By Eric Johnson
Listen to the 10-part Viewpoint on Mormonism series on this Gospel Topics essay, which originally aired in late September/early October 2016. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10
More attention has been given to the topic of polygamy (plural marriage) than any other in the Gospel Topics essay series. This particular essay was published in December 2013 under the Gospel Topics section on the LDS Church website. The original full article is underlined, with my response following.
Before going any further, here is the Official Declaration 1, word for word, which is found after the Doctrine and Covenants in the LDS scripture:
Official Declaration 1
Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year, also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygamy—
I, therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
One case has been reported, in which the parties allege that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, in Salt Lake City, in the Spring of 1889, but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony; whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge. In consequence of this alleged occurrence the Endowment House was, by my instructions, taken down without delay.
Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
President Lorenzo Snow offered the following:
“I move that, recognizing Wilford Woodruff as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only man on the earth at the present time who holds the keys of the sealing ordinances, we consider him fully authorized by virtue of his position to issue the Manifesto which has been read in our hearing, and which is dated September 24th, 1890, and that as a Church in General Conference assembled, we accept his declaration concerning plural marriages as authoritative and binding.”
For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman. The beginning and end of the practice were directed by revelation through God’s prophets. The initial command to practice plural marriage came through Joseph Smith, the founding prophet and President of the Church.
When it comes to polygamy, the practice was never encouraged nor commanded in the Book of Mormon. Speaking of David and Solomon’s “abominable” practice of having many wives and concubines, Jacob 2:26–27 warns,
Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. 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.
Jacob 2:30 does offer a single exception: “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.” In an essay titled “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” writer Stanley Ivans states,
While polygamy increased the number of children of the men, it did not do the same for the women involved. A count revealed that 3,335 wives of polygamists bore 19,806 children, for an average of 5.9 per woman. An equal number of wives of monogamists taken from the same general group bore 26,780 for an average of 8. This suggests the possibility that the overall production of children in Utah may have been less than it would have been without benefit of plurality of wives. (“Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” in Quinn, The New Mormon History, p. 177).
Mormon historian Todd Compton states that Joseph Smith had thirty-three wives (In Sacred Loneliness, p. 2), and it is also generally accepted that among those whom Smith married had living husbands. Compton writes that
fully one-third of his plural wives, eleven of them, were married civilly to other men when he married them. If one superimposes a chronological perspective, one sees that of Smith’s first twelve wives, nine were polyandrous.” (Ibid., p. 15).
Nowhere in Mormon scripture do we find polyandry as an acceptable practice. If plural marriage were allowed only to increase the population, why is there no evidence of Smith having any children with these women? Some have suggested that Josephine Lyon Fisher, the daughter of Sylvia Sessions, one of Joseph Smith’s wives, may have been fathered by Smith. “It is possible that Joseph had children by his plural wives, but by no means certain. The data are surprisingly ephemeral.” (Source)
In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church.
The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event. Revelation came “line upon line, precept upon precept.”
When it says that faith was required and that “complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions” were required, perhaps this is because God never commanded polygamy. This practice was certainly not commanded in biblical times, and the Book of Mormon offers no support to that viewpoint as well. There are plenty of stories about polygamy and how it affected people, especially women and children. The effect was typically negative. May I recommend some books on the topic:
- In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Todd Compton), reviewed by Eric Johnson
- Mormon Polygamy: A History (2nd Ed.) (Richard S. Van Wagoner), reviewed by Eric Johnson
- Nauvoo Polygamy (George D. Smith), reviewed by Eric Johnson
- In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Todd Compton), reviewed by Eric Johnson
- Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer), reviewed by Eric Johnson
All are excellent. In this review, I will heavily utilize Mormon historian Richard S. Van Wagoner’s book, who does a good job covering the time period (end of 19th century/beginning of 20th century) talked about in this Gospel Topics essay.
Antipolygamy Laws and Civil Disobedience
For half a century, beginning in the early 1840s, Church members viewed plural marriage as a commandment from God, an imperative that helped “raise up” a righteous posterity unto the Lord. Though not all Church members were expected to enter into plural marriage, those who did so believed they would be blessed for their participation. Between the 1850s and the 1880s, many Latter-day Saints lived in plural families as husbands, wives, or children.
The essay reads “beginning in the early 1840s.” Despite the fact that Joseph Smith married at least 34 wives, polygamy was not “commanded” in the LDS Church until the following decade. Van Waggoner wrote,
Orson Pratt, widely respected among Mormons for his theological insight, was selected to introduce the doctrine officially during a church conference on 29 August 1852. Pratt announced that he had unexpectedly been called upon to address the crowd on the subject of a “plurality of wives.” . . . After citing scriptural evidence that biblical prophets practiced polygamy, Pratt speculated that Jesus’ relationship with Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene may have been polygamous. . . . . The practice could provide an opportunity for every Mormon woman to be a wife and mother. Monogamy, reasoned Pratt, invited immorality (Mormon Polygamy: A History, p. 85).
Van Waggoner continued,
After Pratt’s discourse, Young took the stand and explained the circumstances surrounding the preservation of Joseph Smith’s revelation on “celestial marriage” (Ibid).
Two weeks after the announcement, Orson Pratt began publishing The Seer in Washington, D.C. to “expound the views of the Saints in regard to the ancient Patriarchal Order of Matrimony, or Plurality of Wives, as developed in a Revelation, given through JOSEPH the SEER.” Meanwhile, D&C 132—found in the LDS canon today—was not even canonized until 1876.
It is deceptive for the writer of this essay to make it appear that plural marriage was official doctrine during the time of Joseph Smith, as it certainly was not. According to a journal article by Van Waggoner,
The decision of Church leaders to keep plural marriage hidden until 1852 posed a serious moral dilemma for the few who were aware of its practice. In Nauvoo, protecting the practice of plural marriage from public exposure, especially to hostile gentiles, was a greater virtue than telling the truth (“Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of An Apostate,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 97).
In many parts of the world, polygamy was socially acceptable and legally permissible.
This is another deception. While Third World countries, including those in Africa, had legalized polygamy, Europe and the rest of the Western world did not. In civilized countries–including the nations surrounding the United States– it was neither “socially acceptable” nor “legally permissible.”
