The Institution Of Polygamy

The student of the history of the Mormon church to this date, who

seeks an answer to the question, Who originated the idea of

plural marriages among the Mormons? will naturally credit that

idea to Joseph Smith, Jr. The Reorganized Church

(non-polygamist), whose membership includes Smith's direct

descendants, defend the prophet's memory by alleging that "in the

brain of J. C. Bennett was conceived the idea, and in his

practice was the principle first introduced into the church." In

maintaining this ground, however, they contend that "the official

character of President Joseph Smith should be judged by his

official ministrations as set forth in the well authenticated

accepted official documents of the church up to June 27, 1844.

His personal, private conduct should not enter into this

discussion."* The secular investigator finds it necessary to

disregard this warning, and in studying the question he discovers

an incontrovertible mass of testimony to prove that the

"revelation" concerning polygamy was a production of Smith,** was

familiar to the church leaders in Nauvoo, and was lived up to by

them before their expulsion from Illinois.

* Pamphlets Nos. 16 and 46 published by the Reorganized Church.

** "Elder W. W. Phelps said in Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1862 that

while Joseph was translating the Book of Abraham in Kirtland,

Ohio, in 1835, from the papyrus found with the Egyptian mummies,

the Prophet became impressed with the idea that polygamy would

yet become an institution of the Mormon Church. Brigham Young was

present, and was much annoyed at the statement made by Phelps;

but it is highly probable that it was the real secret that the

latter then divulged."--"Rocky Mountain Saints," p. 182.

The Book of Mormon furnishes ample proof that the idea of plural

marriages was as far from any thought of the real "author" of the

doctrinal part of that book as it was from the mind of Rigdon's

fellow-Disciples in Ohio at the time. The declarations on the

subject in the Mormon Bible are so worded that they distinctly

forbid any following of the example of Old Testament leaders like

David and Solomon. In the Book of Jacob ii. 24-28, we find these

commands: "Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and

concubines, which thing was abominable before me saith the Lord;

wherefore, thus with 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.

"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 hath save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have

none; for I, the Lord God, delighteth in the chastity of women.

And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord

of Hosts."

The same view is expressed in the Book of Mosiah, where, among

the sins of King Noah, it is mentioned that "he spent his time in

riotous living with his wives and concubines," and in the Book of

Ether x. 5, where it is said that "Riplakish did not do that

which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many

wives and concubines."

Smith, at the beginning of his career as a prophet, inculcated

the same views on this subject in his "revelations." Thus, in the

one dated at Kirtland, February 9, 1831, it was commanded (Sec.

42), "Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall

cleave unto her and none else; and he that looketh upon a woman

to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the

spirit, and if he repents not he shall be cast out." In another

"revelation," dated the following month (Sec. 49), it was

declared, "Wherefore it is lawful that he should have one wife,

and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth

might answer the end of its creation."* These teachings may be

with justness attributed to Rigdon, and we shall see on how

little ground rests a carelessly made charge that he was the

originator of the "spiritual wife" notion.

"It is the strongest proof of the firm hold of a party, whether

religious or political, upon the public mind, when it may offend

with impunity against its own primary principles." MILMAN,

"History of Christianity."

That there was a loosening of the views regarding the marriage

tie almost as soon as Smith began his reign at Kirtland can be

shown on abundant proof. Booth in one of his letters said, " t

has been made known to one who has left his wife in New York

State, that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at

pleasure to take him a wife from among the Lamanites" (Indians).*

That reports of polygamous practices among the Mormons while they

were in Ohio were current was conceded in the section on

marriage, inserted in the Kirtland edition of the "Book of

Doctrine and Covenants"--"Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has

been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy,"

etc.; and is further proved by Smith's denial in the Elders'

Journal,** and by the declaration of the Presidents of the

Seventies, withholding fellowship with any elder "who is guilty

of polygamy."

* Howe's "Mormonism Unveiled."

** p. 157, ante.

Of the enmity of the higher powers toward transgressors of the

law of morality of this time, we find an amusing (some will say

shocking) mention in Smith's "revelation" of October 25, 1831

(Sec. 66). This "revelation" (announced as the words of "the Lord

your Redeemer, the Saviour of the world") was addressed to W. E.

