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Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah - Response to

mormon polygamy

An essay on Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah was added on 12/17/13 in the topical guide of the website. The essay focuses on polygamy between 1847 and 1890 (after Joseph Smith). The article states, "Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God's purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century." It is mostly a historical recap of the Church's treatment of polygamy in Utah before 1890 and few things are really explained. It is found here: Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

Hopefully, the Church will release an essay discussing the polygamy in Nauvoo, including Joseph Smith's polygamous and polyandrous relationships. This is an extremely important "piece" to study for many reasons.

Update: In October 22, 2014 the Church released another essay on polygamy called Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo, which focused on Joseph Smith's polygamy. The essay can be read here: Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo

MormonThink will be responding to the essay here: Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo - Response to

A MormonThink editor responds to the Plural Marriage and Families in Utah essay below.

Significant facts presented

Essay states:

Probably half of those living in Utah Territory in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous family as a husband, wife, or child at some time during their lives. By 1870, 25 to 30 percent of the population lived in polygamous households...

This is probably accurate but is at odds with statements by prophets of the Church such as Gordon B. Hinckley who stated in a televised interview with Larry King that plural marriage "was on a RESTRICTED SCALE, between 2% and 5%... a very limited practice among the early members."

Beginning in 1862, the U.S. government passed laws against the practice of plural marriage.

True, although polygamy was always illegal when the saints practiced it beginning with Joseph Smith when he introduced the practice in Nauvoo, Illinois in the 1830s. Today, many Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy was legal when the Saints practiced it. The essay, however, states that it was, in fact, illegal.

On an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904

Many latter-day Saints believe there were no polygamous marriages after the 1890 Manifesto and vigorously argue with those who say otherwise.

Errors & misleading statements

1) Starting with the first paragraph, the essay states:

The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that the marriage of one man to one woman is God's standard, except at specific periods when He has declared otherwise.

The Bible verses quoted in the footnotes (Genesis 16:3; 25:1; 29:21-30; 30:3-4, 9) indicate only that polygamy occurred, not that God commanded it. The Book of Mormon verse (Jacob 2:27, 30) actually condemns polygamy. In other Bible verses not referenced in the article, the God of the Bible did not seem to necessarily disapprove of polygamy but he did not command it either. Moreover, there is little to no evidence that the Mormons were adhering to the rules stated in the Bible about polygamy. For example, Leviticus 18 forbids marrying a mother and her daughter, and marrying sisters, but both practices were common among the Mormons. (Campbell & Campbell, 1978; Daynes 2001, p 70)

Here's information on how many mainstream christian churches view polygamy in the Bible. Polygamy in the Bible is historical information reported but not promoted: Shield & Refuge and What Love is This

2) Second paragraph excerpt:

In accordance with a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage—the marriage of one man to two or more women—was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s.

Polygamy was kept secret from members, and practiced only secretly by the Joseph's inner circle, until publicly announced by Brigham Young in 1852 in Utah.

Also, the revelation was prepared after plural marriage had been practiced for several years. The revelation was in fact recorded on July 12, 1843 while the first polygamous marriage was between Joseph Smith and his 16-year-old maid Fanny Alger in 1833. There would be another 26 women married to Joseph before July 1843.

In addition, the words "instituted among members" implies that members didn't practice plural marriage until the early 1840s. In speaking about the general membership, this is true, but Joseph Smith was a member of the church and he clearly practiced it before the 1840s.

Link to: Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith

3) Second paragraph excerpt:

Thereafter, for more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints. Only the Church President held the keys authorizing the performance of new plural marriages. In 1890, the Lord inspired Church President Wilford Woodruff to issue a statement that led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church. In this statement, known as the Manifesto, President Woodruff declared his intention to abide by U.S. law forbidding plural marriage and to use his influence to convince members of the Church to do likewise.

The author tries to word the 1890 claim as instigated by God. The Manifesto was designed to stop the confiscation of church property due to Federal laws such as the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

To quote the manifesto:

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.

Also, the impression given in the paragraph was that polygamy ended in 1890 via revelation with the Manifesto. This is not so. The Manifesto was not a revelation as many LDS believe but rather merely advice that the First Presidency was advocating the practice of future plural marriages be discontinued. As proof, the essay's third paragraph states: plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law; a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years...

