Mormonism and polygamy

Mormonism and polygamy
Mormonism and polygamy
Members of Joseph F. Smith's family, including his sons and daughters, as well as their spouses and children, circa 1900.
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Polygamy (called plural marriage by Mormons in the 19th century or the Principle by modern fundamentalist practitioners of polygamy) was taught by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) for more than half of the 19th century,[1] and practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890.[2]

The Church's practice of polygamy has been highly controversial, both within Western society and the Church itself. Puritan America was both fascinated and horrified by the practice of polygamy, with the Republican platform at one time referencing "the twin relics of barbarism - polygamy and slavery." On its web site, the Church attempts to clarify by making a clear distinction between doctrine and practice. According to the church, “The standard doctrine of the church is monogamy, as it always has been, as indicated in The Book of Mormon (Jacob chapter 2): “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none. … For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” [1] The reason given in The Book of Mormon for the practice of polygamy, then, is by revelation from God in order to "raise up seed unto [God]." The private practice of polygamy, or more accurately, polygyny, was instituted in the 1830s by founder Joseph Smith, Jr. The public practice of polygamy (“plural marriage”) by the church was announced and defended in 1852 by one of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Orson Pratt,[2] by the request of the church President at that time, Brigham Young.

For over forty years, the church and the United States were at odds over the issue, with the federal government aggressively seeking to eradicate the practice consistent with prevailing public opinion and the church defending it as a matter of religious freedom. Polygamy was probably a significant factor in the Utah War of 1857 and 1858, given the Republican attempts to paint Democratic President James Buchannan as weak in his opposition to both polygamy and slavery. In 1862, the United States Congress passed the Morrill Act, which prohibited plural marriage in the territories (including Utah) and dis-incorporated the church.[2] In spite of the law, the Mormons continued the practice of polygamy, believing that it was protected by the First Amendment. In 1879, in Reynolds v. United States,[3] the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Morrill Act, stating: "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinion, they may with practices." [2]

The public practice of polygamy by the church was terminated in 1890 by the Manifesto issued by church President Willford Woodruff in which he publicly declared “that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriages forbidden by the law of the land."[2] Today, over 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) are strictly monogamist, and members who are known to practice polygamy are excommunicated. Still, the practice of plural marriage continues among tens of thousands of members of various fundamentalist splinter groups long disassociated from the main body of the church, such as the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). These polygamist sects are generally located in Utah, Arizona, Texas, and other parts of the Western United States, Canada, and Mexico. Even though polygamy is generally illegal in all 50 states and in all three countries, practitioners are almost never prosecuted unless there is evidence of abuse, statutory rape, welfare fraud, or tax evasion.

The origin of plural marriage

The 1835 and 1844 versions of Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) prohibited polygamy and declared that monogamy was the only acceptable form of marriage:

"In as much as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again" [4]

As early as 1832, Mormon missionaries were laboring successfully to make converts among Maine's followers of polygamist religious leader Jacob Cochran, who went into hiding in 1830 to escape imprisonment due to his practice of polygamy. Among Cochran's marital innovations was 'spiritual wifery', and "tradition assumes that (Cochran) received frequent consignments of spiritual consorts, and that such were invariably the most robust and attractive women in the community".[5] The majority of what became the Quorum of the Twelve in 1835 attended Mormon conferences held in the center of the Cochranites in 1834 and 1835.[6][7][8][9] Brigham Young, an apostle in the Twelve, was acquainted with Cochran's followers as he made several missionary journeys through the Cochranite territory from Boston to Saco,[10] and later married Augusta Adams Cobb, a former Cochranite.[11][12]

Joseph Smith publicly condemned the practice, denying the fact that he was involved in it, and participants were being excommunicated, as church records and publications reflect.[13][14] But church leaders nevertheless began practicing polygamy in the 1840s, particularly members of the Quorum of the Twelve.[15] Sidney Rigdon, during a period when he was apostate from the church, wrote a letter in backlash to the Messenger and Advocate in 1844 condemning the church's Quorum of the Twelve and their alleged connection to polygamy,

It is a fact so well known that the Twelve and their adherents have endeavored to carry on this spiritual wife business … and have gone to the most shameful and desperate lengths to keep from the public. First, insulting innocent females, and when they resented the insult, these monsters in human shape would assail their characters by lying, and perjuries, with a multitude of desperate men to help them effect the ruin of those whom they insulted, and all this to enable them to keep these corrupt practices from the world.[16]