But in the United States, most people thought that the practice was morally wrong.
The United States was founded on a Christian worldview. It makes sense that polygamy was not considered morally acceptable by Americans. Although the tide is certainly changing in our current political culture, it still appears that the majority of Americans are against legal polygamy today.
These objections led to legislative efforts to end polygamy. Beginning in 1862, the U.S. government passed a series of laws designed to force Latter-day Saints to relinquish plural marriage.
In the face of these measures, Latter-day Saints maintained that plural marriage was a religious principle protected under the U.S. Constitution. The Church mounted a vigorous legal defense all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Reynolds v. United States (1879), the Supreme Court ruled against the Latter-day Saints: religious belief was protected by law, religious practice was not. According to the court’s opinion, marriage was a civil contract regulated by the state. Monogamy was the only form of marriage sanctioned by the state. “Polygamy,” the court explained, “has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe.”
Latter-day Saints sincerely desired to be loyal citizens of the United States, which they considered a divinely founded nation.
This is an interesting statement. If Mormons consider this a “divinely founded nation,” then why didn’t they abide the law of the land? LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith asked,
What time, since the organization of the Church, have any of the brethren exercising the Spirit of the Lord, ever taught this people that which was false? When have they ever said unto you that you should do that which was not right; that which would not make you better citizens and better members of the kingdom of God? You cannot, nor can any man, in righteousness, point to the time when any of them have wilfully stated anything that was contrary to the principles of righteousness, or that did not tend to make the people better in every way, that did not build them up in their salvation, temporally as well as spiritually…. (Doctrines of Salvation 3:297).
I will say that, during the late 19th century, the LDS Church fought against the law of the land. Polygamy was wrong in 1879, it was wrong in 1890, and it was even wrong in 1904. Yet the church leaders continued to promote this practice, amongst themselves and with their people.
But they also accepted plural marriage as a commandment from God and believed the court was unjustly depriving them of their right to follow God’s commands.
How can it be said that polygamy is a commandment of God? Where, for instance, did God command polygamy in the Bible? He certainly allowed for it, but it can never be shown that He commanded it. Can support be found in the Book of Mormon? Absolutely not. Jacob 2 supposedly quotes God as saying,
24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
27 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;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
The only reason it would ever be allowed, verse 30 says, is to “raise up seed unto me.” Otherwise, it says, “they shall hearken unto these things.” The burden of proof is on the Mormon theologians and historians to show that polygamy in the United States was necessary in order “to raise up seed.”
Confronted with these contradictory allegiances, Church leaders encouraged members to obey God rather than man.
With no evidence except D&C 132 to support the idea of God commanding men to practice polygamy—in direct conflict with Jacob 2—the Mormon is told that polygamy was an issue of conscience in the late 1800s. I can see disobeying the government if the leaders encouraged the followers to worship a false God or cease from gathering in worship. However, the government decided that a moral issue—plural marriage—ought not to happen in the United States. To make it appear that these leaders were obeying God rather than men is a psychological ploy to give credence to the practice He never commanded.
Many Latter-day Saints embarked on a course of civil disobedience during the 1880s by continuing to live in plural marriage and to enter into new plural marriages.
If Mormons are supposed to practice civil disobedience—especially if the cause is righteous—then why have Mormon leaders officially never supported causes such as:
- Sit-ins at abortion clinics to protect the unborn?
- Marching at Civil Rights events in the 1960s, with Martin Luther King, Jr.?
- Protests against war?
No matter what the issue, when has the LDS Church leaders encouraged “civil disobedience”? I certainly don’t believe that the support of plural marriage by defying the law is an act of “civil disobedience.” It is nothing less than a treasonous act done as an attempt to supersede the government. But, for a moment, let’s suppose that the cause was righteous and that civil disobedience in regards to plural marriage is God-honoring. If so, then shouldn’t Mormons support those fundamentalist polygamists today who continue to live this lifestyle, especially in the Western United States? These “Fundamentalists” believe in the same ideology that Latter-day Saints accepted as true before 1890. They just reject Official Declaration 1. Why aren’t they celebrated rather than being called “cultists” by LDS leaders and scholars? For example, Robert L. Millet explained,
It is not so easy to determine what is “traditional” or “orthodox” Mormonism. Orthodoxy has to do with a straight and proper walk, with appropriate beliefs and practices. In our case, it may or may not be a course charted by Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or some Church leader of the past. Some who claim to be orthodox on the basis of following the teachings of Brother Joseph—for example, members of polygamous cults—are not in harmony with the Church’s constituted authorities and are therefore not orthodox” ( “Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition,” BYU Studies, Summer 1989, p. 65).
Those who practice polygamy today are considered “cultists” because they are not part of the “one true church.” (I find it fascinating how Mormons—such as Millet—don’t like Christians calling Mormonism a cult, but they have no problem calling others the same, merely because they disagree theologically. It seems like a double standard!) I, for one, will not call Mormonism’s disobedience of the law regarding the issue of polygamy “civil disobedience.”
The Bible seems to be pretty straightforward about following the laws of the nation we live in. The apostle Paul, for instance, lived in the Roman world. There was much injustice going on in this society, but consider what Paul wrote in Romans 13:
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Based on Romans 13, did Mormon leaders make the biblically correct choice by supporting polygamy in opposition to the law of the land?
The federal government responded by enacting ever more punishing legislation.
Between 1850 and 1896, Utah was a territory of the U.S. government, which meant that federal officials in Washington, D.C., exercised great control over local matters. In 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Edmunds Act, which made unlawful cohabitation (interpreted as a man living with more than one wife) punishable by six months of imprisonment and a $300 fine. In 1887 Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act to punish the Church itself, not just its members. The act dissolved the corporation of the Church and directed that all Church property over $50,000 be forfeited to the government.
The government was trying to get the Mormon Church to comply with the law of the land. I’m not so sure why the LDS leaders fought against this as hard as they did.
This government opposition strengthened the Saints’ resolve to resist what they deemed to be unjust laws.