Church members, including members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, continued to marry polygamous wives for 14 more years. A "Second Manifesto" was given on April 7, 1904 which basically did what the first Manifesto was supposed to do anyway. It included provisions for the Church to take action against those who continued to perform plural marriages and those who married plural wives. The LDS Church officially prohibited new plural marriages after 1904, however many plural husbands and wives continued to cohabit until their deaths in the 1940s and 1950s."

Link to: The Church continued to practice polygamy after 1890

4) Second paragraph excerpt:

Only the Church President held the keys authorizing the performance of new plural marriages.

Incorrect. Joseph married his first polygamous wife, Fanny Alger in 1833 (more information on this date), this was three years before the claim that in 1836 Elijah delivered those keys back to the earth (D&C 110). If keys were needed to perform plural marriages, why did Joseph take plural wives before he had the keys?

5) Third paragraph:

After the Manifesto, monogamy was advocated in the Church both over the pulpit and through the press. On an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law; a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years. In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages. Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.

The impression given in the essay is that the Church did everything it could to prevent new plural marriages after 1890. However, members of the Quorum of the 12 apostles and other prominent members like B.H. Roberts took additional plural wives between 1890 and 1904. There is estimated to have been at least 250 plural marriages between 1890 and 1904 (Quinn 1985).

It is clear that this did not occur on a small scale by accident, but that the Church leaders deliberately sought ways to circumvent the law and the public and the U.S. government, and also to mislead its own members (Hardy 1992). Polygamous colonies were set up in Mexico and Canada, led by the apostles Mathias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor. (Quinn 1985, Embry 1985).

Link to: The Church continued to practice polygamy after 1890

6) Fifth paragraph excerpt:

Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God's purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30). Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes.

Although "raising up seed" is a common reason given for Mormon polygamy, it is entirely false. This doesn't make any sense because a group of women can have far more children if each woman had her own husband instead of sharing one man. For example, Brigham Young reportedly had 55 children by some 29 child-bearing capable wives but had those women had their own husbands they may have had 150 or more children in total. Having more children from polygamy only makes sense if there was a shortage of men but census records show that there were always more men than women in Utah during that time period.

Link to: Were there more women than men?

7) Fifth paragraph excerpt:

It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,”covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.

The essay states: "It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it..." This implies that Marriage was not available to all who desired it before then. What evidence is there that women wanted husbands but couldn't find them? The number of men exceeded the number of women in Utah during the time so that would not make sense. The institution and practice of polygamy quickly became a bottleneck on the number of available women within the Mormon community. Even in Nauvoo, Mormon men of status were scoping out younger and younger women. In a very short time, the Church leaders were laying claims upon girls not yet even out of puberty before the girls even had a chance to experience dating boys of their own age.

The essay says that members were "willing to endure ostracism for their principles." Who in Utah was ostracizing polygamists other than the US government? In fact, you would have been ostracized by other Mormons if you spoke out against polygamy.

There are perhaps better ways to have people establish themselves as a "peculiar people" or to "strengthen a sense of cohesion," such as exhibiting total Christlike love for all mankind or even treating people of all races equal by giving blacks the priesthood in the 1800s.

This "group identification" has its downsides. Many non-members have come to see Mormons as people with a “persecution complex” who claim they have been and still are persecuted.

Bottom line is that polygamy was destructive to the nuclear family. It caused more financial strain on the family. I'm not sure disadvantaged women marrying well-to-do Mormon men is necessarily a positive image. Were disadvantaged women marrying wealthy men because they wanted to, or were the men taking advantage of vulnerable women? Mormons were already a peculiar people with strong cohesion without polygamy. The temple does a good job of that.

8) Sixth paragraph:

For these early Latter-day Saints, plural marriage was a religious principle that required personal sacrifice. Accounts left by men and women who practiced plural marriage attest to the challenges and difficulties they experienced, such as financial difficulty, interpersonal strife, and some wives' longing for the sustained companionship of their husbands. But accounts also record the love and joy many found within their families. They believed it was a commandment of God at that time and that obedience would bring great blessings to them and their posterity, both on earth and in the life to come. While there was much love, tenderness, and affection within many plural marriages, the practice was generally based more on religious belief than on romantic love. Church leaders taught that participants in plural marriages should seek to develop a generous spirit of unselfishness and the pure love of Christ for everyone involved.