At the time the practice was kept a secret from non-members, and many church members at large. Throughout his life, Smith publicly denied having multiple wives.[17]

However, John C. Bennett, a recent convert to the church and the first mayor of Nauvoo, used ideas of eternal and plural marriage to justify acts of seduction, adultery and, in some cases, the practice of abortion in the guise of spiritual wifery. Bennett was called to account by Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and was excommunicated from the church.[18] In April 1844, Joseph Smith referred to polygamy as "John C. Bennett's spiritual wife system" and warned "if any man writes to you, or preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an imposter." Smith mused

we cannot but express our surprise that any elder or priest who has been in Nauvoo, and has had an opportunity of hearing the principles of truth advanced, should for one moment give credence to the idea that any thing like iniquity is practised, much less taught or sanctioned, by the authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.[19]

The practice was publicly announced in Utah in 1852, some five years after the Mormons arrived in Utah, and eight years after Smith's death. The doctrine authorizing plural marriage was published in the 1876 version of Doctrine and Covenants.[20]

Plural marriages of early church leaders

Joseph Smith's wives

The 1843 polygamy revelation, published posthumously, counseled Smith's wife Emma to accept all of Smith's plural wives, and warns of destruction if the new covenant is not observed.[21] Smith's wife Emma was publicly and privately opposed to the practice and Joseph may have married some women without Emma knowing beforehand.[22] Emma publicly denied that her husband had ever preached or practiced polygamy,[23] which later became a defining difference between the church under Brigham Young, and the church under her son Joseph Smith III that she remained affiliated with until her death at the age of 74. Emma Smith claimed that the very first time she ever became aware of the 1843 polygamy revelation was when she read about it in Orson Pratt's booklet The Seer in 1853.[24]

There is a subtle difference between 'sealing' (which is a Mormon priesthood ordinance that binds individuals together in the eternities), and 'marriage' (a social tradition in which the man and woman agree to be husband and wife in this life). In those early days of this religion, common practices and doctrines were not yet well-defined. Even among those who accept the views of conventional historians, there is disagreement as to the precise number of wives Smith had: Fawn M. Brodie lists 48,[25] D. Michael Quinn 46,[26] and George D. Smith 42.[27] The discrepancy is created by the lack of documents to support the alleged marriages to some of the named wives.

A number of Smith's "marriages" occurred after his death, with the wife being sealed to Joseph via a proxy who stood in for him.[28] One historian, Todd M. Compton, documented at least 33 plural marriages or sealings during Smith's lifetime.[29]

Sexual nature of Smith's plural marriages, and alleged children

It is unclear how many of the women Smith had sexual relations with. Many contemporary accounts from Smith's time indicate that he engaged in sexual relations with at least several of his wives.[30][31] As of 2007, there are at least twelve early Latter Day Saints who, based on historical documents and circumstantial evidence, have been identified as potential Smith offspring stemming from plural marriages. In 2005 and 2007 studies, a geneticist with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation showed "with 99.9 percent accuracy" that five of these individuals were in fact not Smith descendants: Mosiah Hancock (son of Clarissa Reed Hancock), Oliver Buell (son of Prescindia Huntington Buell), Moroni Llewellyn Pratt (son of Mary Ann Frost Pratt), Zebulon Jacobs (son of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith), and Orrison Smith (son of Fanny Alger).[32] The remaining seven have yet to be conclusively tested, including Josephine Lyon, for whom current DNA testing cannot provide conclusive evidence either way. Lyon's mother, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, left her daughter a deathbed affidavit telling her she was Smith's daughter.[32]

Plural marriages of other early church leaders

Church president Brigham Young had fifty-one wives, and fifty-six children by sixteen of those wives.

Church apostle Heber C. Kimball had forty-three wives, and had sixty-five children by seventeen different women.