Were these really “unjust laws”? Imagine if the prophet of the church today got a revelation telling him that polygamy should be reinstated. Suppose he told the government that the laws against legal polygamous marriage were wrong, based on the command of God. Would the Latter-day Saint be willing to risk going to jail in order to do what his prophet told the people they should be allowed to do? How is this scenario any different than what took place in the Utah territory more than a century ago?
Polygamous men went into hiding, sometimes for years at a time, moving from house to house and staying with friends and relatives. Others assumed aliases and moved to out-of-the-way places in southern Utah, Arizona, Canada, and Mexico. Many escaped prosecution; many others, when arrested, pled guilty and submitted to fines and imprisonment.
For a practice that has been opposed in Western civilization for the past two millennia, assuming aliases and moving around to escape prosecution seems like a strange reaction by the Latter-day Saint people.
This antipolygamy campaign created great disruption in Mormon communities. The departure of husbands left wives and children to tend farms and businesses, causing incomes to drop and economic recession to set in. The campaign also strained families. New plural wives had to live apart from their husbands, their confidential marriages known only to a few. Pregnant women often chose to go into hiding, at times in remote locales, rather than risk being subpoenaed to testify in court against their husbands. Children lived in fear that their families would be broken up or that they would be forced to testify against their parents. Some children went into hiding and lived under assumed names.
Remember the famous Short Creek Raids (Arizona) in 1953? For background, consider this article on Wikipedia:
Just before dawn on July 26, 1953, 102 Arizona officers of public safety and soldiers from the Arizona National Guard entered Short Creek. The community—which was composed of approximately 400 Mormon fundamentalists—had been tipped off about the planned raid and were found singing hymns in the schoolhouse while the children played outside. The entire community was taken into custody, with the exception of six individuals who were found not to be fundamentalist Mormons. Among those taken into custody were 263 children. One hundred and fifty of the children who were taken into custody were not permitted to return to their parents for more than two years, and some parents never regained custody of their children.
Did the Mormon Church ever officially protest the Short Creek Raid? Funny, I see no historical mention of it! The silence of the leaders in 1953 shows the hypocrisy.
Despite countless difficulties, many Latter-day Saints were convinced that the antipolygamy campaign was useful in accomplishing God’s purposes. They testified that God was humbling and purifying His covenant people as He had done in ages past. Myron Tanner, a bishop in Provo, Utah, felt that “the hand of oppression laid on the parents, is doing more to convince our Children of the truth of Mormonism than anything else could have done.” Incarceration for “conscience’ sake” proved edifying for many. George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, emerged from his five months in the Utah penitentiary rejuvenated. “My cell has seemed a heavenly place, and I feel that angels have been there,” he wrote.
It says here that Cannon (in the picture, he’s seated with other prisonmates) considered his cell a “heavenly place.” If it’s so heavenly, then why did he do everything in his power to stay out? Consider:
One of the most interesting periods during the life of George Q. Cannon was while he was a fugitive and then prisoner of the law. It began while he was a member of the First Presidency of the Church, the First Counselor to President John Taylor. He was indicted for unlawful cohabitation and polygamy, and went into hiding to evade prosecution and punishment. It ended three and a half years later after he spent nearly six months in the Utah penitentiary. During this period, federal agents raided his farm seeking his arrest; wanted posters were issued and a $500 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest; two of his wives and children were subpoenaed to testify against him; two of his sons assaulted the U. S. Attorney who had questioned one of the wives and were prosecuted; he was arrested on a train in Nevada while fleeing to Mexico; he contemplated an escape after his arrest, then fell off a train and sustained injuries; a special train carrying 27 soldiers was sent to bring him back to Salt Lake; he failed to appear for trial after posting a $45,000 bond and forfeited the bond, going into hiding again; he sent his son back east to meet with the President of the United States to work out a deal where he would turn himself in if the President would appoint a more sympathetic judge; he then negotiated a plea and served five months in the Utah penitentiary. Source
Are we supposed to laud this General Authority because he evaded prosecution and spent time in prison? Would the Latter-day Saint compliment general authorities today who took a similar stand against any law with which they personally disagreed? All of this took place just a few years (less than four) before Declaration 1 was given. If I were a Latter-day Saint considering this information, I would be embarrassed at how this LDS scholar who wrote the essay is lifting up Cannon as some type of martyr. No, my friends, he was a lawbreaker, nothing more.
The Church completed and dedicated two temples during the antipolygamy campaign, a remarkable achievement. But as federal pressure intensified, many essential aspects of Church government were severely curtailed, and civil disobedience looked increasingly untenable as a long-term solution. Between 1885 and 1889, most Apostles and stake presidents were in hiding or in prison. After federal agents began seizing Church property in accordance with the Edmunds-Tucker legislation, management of the Church became more difficult.
Again, the words “civil disobedience” are used, though I will maintain that “lawbreaker” is a more appropriate term.
After two decades of seeking either to negotiate a change in the law or avoid its disastrous consequences, Church leaders began to investigate alternative responses. In 1885 and 1886 they established settlements in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law, where polygamous families could live peaceably. Hoping that a moderation in their position would lead to a reduction in hostilities, Church leaders advised plural husbands to live openly with only one of their wives, and advocated that plural marriage not be taught publicly. In 1889, Church authorities prohibited the performance of new plural marriages in Utah.
Articles of Faith 1:13–part of LDS canon and the Standard Works–says,
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In order to avoid being prosecuted, this paragraph admits that church leaders were recommending that polygamous husbands pretend that they were monogamous when, behind the scenes, this wasn’t the case. Does this seem honest?
Church leaders prayerfully sought guidance from the Lord and struggled to understand what they should do. Both President John Taylor and President Wilford Woodruff felt the Lord directing them to stay the course and not renounce plural marriage.
Consider the facts:
- The ancient Jews and Nephites were not commanded to be polygamous.
- The government said the practice of polygamy was illegal.
- The Mormon people continued to practice polygamy in a deceptive way.
- Yet Taylor and Woodruff “felt the Lord” was “directing them to stay the course.”
And this is an organization supposedly directed by God? This is appalling.