McLellin (who was soon after "rebuked" by the prophet for

attempting to have a "revelation" on his own account). It

declared that McLellin was "blessed for receiving mine

everlasting covenant," directed him to go forth and preach, gave

him power to heal the sick, and then added, "Commit no adultery,

a temptation with which thou hast been troubled." Could religious

bouffe go to greater lengths?

Testimony as to the liberal Mormon view of the marriage relation

while the church was in Missouri is found in the case of one

Lyon, reported by Smith on page 148 of Vol. XVI of the Millennial

Star. Lyon was the presiding high priest of one of the outlying

branches of the church. Desiring to marry a Mrs. Jackson, whose

husband was absent in the East, Lyon announced a "revelation,"

ordering the marriage to take place, telling her that he knew by

revelation that her husband was dead. He gained her consent in

this way, but, before the ceremony was performed, Jackson

returned home, and, learning of Lyon's conduct, he had him

brought before the authorities for trial. The high priest was

found guilty enough to be deposed from his office, but not from

his church membership.

There is abundant testimony from Mormon sources to show that the

doctrine of polygamy, with the "spiritual wife" adjunct, was

practised in Nauvoo for some time before Joseph Smith's death. A

very orthodox Mormon witness on this point is Eliza R. Snow. In

her biography of her brother, Lorenzo Snow,* the recent head of

the church, she gives this account of her connection with


* "This biography and autobiography of my brother Lorenzo Snow

has been written as a tribute of sisterly affection for him, and

as a token of sincere respect to his family. It is designed to be

handed down in lineal descent, from generation to generation,--to

be preserved as a family memorial."--Extract from the preface.

"While my brother was absent on this [his first] mission to

Europe [1840-1843], changes had taken place with me, one of

eternal import, of which I supposed him to be entirely ignorant.

The Prophet Joseph had taught me the principle of plural or

celestial marriage, and I was married to him for time and

eternity. In consequence of the ignorance of most of the Saints,

as well as people of the world, on this subject, it was not

mentioned, only privately between the few whose minds were

enlightened on the subject. Not knowing how my brother [he

returned on April 12, 1843] would receive it, I did not feel at

liberty, and did not wish to assume the responsibility, of

instructing him in the principle of plural marriage .... I

informed my husband [the prophet] of the situation, and requested

him to open the subject to my brother. A favorable opportunity

soon presented, and, seated together on the bank of the

Mississippi River, they had a most interesting conversation. The

prophet afterward told me he found that my brother's mind had

been previously enlightened on the subject in question. That

Comforter which Jesus says shall I lead unto all truth had

penetrated his understanding, and, while in England, had given

him an intimation of what at that time was to many a secret. This

was the result of living near the Lord.

"It was at the private interview referred to above that the

Prophet Joseph unbosomed his heart, and described the trying

ordeal he experienced in overcoming the repugnance of his

feelings, the natural result of the force of education and social

custom, relative to the introduction of plural marriage. He knew

the voice of God--he knew the command of the Almighty to him was

to go forward--to set the example and establish celestial plural

marriage .... Yet the prophet hesitated and deferred from time to

time, until an angel of God stood by him with a drawn sword, and

told him that, unless he moved forward and established plural

marriage, his priesthood would be taken from him and he should be

destroyed. This testimony he not only bore to my brother, but

also to others."*

* "Biography of Lorenzo Snow" (1884), pp. 68-70. Young married

some of Smith's spiritual widows after the prophet's death, and

four of them, including Eliza Snow, appear in Crockwell's

illustrated "Biographies of Young's Wives," published in Utah.

Catherine Lewis, who, after passing two years with the Mormons,

escaped from Nauvoo, after taking the preliminary degrees of the

endowment, says: "The Twelve took Joseph's wives after his death.

Kimball and Young took most of them; the daughter of Kimball was

one of Joseph's wives. I heard her say to her mother: 'I will

never be sealed to my father [meaning as a wife], and I would

never have been sealed [married] 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.' The

Apostles said they only took Joseph's wives to raise up children,

carry them through to the next world, and there deliver them up

to him; by so doing they would gain his approbation."--"Narrative

of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons."

Smith's versatility as a fabricator seems to give him a leading

place in that respect in the record of mankind. Snow says that he

asked the prophet to set him right if he should see him indulging

in any practice that might lead him astray, and the prophet

assured him that he would never be guilty of any serious error.