U.S. federal government actions against polygamy

1857-1858 Utah War

As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in what became the Utah Territory it eventually was subjected to the power and opinion of the United States. Friction first began to show in the James Buchanan administration and federal troops arrived (see Utah War). President Buchannan, anticipating Mormon opposition to a newly appointed governor to replace Brigham Young, dispatched 2,500 federal troops to Utah to seat the new governor, thus setting in motion a series of unfortunate misunderstandings when the Mormons felt threatened in light of their past history.[33]

1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act

The general opinion of the rest of the United States was that the practice of plural marriage was offensive. On July 8, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act into law, which forbade the practice in US territories. President Lincoln told the church that he had no intentions of enforcing it if they would not interfere with him, and so the matter was laid to rest for a time. Nevertheless, the rhetoric continued, and polygamy became an impediment to Utah being admitted to the United States. This was not a concern to Brigham Young, however, who preached in 1866 that if Utah will not be admitted to the Union until it abandons polygamy, "we shall never be admitted."[34]

After the Civil War, immigrants to Utah who were not members of the church continued the contest for political power. They were frustrated by the consolidation of the members. Forming the Liberal Party, they began pushing for political changes and to weaken the church's advantage in the territory. In September 1871, President Brigham Young was indicted for adultery due to his plural marriages. On January 6, 1879, the Supreme Court upheld the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act in Reynolds v. United States.

1882 Edmunds Act

In February 1882, George Q. Cannon, a prominent leader in the church, was denied a non-voting seat in the House of Representatives due to his polygamous relations. This revived the issue in national politics. One month later, the Edmunds Act was passed by Congress, amending the Morrill Act and made polygamy a felony punishable by a $500 fine and five years in prison. Unlawful cohabitation, where the prosecution did not need to prove that a marriage ceremony had taken place (only that a couple had lived together), was a misdemeanor punishable by a $300 fine and six months imprisonment.[2] It also revoked the right of polygamists to vote or hold office and allowed them to be punished without due process. Even if people did not practice polygamy, they would have their rights revoked if they confessed a belief in it. In August, Rudger Clawson was imprisoned for continuing to cohabit with wives that he married before the 1862 Morrill Act.

1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act

Portrait of polygamists in prison, at the Utah Penitentiary, including George Q. Cannon in 1889, arrested under the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

In 1887, the Edmunds-Tucker Act allowed the seizure of the church and its property and further extended the punishments of the Edmunds Act of 1882. In July of the same year, the U.S. Attorney General filed suit to seize the church and all of its assets.

The church was losing control of the territorial government, and many members and leaders were being actively pursued as fugitives. Without being able to appear publicly, the leadership was left to navigate underground. Teaching new marriage and family arrangements where the principles that could not be openly discussed, compounded the problems. Those authorized to teach the doctrine had always stressed the strict covenants, obligations and responsibilities associated with it—the antithesis of license. But those who heard only rumors, or who chose to distort and abuse the teaching, often envisioned and sometimes practiced something quite different. One such person was John C. Bennett, an earlier mayor of Nauvoo and adviser to Joseph Smith, who twisted the teaching to his own advantage. Capitalizing on rumors and lack of understanding among general church membership, he taught a doctrine of "spiritual wifery". He and associates sought to have illicit sexual relationships with women by telling them that they were married "spiritually", even if they had never been married formally, and that the Prophet approved the arrangement. These statements were false. The Bennett scandal resulted in his excommunication and the disaffection of several others. Bennett then toured the country speaking against the Latter-day Saints and published a bitter anti-Mormon exposé charging the Saints with licentiousness. Those that twisted teachings of polygamy over the years often caused serious problems and acted as a fuel for distress over the issue, associated rumors, and misunderstandings.

Following the aforementioned passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, the church found it difficult to operate as a viable institution. Among other things, this legislation disincorporated the church, confiscated its properties, and even threatened seizure of its temples. After visiting priesthood leaders in many settlements, President Woodruff left for San Francisco on September 3, 1890, to meet with prominent businessmen and politicians. He returned to Salt Lake City on September 21, determined to obtain divine confirmation to pursue a course that seemed to be agonizingly more and more clear. As he explained to church members a year later, the choice was between, on the one hand, continuing to practice plural marriage and thereby losing the temples, "stopping all the ordinances therein," and, on the other, ceasing plural marriage in order to continue performing the essential ordinances for the living and the dead. President Woodruff hastened to add that he had acted only as the Lord directed:

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 do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me.