In the fifth paragraph it says "women married into more financially stable households" yet in the next paragraph it says "women who practiced plural marriage attest to the challenges and difficulties they experienced, such as financial difficulty." This is a direct contradiction. On one hand the church is saying that polygamy helped women financially and one the other that polygamy caused women to have financial difficulty.

There are some accounts by plural wives that are moderately supportive of polygamy, but the equating of a belief that obedience brought happiness with actual results are neither consistent nor common.

Brigham Young gave Mormon women a two week ultimatum to quit complaining about polygamy [emphasis added]:

"Now for my proposition; it is more particularly for my sisters, as it is frequently happening that women say they are UNHAPPY. Men will say, 'My wife, though a most excellent woman, has NOT SEEN A HAPPY DAY SINCE I TOOK MY SECOND WIFE,' 'No, NOT A HAPPY DAY FOR A YEAR,' says one; and another HAS NOT SEEN A HAPPY DAY FOR FIVE YEARS. It is said that women are tied down and abused: that they are misused and have not the liberty they ought to have; that many of them ARE WADING THROUGH A PERFECT FLOOD OF TEARS,...

(Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4., pp. 55-57; also printed in Deseret News, Vol. 6, pp. 235-236)

Link to: Were the polygamous wives happy?

9) Seventh paragraph:

During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, all Latter-day Saints were expected to accept the principle as a revelation from God. Not all, however, were expected to live it. Indeed, this system of marriage could not have been universal due to the ratio of men to women. Church leaders viewed plural marriage as a command to the Church generally, while recognizing that individuals who did not enter the practice could still stand approved of God. Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or monogamous union, or whether to marry at all. Some men entered plural marriage because they were asked to do so by Church leaders, while others initiated the process themselves; all were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage.

Although the essay says that"individuals who did not enter the practice could still stand approved of God," this is incorrect. In 1891 the First Presidency and Apostles of the Mormon Church made the following statement in a petition to the President of the United States (emphasis added):

"We formerly taught to our people that polygamy or celestial marriage as commanded by God through Joseph Smith was right; that it was a necessity to man's highest exaltation in the life to come." (Reed Smoot Case, vol. 1, page 18)

Church leaders preached that only those who practiced plural marriage would enter the highest kingdom of heaven, those rejecting polygamy would be damned and women who refused to enter into plural marriage would be confined to be single and servants for all eternity. The following quotes are from Brigham Young (emphasis added):

The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them. - The Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol 11, p. 269, August 19, 1866.

Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266).

Some of you may ask, 'Is there a single ordinance to be dispensed with? Is there one of the commandments that God has enjoined upon the people, that he will excuse them from obeying?' Not one, no matter how trifling or small in our own estimation. No matter if we esteem them non-essential, or least or last of all the commandments of the house of God, we are under obligation to observe them. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 339).

Now, where a man in this church says, ‘I don't want but one wife, I will live my religion with one.' He will perhaps be saved in the Celestial Kingdom; but when he gets there he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all.... and he will remain single forever and ever. But if the woman is determined to not enter into plural marriage, that woman, when she comes forth, will have the privilege of living in single blessedness through all eternity. Now sisters, do not say, `I do not want a husband when I get up in the resurrection.' You do not know what you will want. If, in the resurrection, you really want to be single and alone and live forever and ever and be made servants, while others receive the higher order of intelligence, and are bringing worlds into existence, you can have the privilege. They who will be exalted cannot perform all the labor, they must have servants, and you can be servants to them. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, p.166)

And from President Joseph F. Smith:

I understand the law of celestial marriage to mean that every man in this Church, who has the ability to obey and practice it in righteousness and will not, shall be damned, I say I understand it to mean this and nothing less, and I testify in the name of Jesus that it does mean that. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 20, pp. 28-31)

The essay discusses how the women were willing participants in polygamy. This is hardly the case, when your core scripture reveals the following words of the Lord:

For behold, I (God) reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned. (Doctrine and Covenants 132:4)

In that same section of LDS Scripture, Joseph Smith's first and only legal wife, Emma Smith, was told (emphasis added):

But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord... But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds. And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses. (D&C 132:54-56)

Emma was told that if she didn't accept polygamy and let Joseph marry other women, the Lord would destroy her and then Joseph would marry as many wives as he wanted.