This inspiration came when paths for legal redress were still open. The last of the paths closed in May 1890, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, allowing the confiscation of Church property to proceed. President Woodruff saw that the Church’s temples and its ordinances were now at risk. Burdened by this threat, he prayed intensely over the matter. “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation,” he later said, “exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice,” referring to plural marriage. “All the temples [would] go out of our hands.” God “has told me exactly what to do, and what the result would be if we did not do it.”
So let me get this straight. The straw that would break the “civil disobedience” card is related to money (i.e. losing the temples)? (In the “Excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the Manifesto”–placed right after Declaration 1 in the Standard Works–Woodruff uses this reason to explain his acceptance of the Manifesto.) Somehow, I can’t see the Old Testament prophets giving credence in to the priests of Baal or the other pagans because the Jerusalem temple was at stake! Are we really supposed to believe that God is pragmatic? If polygamy is a moral issue worth fighting for, then the loss of money or property is the last reason for the church to give in. This is a superficial excuse.
On September 25, 1890, President Woodruff wrote in his journal that he was “under the necessity of acting for the Temporal Salvation of the Church.” He stated, “After Praying to the Lord & feeling inspired by his spirit I have issued … [a] Proclamation.” This proclamation, now published in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 1, was released to the public on September 25 and became known as the Manifesto.
Richard S. Van Waggoner writes,
The absence of the signatures of First Presidency counselors George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith on the Manifesto also concerned some Saints. Others wondered why the document began with the unusual “To Whom It May Concern” rather than the authoritative “Thus Saith the Lord” usually associated with revelatory pronouncements. (Mormon Polygamy, p. 143)
Not all the Mormon leaders were enamored with the proclamation, as verified by Van Waggoner:
But many church leaders viewed the Manifesto as purely a political proclamation. Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, for example, noted in his diary, “I do not believe the Manifesto was a revelation from God was formulated by Prest. Woodruff and endorsed by His counselors and the Twelve Apostles for expediency” (in Bitton, Guide, 238). And counselor Joseph F. Smith, responding to Heber J. Grant’s 21 August 1892 question about whether the Manifesto was a revelation, answered, “No.” Smith explained that he regarded the document as inspired given the conditions imposed by the government on the church. But “he did not believe it to be an emphatic revelation from God abolishing plural marriage” (Quinn 1985, 83) (Mormon Polygamy, pp. 146-147)
Indeed, as pointed out above, Declaration 1 is nothing more than a political statement, admittedly conjured up so that the pragmatic Mormon leadership worried about losing its temples. This is even admitted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which called the Manifesto a “press release”:
The Manifesto of 1890 was a proclamation by President Wilford Woodruff that the Church had discontinued plural marriage. It ended a decade of persecution and hardship in which Latter-day Saints tenaciously resisted what they saw as unconstitutional federal attempts to curb polygamy. While the Manifesto is often referred to as a revelation, the declaration was actually a press release that followed President Woodruff’s revelatory experiences. In this respect, the Manifesto is similar to Doctrine and Covenants official declaration-2 (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 2:852).
The Manifesto was carefully worded to address the immediate conflict with the U.S. government. “We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice,” President Woodruff said. “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”
The members of the Quorum of the Twelve varied in their reactions to the Manifesto. Franklin D. Richards was sure it was “the work of the Lord.” Francis M. Lyman said that “he had endorsed the Manifesto fully when he first heard it.” Not all the Twelve accepted the document immediately. John W. Taylor said he did “not yet feel quite right about it” at first. John Henry Smith candidly admitted that “the Manifesto had disturbed his feelings very much” and that he was still “somewhat at sea” regarding it. Within a week, however, all members of the Twelve voted to sustain the Manifesto.
The Manifesto was formally presented to the Church at the semiannual general conference held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in October 1890. On Monday, October 6, Orson F. Whitney, a Salt Lake City bishop, stood at the pulpit and read the Articles of Faith, which included the line that Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
Based on what we have read, it sure doesn’t sound like the “Latter-day Saints believe in ‘obeying, honoring, and sustain the law,'” either before the Manifesto and certainly not after, as we will read in a little while.
These articles were sustained by uplifted hand. Whitney then read the Manifesto, and Lorenzo Snow, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, moved that the document be accepted as “authoritative and binding.” The assembly was then asked to vote on this motion. The Deseret News reported that the vote was “unanimous”; most voted in favor, though some abstained from voting.
I wonder why some “abstained.” If the Manifesto was God’s will, shouldn’t everyone had voted “yea”? It turns out, though, that there were some who were in opposition to the measure.
William Gibson, later a representative in the Utah legislature, voted against it: “I am not ashamed of my action on the manifesto. I voted ‘no’ in the conference. When George Q. Cannon announced a clear [unanimous] vote, I said, ‘All but one, right here.’ We must let Babylon have her way for awhile, I suppose.” The majority of the congregation refused to vote at all when the Manifesto was presented, with the result that Apostle Merrill observed “it was carried by a Weak Vote, but seemingly unanimous,” Joseph H. Dean recorded “many of the saints refrained from voting either way,” and Thomas Broadbent noted, “I thought it A very Slim vote Considering the multitude Assembled.” (D. Michael Quinn. LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904. Dialogue 18:01 (Spring 1985), p. 48).
Antonio Trevisan explained how, in 2013, the Mormon Church has taken out the line in Official Declaration 1. He wrote:
The alleged unanimous vote has been edited out of the online English edition of Doctrine and Covenants. I first noticed the change in September last year. An essay published the following month on the Church’s website mentioned the abstentions: “most voted in favor, though some abstained from voting.”
Portuguese is now the second language to benefit from such meaningful change in Official Declaration 1 with the release of new editions of LDS scriptures last week, following the changes made in the English editions of 2013. In all other languages, however, Official Declaration 1 still carries the misleading statement depicting a unanimous vote. Source
It’s interesting that the vote on Official Declaration 1 was not “unanimous,” and this wording was taken out of the English D&C editions in 2013. Why couldn’t the writer of the Gospel Topics essay been a better explainer of this information without requiring the readers to look it up? Is this essay really meant to be full disclosure?