1890 Manifesto banning plural marriage

The final element in President Woodruff's revelatory experience came on the evening of September 23, 1890. The following morning, he reported to some of the General Authorities that he had struggled throughout the night with the Lord regarding the path that should be pursued. The result was a 510-word handwritten manuscript which stated his intentions to comply with the law and denied that the church continued to solemnize or condone plural marriages. The document was later edited by George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency and others to its present 356 words. On October 6, 1890, it was presented to the Latter-day Saints at the General Conference and approved.

The Practice of Polygamy Within the Church Subsequent to the 1890 Manifesto

Plural marriages after 1890

While many church leaders in 1890 regarded the Manifesto as inspired, there were differences among them about its scope and permanence. Some leaders were reluctant to terminate a long-standing practice that was regarded as divinely mandated. As a result, over 200 plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904.[35]

1904 second manifesto banning plural marriage

It was not until 1904, under the leadership of President Joseph F. Smith, that the church completely banned new plural marriages worldwide.[36] Not surprisingly, rumors persisted of marriages performed after the 1890 manifesto, and beginning in January 1904, testimony given in the Smoot hearings made it clear that plural marriage had not been completely extinguished.

The ambiguity was ended in the General Conference of April 1904, when President Joseph F. Smith issued the "Second Manifesto", an emphatic declaration that prohibited plural marriage and proclaimed that offenders would be subject to church discipline. They declared that any who participated in additional plural marriages, and those officiating, would be excommunicated from the church. Those disagreeing with the second manifesto included apostles Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor who both resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve. Cowley retained his membership in the church, but Taylor was later excommunicated.

Although the 1904 Manifesto ended the official practice of new plural marriages, existing plural marriages were not automatically dissolved. Many Mormons, including prominent church leaders, maintained existing plural marriages well into the 20th century.

Instance of plural marriage in 1943

In 1943, the First Presidency discovered apostle Richard R. Lyman was cohabitating with a woman other than his legal wife. As it turned out, in 1925 Lyman had begun a relationship which he defined as a polygamous marriage. Unable to trust anyone else to officiate, Elder Lyman and the woman exchanged vows secretly. By 1943, both were in their seventies. Lyman was excommunicated on November 12, 1943 at age 73. The Quorum of the Twelve provided the newspapers with a one-sentence announcement, stating that the ground for excommunication was violation of the Law of Chastity, which any practice of post-Manifesto polygamy constituted.

Remnants of plural marriage within polygamist sects

Teens from polygamous families along with over 200 supporters demonstrate at a pro-plural marriage rally in Salt Lake City in 2006[37]

Over time, many of those who rejected the LDS Church's relinquishment of plural marriage formed small, close-knit communities in areas of the Rocky Mountains. These groups continue to practice 'the principle' despite the opposition. These people are commonly called Mormon fundamentalists and may either practice as individuals, as families, or as part of organized denominations. The official style guide of the church objects to the use of the term "Mormon fundamentalists" and suggests using the term "polygamist sects" to avoid confusion about whether the main body of Mormon believers teach or practice polygamy.

Members of these polygamist sects believe that plural marriage is a requirement for exaltation and entry into the highest "degree" of the Celestial kingdom (the highest of three Mormon heavens). This belief stems from statements by 19th century Mormon authorities including Brigham Young, although some of these leaders gave possibly conflicting statements that a monogamist may obtain at least a lower degree of "exaltation" through mere belief in polygamy.[38] Thus, plural marriage is viewed as an essential and fundamental part of the religion.

For public relations reasons, the LDS Church has sought vigorously to disassociate itself from Mormon fundamentalists and the practice of plural marriage.[39] Although the LDS Church has requested that journalists not refer to Mormon fundamentalists using the term Mormon,[40] journalists generally have not complied, and Mormon fundamentalist has become standard terminology. Mormon fundamentalists themselves embrace the term Mormon, and share a common religious heritage with the LDS Church including canonization of the Book of Mormon.