With this established doctrine on the frontiers of Utah in Mormon polygamy compounds, and with no other available men in hundreds of miles and no money to help these wives escape, the LDS Church claims the women had a real choice and that they were willing participants. There are many examples of women who contradict this:

Helen Kimball: In her memoir, 14 year-old Helen wrote,

"After which he [Joseph] said to me, 'if you take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father's household and all of your kindred.' This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward."

Helen thought her marriage to Joseph Smith was only dynastic. But to her surprise, it was more. Helen confided to a close friend in Nauvoo:

"I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it." (Mormon Polygamy: A History by LDS member Richard S. Van Wagoner, p. 53.)

Link to: Is polygamy essential for salvation?

Link to: Quotes from the prophets

Link to: Helen Kimball

10) Seventh paragraph excerpt:

all were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage.

What about the Apostles who were in polygamous marriages after the 1890 Manifesto? Did they grant themselves authority in violation of the Manifesto which was trying to stop plural marriages?

11) Ninth paragraph:

Still, some patterns are discernible, and they correct some myths. Although some leaders had large polygamous families, two-thirds of polygamist men had only two wives at a time. Church leaders recognized that plural marriages could be particularly difficult for women. Divorce was therefore available to women who were unhappy in their marriages; remarriage was also readily available. Women did marry at fairly young ages in the first decade of Utah settlement (age 16 or 17 or, infrequently, younger), which was typical of women living in frontier areas at the time. As in other places, women married at older ages as the society matured. Almost all women married, and so did a large percentage of men. In fact, it appears that a larger percentage of men in Utah married than elsewhere in the United States at the time. Probably half of those living in Utah Territory in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous family as a husband, wife, or child at some time during their lives. By 1870, 25 to 30 percent of the population lived in polygamous households, and it appears that the percentage continued to decrease over the next 20 years.

What is glossed over is that so often the Mormon men were many years older than the women they were taking as plural wives. 16 & 17 year-old women were not marrying 16 & 17 year-old men. Many Church leaders married teenagers and women much younger than they were. Joseph Smith, at 37, married Helen Kimball when she was only 14 and Nancy Winchester also at 14. He also married two 16 year-olds and three 17 year-olds. President John Taylor married a 26-year-old while he was 78 years old.

Most polygamous marriages were prompted from the religious belief that it was required to reach the highest degree of glory in the afterlife. In addition, many Mormons believed that Christ's return was imminent and married as soon as they possibly could prior to the impending Millennium (Campbell & Campbell 1978). With this as the basis for marriage, it was found that the root of many marriages was insufficient for a stable relationship. Moreover, it wasn't uncommon for Mormon women to 'exchange' their husband for one who had a higher position in the Church, thus leading to the gross imbalance that Church leaders often had wives numbering in the dozens compared to average LDS men who only had one or two plural wives. It was not even necessary to have divorce papers in many cases (Van Wagoner 1989, p 93.). Due to these circumstances, Utah, in the course of the nineteenth century, became a "divorce mill". The divorce rate was high not only among the Mormons, but also from 'gentiles' that came to Utah because they could easily separate (Cott 2000, p 262.) there. Though the possibility of divorce in this article was made ​​in a positive light, the non-Mormons of the nineteenth century saw this as a confirmation that the Mormon marriage practices were inconsistent with the moral standards of the rest of America, and used this data in their fight against polygamy. (Zeitzen 2008, p 107.)

12) Ninth paragraph excerpt:

Divorce was therefore available to women who were unhappy in their marriages

Although the above paragraph argued that divorce rates were high, seeking redress in a polygamous marriage was not always easy. Ann Eliza Webb filed for divorce from Brigham Young and sued him for alimony in 1877. Young successfully argued that their relationship was "an ecclesiastical affair, not a legal one," and the judge rightly ruled that since there was never any legal marriage, Webb could not file for divorce nor seek alimony.