Rank-and-file Latter-day Saints accepted the Manifesto with various degrees of reservation. Many were not ready for plural marriage to come to an end. General Relief Society president Zina D. H. Young, writing in her journal on the day the Manifesto was presented to the Church, captured the anguish of the moment: “Today the hearts of all were tried but looked to God and submitted.” The Manifesto prompted uncertainty about the future of some relationships. Eugenia Washburn Larsen, fearing the worst, reported feeling “dense darkness” when she imagined herself and other wives and children being “turned adrift” by husbands. Other plural wives, however, reacted to the Manifesto with “great relief.”
Some women were obviously nervous about getting released and “turned adrift.” If these men who were practicing polygamy were godly men, would these women have ever worried about such a thing?
After the Manifesto
Latter-day Saints believe that the Lord reveals His will “line upon line; here a little, there a little.” Church members living in 1890 generally believed that the Manifesto was the “work of the Lord,” in Franklin D. Richards’s words. But the full implications of the Manifesto were not apparent at first; its scope had to be worked out, and authorities differed on how best to proceed. “We have been led to our present position by degrees,” Apostle Heber J. Grant explained. Over time and through effort to receive continuing revelation, Church members saw “by degrees” how to interpret the Manifesto going forward.
At first, many Church leaders believed the Manifesto merely “suspended” plural marriage for an indefinite time. Having lived, taught, and suffered for plural marriage for so long, it was difficult to imagine a world without it. George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, likened the Manifesto to the Lord’s reprieve from the command to build temples in Missouri in the 1830s after the Saints were expelled from the state. In a sermon given immediately after the Manifesto was sustained at general conference, Cannon quoted a passage of scripture in which the Lord excuses those who diligently seek to carry out a commandment from Him, only to be prevented by their enemies: “Behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”
This same George Q. Cannon who spent time in jail for his role in polygamy and who ran away from the law to escape the consequences of his actions, said the following:
There have been a great many revelations given to us that we have not had faith to carry out as they should be. This doctrine to which allusion has been made—the doctrine of celestial marriage—I heard one of the Twelve say that if he were called upon to testify, he believed he could say truthfully that the Latter-day Saints were more pleased to hear the manifesto than they were to hear the revelation given on celestial marriage… I know myself that it was the will of God that that manifesto should be given. I know it was the will of God that the word should go to the Latter-day Saints that plural marriages should cease, and that we should conform to the requirements of the law of the land (George Q. Cannon, November 1, 1891, “Trials of Faith,” [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses 2:293. Ellipses mine).
Why, then, did Cannon fight so hard for a doctrine that he was apparently relieved when he found out it was overturned? Was he really telling the truth?
Nevertheless, many practical matters had to be settled. The Manifesto was silent on what existing plural families should do. On their own initiative, some couples separated or divorced as a result of the Manifesto; other husbands stopped cohabiting with all but one of their wives but continued to provide financial and emotional support to all dependents. In closed-door meetings with local leaders, the First Presidency condemned men who left their wives by using the Manifesto as an excuse. “I did not, could not and would not promise that you would desert your wives and children,” President Woodruff told the men. “This you cannot do in honor.”
Believing that the covenants they made with God and their spouses had to be honored above all else, many husbands, including Church leaders, continued to cohabit with their plural wives and fathered children with them well into the 20th century. Continued cohabitation exposed those couples to the threat of prosecution, just as it did before the Manifesto. But these threats were markedly diminished after 1890. The Manifesto marked a new relationship with the federal government and the nation: prosecution of polygamists declined, plural wives came out of hiding and assumed their married names, and husbands interacted more freely with their families, especially after U.S. president Benjamin Harrison granted general amnesty to Mormon polygamists in 1893. Three years later, Utah became a state with a constitution that banned polygamy.
The Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States. It said nothing about the laws of other nations. Ever since the opening of colonies in Mexico and Canada, Church leaders had performed plural marriages in those countries, and after October 1890, plural marriages continued to be quietly performed there. As a rule, these marriages were not promoted by Church leaders and were difficult to get approved. Either one or both of the spouses who entered into these unions typically had to agree to remain in Canada or Mexico.
Van Wagoner reported,
Though polygamy was illegal in the area of Mexico where Mormons had settled, Mexican officials, as previously noted, did not enforce such regulations. As church president, Joseph F. Smith later explained how President Woodruff avoided duplicity in authorizing new plural marriages outside the United States. In an 11 April 1911 telegram to Senator Reed Smoot, Smith, who served in the First Presidency longer than any other man, verified that “Prest. Cannon was the first to conceive the idea that the Church could consistently countenance polygamy beyond confines of the republic when there was no law against it, and consequently he authorized the solemnization of plural marriages in Mexico and Canada after manifesto of 1890.”
In a footnote, the Gospel Topics essay does explain:
Polygamy was illegal in Mexico and, after 1890, in Canada as well, but the governments of those countries did not actively prosecute Mormon polygamists. In the case of Mexico, Mormon authorities worked out a verbal agreement with Mexican officials allowing them to practice plural marriage in their colonies. (B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992], 173–82.)
Those wanting to get married polygamously were sent to Mexico, with direct approval from the First Presidency:
(George Q.) Cannon and Joseph F. Smith sent couples wishing to be married to Mexican church leaders Alexander F. MacDonald or Apostle George Teasdale. In 1895 the First Presidency called Anthony W. Ivins to replace Teasdale as marriage officiator and to serve as the first stake president in Colonia Juarez. Though a monogamist himself, Ivins was authorized during June 1897 meetings with the First Presidency to perform plural marriage sealings. A form letter was discussed which, when presented to Ivins by a couple, would indicate First Presidency approval to seal the marriage. Later, relating that meeting to a son, Ivins explained that George Q. Cannon had taken him aside and said, “Now Brother Ivins, if you have occasion to meet Porfio Diaz, President of Mexico, we want you to tell him that we are NOT practicing polygamy in Mexico” (H.G. Ivins, 5). (Mormon Polygamy p. 156)
Why the secrecy if such a deal had really been made? Why would Cannon make such a big deal out of saying “we are NOT practicing polygamy in Mexico”?
Under exceptional circumstances, a smaller number of new plural marriages were performed in the United States between 1890 and 1904, though whether the marriages were authorized to have been performed within the states is unclear.