Modern plural marriage theory within the LDS Church

Although the LDS Church has abandoned the practice of plural marriage, it has not abandoned the underlying doctrines of polygamy in an eternal sense. According to the church's sacred texts and pronouncements by its leaders and theologians, the church leaves open the possibility that it may one day re-institute the practice. The church also holds that plural marriage will exist in the afterlife.[citation needed]

LDS reasons for allowing polygamy

As early as the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, LDS doctrine maintained that polygamy was allowable so long as it was commanded by God. The Book of Jacob condemned polygamy as adultery, but left open the proviso that "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things."[41] Thus, the LDS Church today teaches that plural marriage can only be practiced when specifically authorized by God. According to this view, the 1890 Manifesto and/or 1904 Manifesto rescinded God's prior authorization given to Joseph Smith.

However, LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated in his 1958 book, Mormon Doctrine, that God will "obviously" re-institute the practice of polygamy after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.[42] This echoes earlier teachings by Brigham Young that the primary purpose of polygamy was to bring about the Millennium.[43] Current official church teaching materials do not make any mention of the future re-institution of plural marriage.

Plural marriage in the afterlife

LDS scripture teaches that marital sealings between two spouses will continue in force in the afterlife.[44] Thus, LDS doctrine teaches that plural marriages which were valid at the time of the sealing, whether biblical or 19th-century Mormon, will continue in force in the afterlife. In addition, there are circumstances where members of the modern LDS Church may be sealed to more than one spouse when their spouse dies. The predominant view within the LDS Church is that these plural sealings may continue in force in the afterlife, resulting in a polygamous relationship.

Multiple sealings when a prior spouse has died

In the case where a man's first wife dies, and the man remarries, and both of the marriages involve a sealing, LDS authorities teach that in the afterlife, the man will enter a polygamous relationship with both wives.[45]

Under LDS Church policy, a man whose sealed wife has died does not have to request any permission to be married in the temple and sealed to another woman, unless the new wife's circumstance requires a cancellation of sealing. However, a woman whose sealed husband has died is still bound by the original sealing and used to have to request a cancellation of sealing to be sealed to another man. In some cases, women in this situation who wish to remarry choose to be married to subsequent husbands in the temple "for time only", and are not sealed to them, leaving them sealed to their first husband for eternity.

As of 1998, however, women may be sealed to more than one man. On page 72 of the 1998 edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions, the LDS Church created a new policy that a woman may also be sealed to more than one man. A woman, however, may not be sealed to more than one man while she is alive. She may only be sealed to subsequent partners after both she and her husband(s) have died.[46] Thus, if a widow who was sealed to her first husband remarries, she may be sealed by proxy to all of her subsequent husband(s), but only after both she and the subsequent husbands have died. Church leaders have not clarified if women in such circumstances will live in a polyandrous relationship in the afterlife. However, proxy sealings, like proxy baptisms, are merely offered to the person in the afterlife, indicating that the purpose is to allow the woman to choose the right man to be sealed to, as LDS doctrine forbids polyandry.

Multiple sealings when marriages end in divorce

A man who is sealed to a woman but later divorced must apply for a "sealing clearance" from the First Presidency in order to be sealed to another woman. This does not void or invalidate the first sealing. A woman in the same circumstances would apply to the First Presidency for a "cancellation of sealing", (sometimes incorrectly called a "temple divorce") allowing her to be sealed to another man. This approval voids the original sealing as far as the woman is concerned. Divorced women who have not applied for a sealing cancellation are considered sealed to the original husband. However, the LDS Church teaches that even in the afterlife the marriage relationship is voluntary. So no man or woman can be forced into an eternal relationship through temple sealing that they do not wish to be in. On occasion, divorced women have been granted a cancellation of sealing, even though they do not intend to marry someone else. In this case, they are no longer considered as being sealed to anyone and are presumed to have the same eternal status as unwed women.

Proxy sealings where both spouses have died

According to church policy, after a man has died, he may be sealed by proxy to all of the women to whom he was legally married while he was alive. The same is true for women; however, if a woman was sealed to a man while she was alive, all of her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed by proxy to them.[46]

Church doctrine is not entirely specific on the status of men or women who are sealed by proxy to multiple spouses. There are at least two possibilities:

  1. Regardless of how many people a man or woman is sealed to by proxy, they will only remain with one of them in the afterlife, and that the remaining spouses, who might still merit the full benefits of exaltation that come from being sealed, would then be given to another person in order to ensure each has an eternal marriage.
  2. These sealings create effective plural marriages that will continue after death. There are no church teachings clarifying whether polyandrous relationships can exist in the afterlife, so some church members doubt whether this possibility would apply to women who are sealed by proxy to multiple spouses. The possibility for women to be sealed to multiple men is a recent policy change enacted in 1998. Church leaders have neither explained this change, nor its doctrinal implications.