13) Tenth paragraph:

The experience of plural marriage toward the end of the 19th century was substantially different from that of earlier decades. Beginning in 1862, the U.S. government passed laws against the practice of plural marriage. Outside opponents mounted a campaign against the practice, stating that they hoped to protect Mormon women and American civilization. For their part, many Latter-day Saint women publicly defended the practice of plural marriage, arguing in statements that they were willing participants.

If the women hated polygamy so much, then why did they participate in it?

Many women practiced polygamy because they believed the Church was true and somehow plural marriage was commanded by God. Others likely had little choice if their husband said he had to do it and was going to practice this commandment with or without their support. The first wife was supposed to give her consent, but many, like Emma Smith, protested against it and their husbands married anyway. Others, like Helen Kimball, were coerced by their parents into polygamous marriages—often to much older men. Some were promised great eternal blessings for them or their families if they entered into the practice.

Many women stayed in polygamous marriages for the same reason many battered women stay in bad marriages today—for the sake of their children and limited means to support themselves. This would be far worse for a woman in the 1800s to be on her own with children than it is today. In that society, they had no one to help them out of a heartbreaking situation. They either lived with it or tried to survive in a man's world on their own.

The idea that most plural wives were happy with the arrangement is a myth. Official Mormon histories have publicized plural marriages as being as normal and full of affection as monogamous marriages. Some may have been. However, Zina Diantha Huntington (polygamous wife to Joseph Smith and then later to Brigham Young), when interviewed by a journalist from the New York World, in 1869, drew a distinction between romantic love and plural marriage. Commenting on women who were unhappy in their polygamous marriages, she said they "expect too much attention from the husband and…become sullen and morose..." She insisted that the successful polygamous wife, "must regard her husband with indifference, and wits no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy." Lucy Walker, who had been sealed for time to Heber C. Kimball, after the death of Joseph Smith said, "There was not any love in the union between myself and Kimball, and it is my business entirely whether there was any courtship or not... It was the principle of plural marriage that we were trying to establish, a great and glorious true principle." (In Sacred Loneliness, 108, 466-467).

14) Eleventh paragraph excerpt:

Believing these laws to be unjust, Latter-day Saints engaged in civil disobedience by continuing to practice plural marriage and by attempting to avoid arrest.

Civil disobedience? This is a way of sugar-coating the fact that the Latter-day Saints were breaking the laws of the land. Calling it "civil disobedience" does not change that. This was also in direct violation of the 12th Article of Faith which states:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Link to: Polygamy was illegal

Link to: Polygamy contradicts 12th Article of Faith

15) Twelfth paragraph excerpt:

Especially in these newly formed congregations outside of Utah, monogamous families became central to religious worship and learning. As the Church grew and spread beyond the American West, the monogamous nuclear family was well suited to an increasingly mobile and dispersed membership.

This seems to be saying that it made more sense to have monogamous marriages after 1890 but polygamous marriages before 1890. This makes little sense. The rest of the United States (even the western frontier states) got along just fine with monogamous marriages when the Mormons practiced polygamy. The author seems to be trying to justify non-religious reasons for starting polygamy and ending polygamy but they make little sense.

16) Last paragraph:

For many who practiced it, plural marriage was a significant sacrifice. Despite the hardships some experienced, the faithfulness of those who practiced plural marriage continues to benefit the Church in innumerable ways. Through the lineage of these 19th-century Saints have come many Latter-day Saints who have been faithful to their gospel covenants as righteous mothers and fathers, loyal disciples of Jesus Christ, and devoted Church members, leaders, and missionaries. Although members of the contemporary Church are forbidden to practice plural marriage, modern Latter-day Saints honor and respect these pioneers who gave so much for their faith, families, and community.

It's wishful thinking to believe that we have more righteous members today because the Mormons of over 100 years ago practiced polygamy. And even if that were true, there are arguably more long-term downsides to polygamy than upsides. Polygamy is one of the most distasteful and troubling aspects of Mormonism that will plague the Church forever. Many, many peoplewill never even consider joining the LDS Church because of polygamy, especially when the leaders can't really say why God commanded it.