What does it mean, “under exceptional circumstances”? How could the church justify breaking the law? It doesn’t seem there could be any circumstance that polygamy would be the right answer. Since the scholar(s) writing this essay had access to all the minutes and archives of the church leadership during these years after the Manifesto, are we really to believe that it remains “unclear” whether these marriages performed in the United States were (or were not) authorized by church leaders? I, for one, think it is obvious that no marriages done after the Manifesto could have been done without the approval of the church leadership, just as they were approving marriages being done in Mexico and Canada.
The precise number of new plural marriages performed during these years, inside and outside the United States, is unknown. Sealing records kept during this period typically did not indicate whether a sealing was monogamous or plural, making an exhaustive calculation difficult. A rough sense of scale, however, can be seen in a chronological ledger of marriages and sealings kept by Church scribes. Between the late 1880s and the early 1900s, during a time when temples were few and travel to them was long and arduous, Latter-day Saint couples who lived far away from temples were permitted to be sealed in marriage outside them.
The ledger of “marriages and sealings performed outside the temple,” which is not comprehensive, lists 315 marriages performed between October 17, 1890, and September 8, 1903. Of the 315 marriages recorded in the ledger, research indicates that 25 (7.9%) were plural marriages and 290 were monogamous marriages (92.1%). Almost all the monogamous marriages recorded were performed in Arizona or Mexico. Of the 25 plural marriages, 18 took place in Mexico, 3 in Arizona, 2 in Utah, and 1 each in Colorado and on a boat on the Pacific Ocean. Overall, the record shows that plural marriage was a declining practice and that Church leaders were acting in good conscience to abide by the terms of the Manifesto as they understood them.
The exact process by which these marriages were approved remains unclear. For a time, post-Manifesto plural marriages required the approval of a member of the First Presidency. There is no definitive evidence, however, that the decisions were made by the First Presidency as a whole; President Woodruff, for example, typically referred requests to allow new plural marriages to President Cannon for his personal consideration. By the late 1890s, at least some of the men who had authority to perform sealings apparently considered themselves free to either accept or reject requests at their own discretion, independent of the First Presidency. Apostle Heber J. Grant, for example, reported that while visiting Mormon settlements in Mexico in 1900, he received 10 applications in a single day requesting plural marriages. He declined them all. “I confess,” he told a friend, “that it has always gone against my grain to have any violations of documents [i.e. the Manifesto] of this kind.”
As the church has admitted above, the Manifesto certainly did not end the practice of polygamy in the Mormon Church. The image we are led to believe is that the vast majority didn’t really care for it. Yet many Mormon leaders seemed to be very excited about continuing the practice despite it being illegal and against their word to the government and the Mormon people. Van Wagoner wrote:
President Wilford Woodruff, John W. Taylor, Brigham Young, Jr., Matthias F. Cowley, George Teasdale, Marriner W. Merrill, Abraham H. Cannon, and Abraham O. Woodruff were post-Manifesto polygamists. In addition, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, John Henry Smith, Abraham H. Lund, and Heber J. Grant either approved of or performed plural marriages after 1890 (Mormon Polygamy, p. 162).
Saying new plural marriages continued until 1904, Van Wagoner also explained,
Though some church leaders, such as Lorenzo Snow, began living with only one wife, most continued to violate the unlawful cohabitation statute.
Listen to this interesting quote from Sunstone magazine:
Among the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency between 1890 and 1898, at least 58 percent of the members took an active part in post-Manifesto polygamy. If Matthias Cowley and Owen Woodruff are included, the proportion is 70 percent. Historical records indicate that only two men seem to have had qualms about the continuation of polygamy during President Woodruff’s lifetime: Francis M. Lyman and Lorenzo Snow (Kenneth L. Cannon II, “After The Manifesto: Mormon Polygamy 1890-1906, Sunstone, January 1983, pp. 28-29).
And these men continued having sexual relations with their multiple wives:
Still, eleven General Authorities, including Heber J. Grant, fathered seventy-six children by twenty-seven plural wives during the years 1890-1905 (Cannon 1978, 31). Though Grant had children by only one wife after 1890, he pled guilty to a charge of unlawful cohabitation in 1899 and was fined $100 (Salt Lake Tribune, 9 Sept. 1899). In addition he later reportedly sought permission from President Joseph F. Smith to marry Fanny Woolley as a post-Manifesto plural wife. Smith refused Grant’s request. Thus the future church president became one of the few members of the hierarchy who neither took a post-Manifesto plural wife nor sealed others in plural marriages (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, pp. 155-156).
If this is true, then the vast majority of the LDS leadership—not just one or two men—were part of a conspiracy to continue the practice that they said they would no longer practice. This means Declaration 1 was a sham.
The Second Manifesto
At first, the performance of new plural marriages after the Manifesto was largely unknown to people outside the Church. When discovered, these marriages troubled many Americans, especially after President George Q. Cannon stated in an 1899 interview with the New York Herald that new plural marriages might be performed in Canada and Mexico. After the election of B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, to the U.S. Congress, it became known that Roberts had three wives, one of whom he married after the Manifesto. A petition of 7 million signatures demanded that Roberts not be seated. Congress complied, and Roberts was barred from his office.
So what we have here is the church admitting that polygamy didn’t end in 1890, as most Mormons have been led to understand. In fact,
With the exception of Lorenzo Snow, who cohabitated with his youngest wife, not a single apostle or member of the First Presidency discontinued connubial relationships with plural wives (Mormon Polygamy, p. 155)
Van Waggoner also explained that
eleven General Authorities, including Heber J. Grant, fathered seventy-six children by twenty-seven plural wives during the years 1890-1905 (Cannon 1978, 31).
Roberts had three wives, one of whom he married after the Manifesto.
. . . 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 the First Presidency issued the ‘second manifesto,’ an emphatic declaration that prohibited plural marriage and proclaimed that offenders would be subject to Church discipline, including excommunication” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 2:853).
While there were limited plural marriages after 1890 to 1896, the number increased after Utah attained statehood. Van Waggoner reports,
A definite increase in plural marriages occurred after Utah statehood was granted in 1896. Mormon leaders had wanted to convince the government that the church was giving up polygamy. But once statehood was attained they hoped plural marriage could again be openly practiced under lenient or amended state laws (Mormon Polygamy, pp. 156-157).