"It was one of Snow's peculiarities," observes his sister, "to do

nothing by halves"; and he exemplified this in this instance by

having two wives "sealed" to him at the same time in 1845, adding

two more very soon afterward, and another in 1848. "It was

distinctly understood," says his sister, "and agreed between

them, that their marriage relations should not, for the time

being, be divulged to the world."

The testimony of John D. Lee in regard to the practice of

polygamy in Illinois is very circumstantial, and Lee was a

conscientious polygamist to the day of his death. He says* that

he was directed in this matter by principle and not by passion,

and goes on to explain:--

* "Mormonism Unveiled," p. 200

"In those days I did not always make due allowance for the

failings of the weaker vessels. I then expected perfection in all

women. I know now that I was foolish in looking for that in

anything human. I have, for slight offences, turned away

good-meaning young women that had been sealed to me, and refused

to hear their excuses, but sent them away brokenhearted. In this

I did wrong. I have regretted the same in sorrow for many years

.... Should my history ever fall into the hands of Emeline

Woolsey or Polly Ann Workman, I wish them to know that, with my

last breath, I asked God to pardon me the wrong I did them, when

I drove them from me, poor young girls as they were"

Lee says that in the winter of 1843-1844 Smith set one Sidney Hay

Jacobs to writing a pamphlet giving selections from the

Scriptures bearing on the practice of polygamy and advocating

that doctrine. The appearance of this pamphlet created so much

unfavorable comment (even Hyrum Smith denouncing it "as from

beneath") that Joseph deemed it best to condemn it in the Wasp,

although men in his confidence were busy advocating its


The "revelation" sanctioning plural marriages is dated July 12,

1843, and Lee says that Smith "dared not proclaim it publicly,"

but taught it "confidentially," urging his followers "to

surrender themselves to God" for their salvation; and "in the

winter of 1845, meetings were held all over the city of Nauvoo,

and the spirit of Elijah was taught in the different families, as

a foundation to the order of celestial marriage, as well as the

law of adoption."* The Saints were also taught that Gentiles had

no right to perform the marriage ceremony, and that their former

marriage relations were invalid, and that they could be "sealed"

to new wives under the authority of the church.

*"Mormonism Unveiled," p. 165.

Lee gives a complete record of his plural marriages, which is

interesting, showing how the business was conducted at the start.

His second wife, the daughter of a wealthy farmer near Quincy,

Illinois, was "sealed" to him in Nauvoo in 1845, after she had

been an inmate of his house for three months. His third and

fourth wives were "sealed" to him soon after, but Young took a

fancy to wife No. 3 (who had borne Lee a son), and, after much

persuasion, she was "sealed" to Young. At this same "sealing" Lee

took wife No. 4, a girl whom he had baptized in Tennessee. In the

spring of 1845 two sisters of his first wife AND THEIR MOTHER

were "sealed" to him; he married the mother, he says, "for the

salvation of her eternal state." At the completion of the Nauvoo

Temple he took three more wives. At Council Bluffs, in 1847,

Brigham Young "sealed" him to three more, two of them sisters, in

one night, and he secured the fourteenth soon after, the

fifteenth in 1851, the sixteenth in 1856, the seventeenth in 1858

("a dashing young bride"), the eighteenth in 1859, and the

nineteenth and last in Salt Lake City. He says he claimed "only

eighteen true wives," as he married Mrs. Woolsey "for her soul's

sake, and she was nearly sixty years old." By these wives he had

sixty-four children, of whom fifty-four were living when his book

was written.

Ebenezer Robinson, explaining in the Return a statement signed by

him and his wife in October, 1842, to offset Bennett's charges,

in which they declared that they "knew of no other form of

marriage ceremony" except the one in the "Book of Doctrine and

Covenants," said that this statement was then true, as the heads

of the church had not yet taught the new system to others. But

they had heard it talked of, and the prophet's brother, Don

Carlos, in June, 1841, had said to Robinson, "Any man who will

teach and practise spiritual wifery will go to hell, no matter if

it is my brother Joseph." Hyrum Smith, who first opposed the

doctrine, went to Robinson's house in December, 1843, and taught

the system to him and his wife. Robinson was told of the

"revelation" to Joseph a few days after its date, and just as he

was leaving Nauvoo on a mission to New York. He, Law, and William

Marks opposed the innovation. He continues: "We returned home

from that mission the latter part of November, 1843. Soon after

our return, I was told that when we were gone the 'revelation'

was presented to and read in the High Council in Nauvoo, three of

the members of which refused to accept it as from the Lord,

President Marks, Cowles, and Counsellor Leonard Soby." Cowles at

once resigned from the High Council and the Presidency of the

church at Nauvoo, and was looked on as a seceder.