Another downside is that polygamy is still practiced by some 50,000 'fundamentalist mormons' and despite the LDS Church's efforts, many outsiders still link the LDS Church with the FLDS Church, formerly lead by Warren Jeffs.

If it wasn't for polygamy and a few other select doctrines, the LDS Church would likely be more accepted by society and more people would want to join the Church.

An argument that polygamy made men worse can easily be made by many Latter-day Saint women that were married to Church leaders, which were supposedly the most righteous of men. This is from Sarah Pratt, married to Apostle Orson Pratt (one of the members of the original Council of the Twelve):

"Here was my husband," she said, "gray headed, taking to his bed young girls in mockery of marriage. Of course there could be no joy for him in such an intercourse except the indulgence of his fanaticism and of something else, perhaps, which I hesitate to mention."
-Sarah Pratt speaking of her husband, the apostle Orson Pratt who dated a 16 year old girl (and then married her) when he was 57. (Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 92)


There are so many things relating to polygamy that were left out of the essay. A partial list is:

1) Nearly everything about polygamy in Nauvoo, where polygamy was founded and the place with members' most vexing questions concerning polygamy, is left out. To quote the article: "This essay primarily addresses plural marriage as practiced by the Latter-day Saints between 1847 and 1890." How can an essay really address polygamy and not include the founding events involving Joseph Smith?

Link to: Polygamy was started by Joseph Smith not Brigham Young

2) How Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. For example, Joseph's marrying 11 women who already had husbands (called polyandry), marrying girls as young as 14, sending men on missions and then marrying their wives. Joseph's public lying to cover-up his polygamy, his deceiving his first wife Emma and secretly marrying women without her permission, etc.

Link to: Polyandry & teenagers & lying

3) D&C 132 is not discussed (although it is linked to). D&C 101 is left out entirely. Also left out are the Book of Mormon scriptures condemning polygamy. Joseph Smith himself violated several provisions of that revelation: - he did not obtain permission from the first wife for all of his marriages; - some of the women he married were not virgins; - some of the women he married were "betrothed to another."

Link to: LDS scriptures condemn polygamy

4) Reasons for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, ultimately leading to Joseph Smith's death at Carthage.

Link to: Nauvoo Expositor

5) Polygamy is still considered a celestial law which will be practiced in the next life: Some current apostles have remarried after their spouses died and have stated that they will have both women as wives in the next life. Many LDS women are troubled by this.

Link to: Will polygamy be practiced in the next life?

6) Teachings that God the Father is a polygamist and how there must be multiple "Mothers in Heaven."

Link to: Does Heavenly Father practice polygamy also?

7) The FLDS polygamy still practices polygamy today based off of the scriptures and from prophets' teachings. Enduring fruits of Joseph Smith's teachings.

Link to: What about the Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamists?

8) The first presidency and apostles taught that monogamy was evil.

Link to: Quotes from the prophets

9) The Reed Smoot congressional hearings which led to the Second Manifesto.

Link to: The Reed Smoot Hearings

10) How polygamy affected the children? Much is said about the wives, but how did polygamy affect children? Brigham Young had some 29 wives and 55 children. How much time do you think father Brigham spent with each of his children? Would he even know all of their names? How many times do you think he helped them with their school work or played with each child? The children would virtually grow up without a father. As the church is so much about family, isn't polygamy one of the worst things you could do for a child?

Link to: What about the children?

11) The essay shows Mormon polygamy in a very favorable light. In reality, there were many examples of excessive abuse by leaders in the church that few members know about. For example, Bishop Snow wanted a young girl to be his polygamous wife but she wanted to marry her young boyfriend. Snow tried to send him away on a mission and did everything to persuade him to forsake his sweetheart. When that failed, Bishop Snow and other church leaders ambushed him and castrated him so the girl would no longer want him so he could add her as one of his several polygamous wives. Brigham Young was informed of what happened and said to "let it be" and didn't even remove Snow as the bishop.

Link to: Polygamy Stories

There are many more omissions to Mormon polygamy. Read about them at polygamy

Ending summary

The writer of the essay wants the reader to have only a small amount of information which is strategically placed to put the history in the best possible light while still omitting many of the serious issues about polygamy. Then the writer has the sheer audacity to say the lies and deception and omissions make members more loyal and devoted to these lies and deceptions.