Indeed, “excommunication for practicing plural marriage did not come until 1904” (Thomas Alexander, “The Church and the Law,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.1, No.2, p. 128). Statehood was granted to Utah because there was a (false) understanding given that polygamy hadn’t been practiced since 1890. If God was part of the reason why polygamy stopped, then continuing the practice after this time is, quite simply, immoral.
The exclusion of B. H. Roberts opened Mormon marital practices to renewed scrutiny. Church President Lorenzo Snow issued a statement clarifying that new plural marriages had ceased in the Church and that the Manifesto extended to all parts of the world, counsel he repeated in private. Even so, a small number of new plural marriages continued to be performed, probably without President Snow’s knowledge or approval. After Joseph F. Smith became Church President in 1901, a small number of new plural marriages were also performed during the early years of his administration.
“Probably” . . . without Snow’s approval? That scenario seems highly unlikely. As far as Joseph F. Smith is concerned, I notice there is no “probably” found in the writing. Of course, Smith married one of his polygamous wives after 1890, as admitted above by Richard S. Van Waggoner. It is well known that the leaders would do whatever they had to in order to protect their own, including lie, cheat, or steal. Consider the following quote by Richard S. Van Waggoner:
The casuistry of Mormon leaders was obviously self-protective. As guardians of the church, they were motivated to defend the religious institution and its tenets, including plural marriage, at all costs. This commitment to plural marriage had repeatedly dictated situational responses to ethical dilemmas since the early 1830s. Apostle Matthias F. Cowley, in testimony before the Council of the Twelve on 10 May 1911, articulated the rationale for such duplicities: “I have always been taught that when the brethren were in a tight place that it would not be amiss to help them out. One of the Presidency of the Church made the statement some years ago. . . that he would lie like hell to help his brethren” (Mormon Polygamy, p. 151).
Has much has changed in the LDS hierarchy over the past century? If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that I bet the answer is there is still a philosophy to protect the church’s reputation, at all costs.
The Church’s role in these marriages became a subject of intense debate after Reed Smoot, an Apostle, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1903. Although Smoot was a monogamist, his apostleship put his loyalty to the country under scrutiny. How could Smoot both uphold the laws of the Church, some of whose officers had performed, consented to, or participated in new plural marriages, and uphold the laws of the land, which made plural marriage illegal? For four years legislators debated this question in lengthy public hearings.
The Senate called on many witnesses to testify. Church President Joseph F. Smith took the stand in the Senate chamber in March 1904. When asked, he defended his family relationships, telling the committee that he had cohabited with his wives and fathered children with them since 1890. He said it would be dishonorable of him to break the sacred covenants he had made with his wives and with God. When questioned about new plural marriages performed since 1890, President Smith carefully distinguished between actions sanctioned by the Church and ratified in Church councils and conferences, and the actions undertaken by individual members of the Church. “There never has been a plural marriage by the consent or sanction or knowledge or approval of the church since the manifesto,” he testified.
This is an absolute lie. While not all of the leaders were sanctioning new marriages, polygamous unions were certainly being done. According to Van Waggoner, Joseph F. Smith was directly involved:
Smith had not only been aware of authorized post-Manifesto marriages—as evidenced by his 1890 advice to Byron Harvey Allred, Sr., and his 11 April 1911 telegram to Reed Smoot—but had personally performed at least one such marriage prior to becoming church president. . . . In August 1900, Smith and Elder Seymour B. Young were at Colonia Diaz during the sealing of Brigham Young Academy president Benjamin Cluff, Jr., to a plural wife. . . .Another report described the marriage: “It was very dark and brother Clawson could not see who performed the ceremony. The voice, however, sounded exactly like President Smith’s” (LeBaron 1981, 39-40) (Mormon Polygamy, p. 159).
In addition, Van Waggoner reported:
The tight restrictions Lorenzo Snow had placed on new polygamy were greatly relaxed during the first three years of Joseph F. Smith’s administration. From 1902 to April 1904 at least sixty-three plural marriages were sealed throughout the church (Ibid., p. 159)
But wait, there’s more to implicate Smith:
That this “authority” included not only George Q. Cannon but also Joseph F. Smith is documented in the journal of Orson Pratt Brown, a bishop in the Mexican Colonies. Brown related that during a visit to Salt Lake City he took the marriage records of his father-in-law, Alexander F. MacDonald, who had performed post-Manifesto marriages in Mexico, to President Smith. After thumbing through the book, Smith said to Brown, “all of this work that Brother MacDonald performed was duly authorized by me.” He then gave instructions for Brown to keep the record in Mexico so that federal marshals could not recover the document (Brown Journal, 39-40). In addition to Bishop Brown’s account, Joseph F. Smith’s personal papers in the LDS Archives include numerous signed forms similar to those used by George Q. Cannon to authorize Ivins and others to perform plural marriages (Ibid., p. 160).
Smith was lying, as pointed out by Van Waggoner:
President Smith continued the familiar pattern, established in Nauvoo, of publicly denying what was being privately practiced. Thus during a First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve meeting composed predominantly of men who had either married post-Manifesto wives or sealed others in such relationships, Smith could say that no new plural marriages “were taking place to his knowledge in the church either in the U.S. or any other country.” Furthermore, he explained, “it is thoroughly understood and has been for years that no one is authorized to perform any such marriages” (Brigham Young, Jr., Diary, 5 June 1902). During a 19 November 1903 meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve, he claimed “he had not given his consent to anyone to solemnize plural marriages” and “did not know of his consent to anyone to solemnize plural marriages” and “did not know of any such cases” (JH, 19 Nov. 1903). (Ibid., p. 160)
When Reed Smoot was nominated as a U.S. Senator for the state of Utah, an investigation took place to determine if he was suitable for the office. As a result,
The more than three thousand pages of testimony from witnesses, including President Joseph F. Smith and several apostles, placed the church in an extremely bad light (Ibid., p. 161).