The LDS Church teaches that free agency is given to all and that those in the afterlife would have a choice whether to accept the marriage sealing performed on their behalf.

Criticism of plural marriage

Instances of unhappy plural marriage

Critics of polygamy in the early LDS Church claim that plural marriages produced unhappiness in some wives.[47] LDS historian Todd Compton, in his book In Sacred Loneliness, described various instances where some wives in polygamous marriages were unhappy with polygamy.[48]

Plural marriage as a means to have multiple sexual partners

Critics of polygamy in the early LDS Church claim that church leaders established the practice of polygamy in order to further their immoral desires for sexual gratification with multiple sexual partners.[49] Critics point to the fact that church leaders practiced polygamy in secret from 1833 to 1852, despite a written church doctrine renouncing polygamy and stating that only monogamous marriages were permitted (section 101 D&C).[50] Critics also cite several first-person accounts of early church leaders attempting to use the polygamy doctrine to enter into illicit relationships with women.[51][52] Critics also assert that Joseph Smith instituted polygamy in order to cover-up an 1835 adulterous affair with a neighbor's daughter, Fanny Alger, by taking Alger as his second wife.[53] Compton dates this marriage to March or April 1833, well before Joseph was accused of an affair.[54] However, historian Lawrence Foster dismisses the marriage of Alger to Joseph Smith as "debatable supposition" rather than "established fact".[55]

Others conclude that many Latter-day Saints entered into plural marriage based on the belief that it was a religious commandment, rather than as an excuse for sexual license. For instance, many of the figures who came to be best associated with plural marriage, including Church President Brigham Young and his counselor Heber C. Kimball, expressed revulsion at the system when it was first introduced to them. Young famously stated that after receiving the commandment to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo, he saw a funeral procession walking down the street and he wished he could exchange places with the corpse. He recalled that "I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time."[56] When Kimball first heard of the principle, he believed that he would marry elderly women whom he would care for and who would not be a threat to his first wife Vilate. He was later shocked to learn that he was to marry a younger woman.[57] His biographer writes that he "became sick in body, but his mental wretchedness was too great to allow of his retiring, and he would walk the floor till nearly morning, and sometimes the agony of his mind was so terrible that he would wring his hands and weep like a child..."[57] While his wife Vilate had trials "grievous to bear" as a result of her acceptance of plural marriage, she supported her husband in his religious duties, and taught her children that "she could not doubt the plural order of marriage was of God, for the Lord had revealed it to her in answer to prayer."[58] Apologists also note that, although the revelation permitting polygamy was not published until 1852, it was actually received by Joseph Smith sometime in the 1830s.

Underage plural marriages

Critics of polygamy in the early LDS Church claim that church leaders sometimes used polygamy to take advantage of young girls for immoral purposes.[59] LDS historian George D. Smith studied 153 men who took plural wives in the early years of the Latter Day Saint movement, and found that two of the girls were thirteen years old, 13 girls were fourteen years old, 21 were fifteen years old, and 53 were sixteen years old.[60] LDS historian Todd Compton documented that Joseph Smith married several girls of age 13 or 14.[48] Historian Stanly Hirshon documented cases of girls aged 10 and 11 being married to old men.[61]

However, it seems that Brigham Young attempted to stamp out the practice of men being sealed to excessively young girls. In 1857, he stated "I shall not seal the people as I have done. Old Father Alread brought three young girls 12 & 13 years old. I would not seal them to him. They would not be equally yoked together...Many get their endowments who are not worthy and this is the way that devils are made."[62]

Increase in bachelorhood caused by reduction in eligible women

As the type of polygamy practiced is polygyny, critics of the early LDS Church point out that polygamy may have caused a shortage of brides in the early LDS community,[63] citing quotes by church leader Heber C. Kimball who said (addressing departing missionaries):

Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake.[64]

On another occasion, he said "You are sent out as shepherds to gather sheep together; and remember that they are not your sheep ... do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold."[65]