Robinson gives convincing testimony that, as early as 1843, the

ceremonies of the Endowment House were performed in Nauvoo by a

secret organization called "The Holy Order," and says that in

June, 1844, he saw John Taylor clad in an endowment robe. He

quotes a letter to himself from Orson Hyde, dated September 19,

1844, in which Hyde refers guardedly to the new revelation and

the "Holy Order" as "the charge which the prophet gave us,"

adding, "and we know that Elder Rigdon does not know what it

was." *

* The Return, Vol. II, p. 252.

We may find the following references to this subject in Smith's

diary: "April 29, 1842. The Lord makes manifest to me many things

which it is not wisdom for me to make public until others can

witness the proof of them."

"May 1. I preached in the grove on the Keys of the Kingdom, etc.

The Keys are certain signs and words by which the false spirits

and personages can be detected from true, and which cannot be

revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed."

"May 4. I spent the day in the upper part of my store . . . in

council with (Hyrum, Brigham Young and others) instructing them

in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to

washings, anointings, endowments . . . . The communications I

made to this Council were of things spiritual, and to be received

only by the spiritually minded; and there was nothing made known

to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the

last days as soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper

place is prepared to communicate them." *

* Millennial Star, Vol. XIX, pp. 390-393.

In one of Smith's dissertations, which are inserted here and

there in his diary, is the following under date of August,


"If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be

added. So with Solomon. First he asked wisdom and God gave it to

him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which

might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of

heaven only in part, but which in reality were right, because God

gave and sanctioned them by special revelation." *

* Millennial Star, Vol. XIX, p. 774.

While the Mormon leaders, Lorenzo Snow and others, were in the

Utah penitentiary after conviction under the Edmunds antipolygamy

law, refusing pardons on condition that they would give up the

practice of polygamy, the Deseret News of May 20, 1886, printed

an affidavit made on February 16, 1874, at the request of Joseph

F. Smith, by William Clayton, who was a clerk in the prophet's

office in Nauvoo and temple recorder, to show the world that "the

martyred prophet is responsible to God and the world for this

doctrine." The affidavit recites that while Clayton and the

prophet were taking a walk, in February, 1843, Smith first

broached to him the subject of plural marriages, and told him

that the doctrine was right in the sight of God, adding, "It is

your privilege to have all the wives you want." He gives the

names of a number of the wives whom Smith married at this time,

adding that his wife Emma "was cognizant of the fact of some, if

not all, of these being his wives, and she generally treated them

very kindly." He says that on July 12, 1843, Hyrum offered to

read the "revelation" to Emma if the prophet would write it out,

saying, "I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will

hereafter have peace." Joseph smiled, and remarked, "You do not

know Emma as well as I do," but he thereupon dictated the

"revelation" and Clayton wrote it down. An examination of its

text will show how largely it was devoted to Emma's subjugation.