No wonder, as there was an abundance of lies. And President Joseph F. Smith was behind much of it! Smoot wrote on 22 March 1904:
[W]e have not as a people, at all times, lived strictly to our agreements with the Government, and this lack of sincerity on our part goes farther to condemn us in the eyes of the public men of the nation than the mere fact of a few new polygamy cases, or a polygamist before the manifesto living in the state of unlawful cohabitation (Smoot to Jesse. M Smith). (Ibid., p. 161)
In this legal setting, President Smith sought to protect the Church while stating the truth.
As it has been demonstrated, Smith was not telling the truth.
His testimony conveyed a distinction Church leaders had long understood: the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.
The essay makes it appear that the “individuals” were outside the church’s general authority structure. Again, as demonstrated above, this is not true. Not just any “individual” would have the authority to marry people. It would be akin to a homosexual couple going into one of the more than 150 Mormon temples today and getting sealed for time and eternity by an Aaronic/Melchizidek holding priest because it was their personal conviction that this type of union should be allowed. Would such a marriage be recognized by the church today? Certainly not.
The time was right for a change in this understanding.
The wording here makes the final change sound so positive. If the church leadership hadn’t been caught in 1904 (the Reed Smoot hearings), when would the shenanigans have stopped? In my mind, the duplicity would have continued indefinitely.
A majority of Mormon marriages had always been monogamous, and a shift toward monogamy as the only approved form had long been underway. In 1889, a lifelong monogamist was called to the Quorum of the Twelve; after 1897, every new Apostle called into the Twelve, with one exception, was a monogamist at the time of his appointment.
This is not true, as described above by Van Waggoner.
Beginning in the 1890s, as Church leaders urged members to remain in their native lands and “build Zion” in those places rather than immigrate to Utah as in previous years, it became important for them to abide the laws mandating monogamy.
This is what we call politically correct language.
During his Senate testimony, President Smith promised publicly to clarify the Church’s position about plural marriage. At the April 1904 general conference, President Smith issued a forceful statement, known as the Second Manifesto, attaching penalties to entering into plural marriage: “If any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.” This statement had been approved by the leading councils of the Church and was unanimously sustained at the conference as authoritative and binding on the Church.
Why did it take fourteen years for the LDS leadership to attach a severe penalty to plural marriage? Could it be that the church had been caught with its proverbial hand in the cookie jar?
The Second Manifesto was a watershed event. For the first time, Church members were put on notice that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church.
Wait. What about the Manifesto in 1890? Isn’t that the “first time” polygamy was said to be finished? Where in Declaration 1 does it allow for future polygamous relationships? The sentence above in the essay is disengenous.
The Second Manifesto expanded the reach and scope of the first. “When [the Manifesto] was given,” Elder Francis M. Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained, “it simply gave notice to the Saints that they need not enter plural marriage any longer, but the action taken at the conference held in Salt Lake City on the 6th day of April 1904 [the Second Manifesto] made that manifesto prohibitory.”
According to the Manifesto, Woodruff wrote,
There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
First of all, this is what Woodruff said on December 12, 1869:
If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians and do as the world does, then all would be right. We just can’t do that, for God has commanded us to build up His kingdom and to bear our testimony to the nations of the earth, and we are going to do it, come life or come death. He has told us to do thus, and we shall obey Him in days to come as we have in days past (Journal of Discourses 13:166).
So when he said that “there is nothing…(that) can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy,” that’s a lie. (Many more quotes could be shown to prove this point.)
Second, if his advice was to “refrain” from doing what was not legal in the land, then why did the Mormon leadership do what was illegal in the land? Lyman’s quote is nothing more than Orwellian Doublespeak.
Church leaders acted to communicate the seriousness of this declaration to leaders and members at all levels. President Lyman sent letters to each member of the Quorum of the Twelve, by direction of the First Presidency, advising them that the Second Manifesto would be “strictly enforced.” Contrary to direction, two Apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley, continued to perform and encourage new plural marriages after the Second Manifesto. They were eventually dropped from the quorum. Taylor was later excommunicated from the Church after he insisted on his right to continue to perform plural marriages. Cowley was restricted from using his priesthood and later admitted that he had been “wholly in error.”
Some couples who entered into plural marriage between 1890 and 1904 separated after the Second Manifesto, but many others quietly cohabited into the 1930s and beyond. Church members who rejected the Second Manifesto and continued to publicly advocate plural marriage or undertake new plural marriages were summoned to Church disciplinary councils. Some who were excommunicated coalesced into independent movements and are sometimes called fundamentalists. These groups are not affiliated with or supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since the administration of Joseph F. Smith, Church Presidents have repeatedly emphasized that the Church and its members are no longer authorized to enter into plural marriage and have underscored the sincerity of their words by urging local leaders to bring noncompliant members before Church disciplinary councils.
Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard for marriage, unless He declares otherwise, which He did through His prophet, Joseph Smith.
In order to buy into 19th century polygamy in this life (going all the way until 1904) or celestial polygamy in the next life, a person is required to fully accept Joseph Smith’s authority. However, if Smith was not a prophet of God, then the whole doctrine is a sham. And that’s exactly what it is.
The Manifesto marked the beginning of the return to monogamy, which is the standard of the Church today.
Of course, those men whose wives die are allowed to get sealed in the temple to his next wife not only just for time but for all eternity. So, in reality, plural marriage still happens, albeit only for the next life.
Speaking at general conference soon after the Manifesto was given, President George Q. Cannon reflected on the revelatory process that brought the Manifesto about: “The Presidency of the Church have to walk just as you walk,” he said. “They have to take steps just as you take steps. They have to depend upon the revelations of God as they come to them. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as the Lord does.” “All that we can do,” Cannon said, speaking of the First Presidency, “is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him.”
The question remains, with so much at stake with the institution of marriage being redefined in 21st century America, what will the Mormon Church do if polygamy because legal in the United States? We know what the leaders in the early 20th century church (i.e. Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, etc.) would have done. But how will the current leadership handle this newfound freedom? What an interesting situation, especially since Declaration 1 cannot be considered a “revelation” from God.
For more on the topic of polygamy, consider this page.
For more responses to the Gospel Topics Essays, click here.