The article completely avoids the most troubling issue that knowledgeable LDS have on polygamy which is the way Joseph Smith practiced it. Joseph Smith practiced polyandry where he married other men's wives as well as polygamy. Joseph married 33 women of which 11 were married to other men. Although many LDS believe that Joseph did not have sexual relations with those women, many faithful LDS historians acknowledge that there is evidence he did. Often Joseph would send men on missions overseas then marry their wives. Also not mentioned is Joseph's marriages to girls as young as 14 and to what lengths Joseph went to hide these marriages from his first wife Emma. Also omitted is how the Church leaders denied practicing polygamy before the 1850s.

Update: In October 22, 2014 the Church released another essay on polygamy called Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo, which focused on Joseph Smith's polygamy. Although the essay sugarcoated the practice and didn't really provide much into explaining why polygamy was started (other than God commanded it), the essay did acknowledge that Joseph married girls as young as 14, Joseph married women that already were married and that Joseph likely had sex with many of the women he married. The essay also opens the door to the possibility that Joseph also had sex with some women that already were married to other living men. The essay can be read here: Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo

MormonThink will be responding to the essay here: Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo - Response to

The article also makes it seem that all the LDS women were more than willing to practice the principle and to defend it. They omit very sad stories of women like 14 year-old Helen Kimball who was pressured to marry Joseph Smith and to keep it a secret as she was promised exaltation for her family and faithful men like Henry Jacobs who had his wife Zina taken from him and sealed to Joseph Smith and later to Brigham Young.

The essay states:

Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God's purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century.

Then what is the purpose of having prophets if not to understand such important and controversial issues and topics? The lure and bait for Mormon missionary work is to sell Mormonism based on the premise that they alone have a prophet to guide, direct and reveal things to the members based on truth—the one truth. If ever there was a time or topic for God's truth this surely would be one within Mormonism. They uphold the practice and purpose of prophets while simultaneously stating that they do not understand all of God's purposes for instituting the practice even though they are the only church authorized by God to have prophetic revelation to instruct and clear up such issues.

Accepting the word of one man.

All the essay really shows is that the Mormons in the 1800s blindly followed the leadership of one man and what he claimed God told him to do. Since there were no clear reasons given for polygamy (back then or now), and since polygamy violated other LDS tenets like obeying the law, went against LDS scriptures that condemn polygamy, and considering all the harm it caused, we can't help but wonder if polygamy was not a man-made mistake like denying blacks the priesthood (church leaders said in the essay "Race and the Priesthood" that it was a man-made ban).

Once again the Saints are asked to take the word of just one man. No other prophet really claimed that God visited them or sent angels to confirm the practice of plural marriage. If Joseph was mistaken, deluded, deceived by Satan in the form of an angel or lying to cover up his affair, then the entire practice of polygamy was a terrible, unnecessary hardship on untold thousands of people.

Why doesn't the spirit validate polygamy?

If polygamy was really sanctioned by Heavenly Father and polygamy is an eternal principle expected to be practiced in the next life, then naturally the spirit should bear witness to this. So why doesn't the spirit give feelings of confirmation when it comes to polygamy? We have rarely found members in the church, especially women, who readily accept this idea.

Doesn't it seem strange when the idea is brought up about polygamy that our stomachs turn? It just seems like a really strange concept to us. As Latter-day Saints, we base everything in our lives on feelings; yet when we feel opposed to something in the church, this emotional wrestling match starts inside us with the ultimate winner being, "Well, that's not for me to understand right now."

If there is anyone out there reading this that can honestly say that they get a good, warm, spiritual feeling that God commanded Joseph to marry other men's wives and 14 year-old girls and to lie about it all his life, please email us and we'll post your impressions on our website.


When we read such statements as these by the First Presidency of the Church, we have to wonder if polygamy, as practiced by the saints, came from God or from man:

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.

- Apostle Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor to Brigham Young, The Lion of the Lord, New York, 1969, pp 129-130.

To get a more complete view on polygamy and the many problems not discussed in the LDS article, read MormonThink's section on polygamy.

Blog response to the LDS essay: Woman at the Well

An excellent annotated response to the essay from a collaborator that I exchange research with: - Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah