LDS Church Essay on Polygamy

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LDS Church Essay on Polygamy

Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

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.1

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. 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.2 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.3

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.4 In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages.5 Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.

This essay primarily addresses plural marriage as practiced by the Latter-day Saints between 1847 and 1890, following their exodus to the U.S. West and before the Manifesto.

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.6 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;7 and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population.8 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,”9 covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.10

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.11 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.12 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.

During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, all Latter-day Saints were expected to accept the principle as a revelation from God.13 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.14 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.15 Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or monogamous union, or whether to marry at all.16 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.17

The passage of time shaped the experience of life within plural marriage. Virtually all of those practicing it in the earliest years had to overcome their own prejudice against plural marriage and adjust to life in polygamous families. The task of pioneering a semiarid land during the middle decades of the 19th century added to the challenges of families who were learning to practice the principle of plural marriage. Where the family lived—whether in Salt Lake City, with its multiple social and cultural opportunities, or the rural hinterlands, where such opportunities were fewer in number—made a difference in how plural marriage was experienced. It is therefore difficult to accurately generalize about the experience of all plural marriages.

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.18 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.19 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.20 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.21 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.22

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.23

After the U.S. Supreme Court found the anti-polygamy laws to be constitutional in 1879, federal officials began prosecuting polygamous husbands and wives during the 1880s.24 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. When convicted, they paid fines and submitted to jail time. To help their husbands avoid prosecution, plural wives often separated into different households or went into hiding under assumed names, particularly when pregnant or after giving birth.25

By 1890, when President Woodruff’s Manifesto lifted the command to practice plural marriage, Mormon society had developed a strong, loyal core of members, mostly made up of emigrants from Europe and the Eastern United States. But the demographic makeup of the worldwide Church membership had begun to change. Beginning in the 1890s converts outside the United States were asked to build up the Church in their homelands rather than move to Utah. In subsequent decades, Latter-day Saints migrated away from the Great Basin to pursue new opportunities. Plural marriage had never been encouraged outside of concentrated populations of Latter-day Saints. 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.

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.

Related Topics
Jacob 2:27, 30. For instances of plural marriage in the Bible, see Genesis 16:3; 25:1; 29:21-30; 30:3-4, 9. See also D&C 132:34-35.
D&C 132:7. The Church President periodically set apart others to perform plural marriages.
See Official Declaration 1.
Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 208–9; Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 60–73; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. (1992), “Manifesto of 1890,” 2:852–53.
“Official Statement,” Apr. 6, 1904, in James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–1975), 4:84–85.
Studies have shown that monogamous women bore more children per wife than did polygamous wives except the first. Fertility at the societal level, however, was enhanced because of the near universality of marriage among women and the abundant opportunities for remarriage among previously married women of childbearing age. L. L. Bean and G. P. Mineau, “The Polygyny–Fertility Hypothesis: A Re-evaluation,” Population Studies 40 (1986): 67–81; Miriam Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, Polygamy: A Cross Cultural Analysis (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2008), 62–63.
Daynes, Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 130–33.
Kathryn M. Daynes, “Forging Mormon Society: Polygamy and Assimilation,” (Presentation at the Western Historical Association, Fort Worth, TX, Oct. 10, 2003).
1 Peter 2:9.
See Jacob 1:8; and Acts 5:41. Studies of the 19th-century Mormon image in the United States have found the Mormons were most closely associated with plural marriage. Jan Shipps, Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 51–97.
For an exploration of some of these difficulties, see Jessie L. Embry, Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2008).
For one example of the feelings that existed between husband and wives, see Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 305, 329–30.
Plural marriage was first introduced privately to a small group of Church members, which expanded over time. Church leaders publicly announced the practice in 1852.
Recent calculations using a 3 percent growth rate and an average five-year age interval between husbands and wives at first marriage (reasonable estimates for the 19th-century Mormon population) indicate that the upper limit of sustainable polygamy in a stable society is 16 percent of husbands and 28 percent of wives. Davis Bitton and others, “Probing the High Prevalence of Polygyny in St. George, 1861–1880,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 11–15.
See, for example, the comments of George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 22:124–25, 23:278.
See, for example, Emmeline B. Wells, Ellen B. Ferguson, Emily S. Richards, and Joseph M. West, letter to the Honorable Committee of the Senate on Education and Labor, May 12, 1886, quoted in Daynes, Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 61. They testified, “No Mormon woman, old or young, is compelled to marry at all, still less to enter into polygamy.” In addition, Brigham Young stated: “When your daughters have grown up, and wish to marry let them have their choice in a husband. … Take this or that man if you want them my girls, … you shall have your own agency in the matter even as I want mine.” Brigham Young Sermon, Apr. 16, 1854, Brigham Young Office Files, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
See, for example, Lowell C. Bennion, “Mapping the Extent of Plural Marriage in St. George, 1861–1880,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 34–49; and Embry, Mormon Polygamous Families, 75–81.
These figures are based on two different studies using different sources. Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Western Humanities Review 10, no. 3 (Summer 1956): 233; and Daynes, Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 130. Brigham Young’s large family was definitely atypical. See Dean C. Jessee, “‘A Man of God and a Good Kind Father’: Brigham Young at Home,” BYU Studies 40, no. 2 (2001): 23–53.
Brigham Young to William H. Dame, Aug. 8, 1867, Brigham Young Letterbook, vol. 10, p. 340, Brigham Young Office Files, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Daynes, Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 141–70. In general, women in Utah Territory could obtain a divorce more easily than in most other places in the United States at the time. One of Brigham Young’s clerks explained: “As a rule, the Prest. [Brigham Young] never refuses a bill [of divorcement] on the application of a wife, and NEVER when she INSISTS on it.” Quoted in Embry, Mormon Polygamous Families, 253.
Daynes, Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 107; Cynthia Culver Prescott, “‘Why Didn’t She Marry Him’: Love, Power and Marital Choice on the Far Western Frontier,” Western Historical Quarterly 38, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 25–45; Paul Bourke and Donald DeBats, Washington County, Politics and Community in Antebellum America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 121.
Lowell C. Bennion, “Plural Marriage, 1841–1904,” in Brandon S. Plewe, ed., Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History, (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2013), 122–25; Daynes, Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 101.
Bennion, “Plural Marriage,” 122–25; Lowell C. Bennion, “The Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880: ‘Dixie’ versus Davis Stake,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 17, 31.
Proceedings in Mass Meeting of the Ladies of Salt Lake City, to Protest against the Passage of Cullom’s Bill, January 14, 1870 (Salt Lake City: 1870); Lola Van Wagenen, “In Their Own Behalf: The Politicization of Mormon Women and the 1870 Franchise,” in Carol Cornwall Madsen, ed., Battle for the Ballot: Essays on Woman Suffrage in Utah, 1870–1896 (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1997), 60–73.
Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
Ronald W. Walker, “A Mormon ‘Widow’ in Colorado: The Exile of Emily Wells Grant,” in Qualities That Count: Heber J. Grant as Businessman, Missionary, and Apostle (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2004), 175–93; Kimberly Jensen James, “‘Between Two Fires’: Women on the ‘Underground’ of Mormon Polygamy,” Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981): 49–61.
The Church acknowledges the contribution of historians and scholars to the historical context set forth in this article, whose contribution is used with their permission.

Official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
© 2013 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The First Time


It could be this is the first time the LDS Church has openly said it sanctioned plural marriages after the 1890 Manifesto and up to 1904. The tone of this essay is decidedly different than other official statements.

From the Salt Lake Tribune this morning
"Most of the details in the piece on plural marriage are well-known to historians, but some of them may be news to longtime Mormons or new converts in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

"Even though plural marriage is a distant memory in the Utah-based LDS Church, Mormon scriptures — such as Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 — describe and defend the practice and remain part of the mainline LDS canon.

Plus, men can be "sealed," or married for eternity (Mormonism’s crowning rite), to more than one woman,while a woman can be sealed to only one man.

Some point to that policy as proof that, under LDS doctrine, polygamy will continue in heaven.

The new church article on plural marriage makes no mention of the future.

But after Waddoups’ ruling last week, a church spokesman emphasized that Mormons "do not practice polygamy, regardless of its legal or cultural acceptance." Even in countries that permit plural marriage, polygamists are not allowed to join the LDS faith and members who do are booted out."

babe (not verified)
history revisited


The LDS mainstream church is obnoxiously forever editing it's history, to the point of being transparent liars.

