publishing Company, p. 45, ISBN 0934964017, OCLC 18192348 
  2. ^ Jones, Daniel Webster (1890), Forty Years Among the Indians, Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor Office, p. 53, OCLC 3427232 
  3. ^ Campbell, Eugene E. (1988), "Chapter 6: The Mormons and the Indians—Ideals versus Realities", Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869, Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, ISBN 0941214621, OCLC 17261802 

Further reading[edit]

  • Coleman, Ronald G. (1976), "Blacks in Utah History", in Papanikolas, Helen, The Peoples of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah State Historical Society, pp. 115–140, ISBN 0913738263, OCLC 2523229 . Reprint, with permission, at

External links[edit]