The precise number who participated in plural marriage is not known, but studies indicate a maximum of 20-25% of LDS adults were members of polygamist households. One third of the women of marriageable age and nearly all of the church leadership were involved in the practice.[66]

Instances of coercion and deception related to plural marriage

Critics of polygamy in the early LDS Church have documented several cases where deception and coercion were used to induce marriage,[67] for example citing the case of Joseph Smith who warned some potential spouses of eternal damnation if they did not consent to be his wife.[48] In 1893, married LDS Church member John D. Miles traveled to England and proposed to Caroline Owens, assuring her that he was not polygamous. She returned to Utah and participated in a wedding, only to find out after the ceremony that Miles was already married. She ran away, but Miles hunted her down and raped her. She eventually escaped, and filed a lawsuit against Miles that reached the Supreme Court and became a significant case in polygamy case law.[68] Ann Eliza Young, nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, claimed that Young coerced her to marry him by threatening financial ruin of her brother.[69]

Incestuous plural marriages

Critics of polygamy in the early LDS Church claim that polygamy was used to justify marriage of close relatives that would otherwise be considered immoral.[63][70] In 1843, Joseph Smith's diary records the marriage of John Bernhisel to his sister, Maria.[71] In 1886, Lorenzo Snow said that brothers and sisters should be able to get married.[72] Former LDS Church member and prominent critic Fanny Stenhouse wrote in 1875:

It would be quite impossible, with any regard to propriety, to relate all the horrible results of this disgraceful system.... Marriages have been contracted between the nearest of relatives; and old men tottering on the brink of the grave have been united to little girls scarcely in their teens; while unnatural alliances of every description, which in any other community would be regarded with disgust and abhorrence, are here entered into in the name of God.[73]

