Curse of Cain

The issue of popular sovereignty, or a territory’s right to accept or reject slavery, also became hotly debated during this period. Speaking to a mostly Mormon Legislature in February 1852, Brigham Young confessed that while he personally found slavery to be inhumane, he believed Africans were cursed to servitude based on his belief that they were the descendants of the Biblical Cain who slew his brother. Furthermore, Young decreed that males of African heritage were ineligible to receive priesthood ordination, despite instances where free black men had previously been ordained in the church. Although the curse of Cain concept was supportable by Latter-day Saint scripture (Book of Abraham), it was not a concept that was unique to the Mormons. Many Southern Baptists also used the curse of Cain concept as justification to support the institution of slavery.

Further Reading:

Gospel Topics Essay: “Race and the Priesthood.”

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