The problem it has today is not its enemies so much as its members who for various reasons don't like that particular idea. Well, in all fairness, that might be true of even the polygamous groups whose children in significant numbers do not choose to follow it, either.

The LDS Church has gone from attempting to justify third-world polygamy, as in China, Africa, and India, as a natural and enlightened concept of marriage that would care for women and eliminate prostitution, and improve the rising generation, to claiming it is a special privilege only a few select people should be permitted to employ. Now they move from vehement denials of secret covenants, to calling it an "incident", or a practical accommodation for an excess of women members who needed help in dealing with the rigors of homesteading a new land, to acknowledging that some members continued it after the "Manifesto", which as I read it still denies those members did it under Church authority. . . .

yah. . . . it's crazy.

The LDS church never "voted" on the DC 132, never raised their hands to it. People have various mixtures of pride in their poly family roots and shame in what they fear others think of it. Some claim it was never done specifically under "Church" authority, claiming it was always done under a concurrent line of authority that was not under the Church administration. With that idea in mind, it would be true to say "The Church" never did it. It just held title to the property where it was done, and gave them a place to attend meetings. . . . and accepted them in their community. . . .well, sorta. . . .

It's still a significantly prejudiced item that people who join the LDS mainstream church today, who were raised in families that were plural or poly, often will actively conceal the fact so as to avoid negative comments and outright rudeness.

The SL tribune is just as morbidly anti-Mormon today as ever, and just as dishonest in its presentation and slant on the "news". The Trib owners want to be "the authoritative source" for anti-Mormon propaganda, for defining the world's view of Mormonism. I find it utterly deplorable. But I am about as critical of the LDS "correlation committe" and "public relations spokesmen".

Polygamy in the Bible never required any special authority. No one ever had to seek anyone's approval for it except the family of the woman being brought into a plural family, and the woman herself I hope. . . .

Polygamy is extolled as a righteous thing in the case of the Patriarchs, and the women are described in grime reality, and praised for "building Israel", with no silly notions of anything "ideal" about the relationships. The meaningful thing was that they had children, or wanted them. A man who mistreated any woman is deplored, a man who treated women with care and respect is extolled and held exemplary. Boaz married Ruth in polygamy, after other "near kinsmen" declined to take scriptural responsibility for the widow of their near relative. . . . Because he was a man of stout devotion to the Law as it is still written in Leviticus.

Jesus was evidently married in polygamy, particularly at least to the two sisters of Lazarus, and now we have actual writing dating from near that point in history, referring to the wives of Jesus. Josephus, a historian not too far removed from the time, said the reason the Jewish rulers hated Jesus was because "he had so many women".

There is a belief that the LDS principle of eternal marriage, to plural celestial marriage, was essentially the same idea with the antediluvial patriarchs, Enoch, and Abraham, but we have no actual specific teachings to that set of ideals that pre-date Joseph Smith. We do have specific instances of men taking plural wives both in the Bible and in the cultural context of the Bible, and spanning historical ages around the world. . . If a man could support the wives, it was his prerogative, God or no God. It was only the eleventh century Roman Catholic Church that first went on record as disallowing it.

The present historical trend may or may not prove deep-rooted. Governments may weigh in against it, and may even regulate childbirth with population control measures. People may find they need more options in life, and may find poly a way to cope with the stresses of our times. Women in the home of an employed, supportive man, who can juggle babies and jobs by cooperating. . . .

It's their right to do so, god or no God, Church or no Church.

IMO, people who want kids and will do such things to have them will have all the blessings our Father in Heaven can possibly bestow on anyone.

DeepBlueHeart (not verified)
Interesting read. I don't


Interesting read. I don't like how they talk about how there were challenges and difficulties as if non poly has none. Every marriage is a blessing by God and every road in life one takes will have bumps on the way. One wife or three, there will always be times when one faces challenges and difficulties.

Do you have to be born of the family to become part of a family?


Just wanted more information.

Mary Clark

Scripture compares the


Scripture compares the relationship of husband and wife to that of Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5:25–33 Paul explained this relationship and referred back to Genesis 2:24. Once again, God’s standard for marriage is defined as one man and one woman. Paul finished this analogy by stating, “let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).