See also

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  1. ^ a b The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "Polygamy: Latter-day Saints and the Practice of Plural Marriage", from “Newsroom, The Official Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders, and the Public,” accessed July 23, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f University of Utah “Polygamy”, “Utah History Encyclopedia,” accessed July 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Reynolds v. United States “The History of The Supreme Court”
  4. ^ Doctrine and Covenants, section 101, page 251, 1835 edition.
  5. ^ Ridlon, G.T. Cochran Delusion/Mormon Invasion, in Saco Valley Settlements and Families: Historical, Biographical, Genealogical, Traditional, and Legendary (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1895), 269 ff..
  6. ^ The Evening and the Morning Star 2 [August 1834]: 181
  7. ^ Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2 [October 1835]: 204-207 states that "On August 21, 1835, nine of the Twelve met in conference at Saco, Maine"
  8. ^ RLDS History of the Church 1:583
  9. ^ LDS History of the Church 2:252
  10. ^ Times and Seasons 6 [November 1, 1845]
  11. ^ Stewart, J.J. (1961) Brigham Young and His Wives, at 85
  12. ^ Carter, K.B. (1973) Our pioneer heritage 6, 187-189
  13. ^ "Notice", Times and Seasons, Volume 5, No. 3, 1 February 1844 (p. 423 in bound editionalt source of text) "As we have lately been credibly informed, that an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints, by the name of Hiram Brown, has been preaching Polygamy, and other false and corrupt doctrines, in the county of Lapeer, state of Michigan."
  14. ^ Roberts, B. H. (Brigham Henry) (1912). History of the Church. 6. pp. p. 411. "What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one."  (Joseph Smith, Jr.)
  15. ^ Smith, W. A Proclamation, Warsaw Signal, Warsaw, Illinois [October 1845], page 1, column 4
  16. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 83
  17. ^ Abanes 2003, pp. 195,283–284
  18. ^ Times and Seasons 3 [August 1, 1842]: 870–871
  19. ^ Times and Seasons 5 [April 1, 1844]: 490–491
  20. ^ Doctrine and Covenants, section 132 and the doctrine denouncing polygamy (section 101) was removed.
  21. ^ A 12 July 1843 polygamy revelation on plural marriage, attributed to Joseph Smith, with the demand that Emma Smith, the first wife, accept all of Joseph Smith's plural wives. See the LDS version of the Doctrine and Covenants, 132:1–4, 19, 20, 24, 34, 35, 38, 39, 52, 60–66.
  22. ^ Brodie 1971, pp. 403
  23. ^ Saints' Herald 48:165–166
  24. ^ Saints' Herald 65:1044–1045
  25. ^ Brodie 1971, p. 457
  26. ^ Quinn 1994, p. 587
  27. ^ Smith 1994, p. 14
  28. ^ Jacobs, Zina Diantha Huntington. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. ed. "All Things Move in Order in the City: The Nauvoo Diary of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs". BYU Studies 19 (3): 285. 
  29. ^ Compton Dec. 1996
  30. ^ Richard Lloyd Anderson, and Scott H. Faulring. "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives - Richard Lloyd Anderson, and Scott H. Faulring - FARMS Review - Volume 10 - Issue 2". Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  31. ^ #Compton, Todd (1997), In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, ISBN 156085085X 
  32. ^ a b Moore, Carrie (11/10/2007). "DNA tests rule out 2 as Smith descendants". Deseret Morning News.,5143,695226318,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  33. ^ University of Utah “The Utah War”, “Utah History Encyclopedia,” accessed July 23, 2011.
  34. ^ Journal of Discourses 11:266.
  35. ^ Hardy 1992
  36. ^ Scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the Sunday Schools, Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1968, p. 159
  37. ^ Teens defend polygamy at Utah rally.
  38. ^ Quinn (1985, pp. 24 fn. 65)
  39. ^ "Mormon Fundamentalists", 6 March 2006 press release by the LDS Church
  40. ^ "Polygamist Sects Are Not 'Mormons,' Church Says", 25 October 2006 press release by the LDS Church
  41. ^ Jacob 2:30.
  42. ^ Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Bookcraft, 1966, p. 578 ("Obviously the holy practice [of plural marriage] will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium."). See also Janet Bennion, Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 20 online at google books: "Ironically, many mainstream Mormons still believe plural marriage to be a low of the highest degree of heaven, simply in suspension until the millennium."
  43. ^ John Cairncross, After polygamy was made a sin: the social history of Christian polygamy, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974, ISBN 0 7100 7730, p. 181.
  44. ^ D&C 132
  45. ^ Charles W. Penrose, "Mormon" Doctrine Plain and Simple, or Leaves from the Tree of Life, 1897, Salt Lake City, p.66 ("In the case of a man marrying a wife in the everlasting covenant who dies while he continues in the flesh and marries another by the same divine law, each wife will come forth in her order and enter with him into his glory."); Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of Salvation, 1956, vol. 2, p. 67 (Smith, who was sealed to two different women, stated, "[M]y wives will be mine in the eternity."); Harold B. Lee, Deseret News 1974 Church Almanac, p. 17 ("My lovely Joan was sent to me: So Joan joins Fern/That three might be, more fitted for eternity./'O Heavenly Father, my thanks to thee'.").
  46. ^ a b LDS Church, Church Handbook of Instructions, (LDS Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998). "A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life."
  47. ^ Tanner 1979, pp. 226–228
  48. ^ a b c Compton 1997
  49. ^ Tanner 1979, pp. 204–290
  50. ^ Tanner 1987, p. 202
  51. ^ Young 1876, pp. 65–86
  52. ^ Bennett 1842, pp. 226–232
  53. ^ Abanes 2003, pp. 132–134
  54. ^ Compton 1996, pp. 174–207
  55. ^ Review of Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33 (Spring 2001): 184-186
  56. ^ Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, 100 (1985).
  57. ^ a b Whitney 1888, p. 326
  58. ^ Whitney 1888, pp. 325–328
  59. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 294
  60. ^ "Nauvoo Polygamists", George D. Smith, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1994, p. ix
  61. ^ Hirshon 1969, pp. 126–127
  62. ^ Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 5:58.
  63. ^ a b Abanes 2003, pp. 297
  64. ^ Hirshon 1969, pp. 129–130
  65. ^ Journal of Discourses; August 28, 1852; vol. 6, p256.
  66. ^ Encyclopedia of Mormonism. MacMillan(1992) p. 1095
  67. ^ Ostling 1999, pp. 60–63
  68. ^ Gage 1972
  69. ^ Young 1875, pp. 440–454
  70. ^ Young 1875, pp. 306–319
  71. ^ Faulring 1987, p. 424
  72. ^ Journal of Mormon History, 1992, p. 106
  73. ^ Stenhouse 1875


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