When Hyrum returned from reading it to the prophet's lawful wife,

he said that "he had never received a more severe talking to in

his life; that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and

anger." Joseph repeated his remark that his brother did not know

Emma as well as he did, and, putting the "revelation" into his

pocket, they went out. *

* Jepson's "Historical Record," Vol. VI, pp. 233-234, gives the

names of twenty-seven women who, "besides a few others about whom

we have been unable to get all the necessary information, were

sealed to the Prophet Joseph during the last three years of his


"At the present time," says Stenhouse ("Rocky Mountain Saints"),

p. 185, "there are probably about a dozen sisters in Utah who

proudly acknowledge themselves to be the `wives of Joseph, 'and

how many others there may be who held that relationship no man


At the conference in Salt Lake City on August 28, 1852, at which

the first public announcement of the revelation was made, Brigham

Young said in the course of his remarks: "Though that doctrine

has not been preached by the Elders, this people have believed in

it for many years.* The original copy of this revelation was

burned up. William Clayton was the man who wrote it from the

mouth of the Prophet. In the meantime it was in Bishop Whitney's

possession. He wished the privilege to copy it, which brother

Joseph granted. Sister Emma burnt the original." The

"revelation," he added, had been locked up for years in his desk,

on which he had a patent lock.**

* As evidence that polygamy was not countenanced by Smith and his

associates in Nauvoo, there has been cited a notice in the Times

and Seasons of February, 1844, signed by Joseph and Hyrum Smith,

cutting off an elder named Brown for preaching "polygamy and

other false and corrupt doctrines," and a letter of Hyrum, dated

March 15, 1844, threatening to deprive of his license and

membership any elder who preached "that a man having a certain

priesthood may have as many wives as he pleases." The Deseret

News of May 20, 1886, noticing these and other early denials,

justifies the falsehoods, saying that "Jesus enjoined his

Disciples on several occasions to keep to themselves principles

that he made known to them," that the "Book of Doctrine and

Covenants" gave the same instruction, and that the elders, as the

"revelation" was not yet promulgated, "were justified in denying

those imputations, and at the same time avoiding the avowal of

such doctrines as were not yet intended for this world." P. P.

Pratt flatly denied, in England, in 1846, that any such doctrine

was known or practised by the Saints, and John Taylor (afterward

the head of the church), in a discussion in France in July, 1850,

declared that "these things are too outrageous to admit of

belief." The latter false statements would be covered by the

excuse of the Deseret News.

** Deseret News, extra, September 14, 1852. Young declared in a

sermon in Salt Lake City in July, 1855, that he was among the

doubters when the prophet revealed the new doctrine, saying: "It

was the first time in my life that I desired the grave, and I

could hardly get over it for a long time . . . . And I have had

to examine myself from that day to this, and watch my faith and

carefully meditate, lest I should be found desiring the grave

more than I ought to." His examinations proved eminently


Further proof is not needed to show that this doctrine was the

offspring of Joseph Smith, and that its original object was to

grant him unrestricted indulgence of his passions.

Justice to Sidney Rigdon requires that his memory should be

cleared of the charge, which has been made by more than one

writer, that the spiritual wife doctrine was of his invention.

There is the strongest evidence to show that it was Smith's

knowledge that he could not win Rigdon over to polygamy which

made the prophet so bitter against his old counsellor, and that

it was Rigdon's opposition to the new doctrine that made Young so

determined to drive him out of church after the prophet's death.

When Rigdon returned to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to establish his

own Mormon church there, he began in October, 1844, the

publication of a revived Latter-Day Saints' Messenger and

Advocate. Stating "the greater cause" of the opposition of the

leaders of Nauvoo to him, in an editorial, he said:--

"Know then that the so-called Twelve Apostles at Nauvoo are now

teaching the doctrine of what is called Spiritual Wives; that a

man may have more wives than one; and they are not only teaching

it, but practising it, and this doctrine is spreading alarmingly

through that apostate branch of the church of Latter-Day Saints.

Their greatest objection to us was our opposition to this

doctrine, knowing, as they did, that we had got the fact in

possession. It created alarm, great alarm; every effort was made

while we were there to effect something that might screen them

from the consequence of exposure . . . .

"This doctrine of a man having more wives than one is the cause

which has induced these men to put at defiance the ecclesiastical

arrangements of the church, and, what is equally criminal, to do

despite unto the moral excellence of the doctrine and covenants

of the church, setting up an order of things of their own, in

violation of all the rules and regulations known to the Saints."

In the same editorial Rigdon prints a statement by a gentleman

who was at Nauvoo at the time, and for whose veracity he vouches,

which said, "It was said to me by many that they had no objection

to Elder Rigdon but his opposition to the spiritual wife system."

Benjamin Winchester, who was one of the earliest missionaries

sent out from Kirtland, adds this testimony in a letter to Elder

John Hardy of Boston, Massachusetts, whose trial in 1844 for

opposing the spiritual wife doctrine occasioned wide comment:

"As regards the trial of Elder Rigdon at Nauvoo, it was a forced

affair, got up by the Twelve to get him out of their way, that

they might the better arrogate to themselves higher authority

than they ever had, or anybody ever dreamed they would have; and

also (as they perhaps hope) to prevent a complete expose of the

spiritual wife system, which they knew would deeply implicate


The Hand-cart Tragedy The Last Years Of Brigham Young facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail