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Polygamy before Brigham Young

October 7, 2011

I don’t know how else to approach this controversial topic than to just take it piece by piece. Buckle up, readers.

Polygamy was started in the church well before D&C 132 was published in 1876

It’s rather common for church members to believe that polygamy started around 1876 and with Brigham Young.  Although it wasn’t publicly taught (and was often publicly denied), the top church leaders had been practicing polygamy since about 1833.  This is, for the most part, kept out of church manuals, publications and resources.  But the church does admit it.

Polygamy was condemned by the church until 1876

There are too many quotes to list them all.  Take a look at the extensive list here.

Times and Seasons, vol. 4, pg. 28 (December 1, 1842) :

“He [Joseph Smith] spoke of the various publications of Bennett and others, and of the prejudices which they had necessarily excited–that the Mormons were charged with sanctioning a community of wives and of goods, with polygamy, and various other enormities, not one word of which is true.”

Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives

The church spends a great deal of effort extolling the virtues of Emma Smith, but talks very little of Joseph’s other wives.  Most of them are listed on the church’s official site at familysearch.org, but are rarely mentioned in church teachings. 

Joseph married woman who were already married to other men (polyandry)

Again, this is easily verifiable by looking at familysearch.org.  He even married one or two while the husband was out on a mission, sent by Joseph.  For a complete list, see here.  What possible spiritual reason could there be for marrying, and sealing himself to, other men’s wives? Since women cannot be sealed to more than one husband, Joseph prevented the temple and eternal blessings in those marriages.  And who were the children sealed to?  Their biological father, or the one their mother was sealed to?

Joseph married multiple 14-year old girls

Again, this is easily verifiable through familysearch.org.  There is also significant evidence that Joseph had sex with his plural wives, including Helen Mar Kimball, who was 14.  When we hear about Warren Jeffs, the polygamist leader recently arrested for sexual conduct with minors, among other horrible things, do we think about Joseph Smith and his young wives?  I have heard the argument that “things were different then” and that it “wasn’t unusual for young girls to get married”.  However, studying the census data from the time disproves that theory. Many studies have the average age for women at that time between 20 and 23.  As late as 1970, the median was 20.8.  Joseph’s second wife was Fanny Alger, who joined the Smith household at the tender age of 16. While it’s somewhat unclear if the relationship was actually marriage or adultery, Oliver Cowdery described it as a “A dirty, nasty, filthy affair.”

Polygamy has been illegal for as long as the church has practiced it

In Illinois, the Anti-Bigamy Law enacted in 1833 clearly said it was illegal.  When the church fled to Utah, it was a territory of Mexico and was illegal.  When Utah became a territory of the US, it was subject to common laws including marriage law.  Someone should have told President Hinckley:

I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter.

If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law’ [Articles of Faith 1:12]. One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time.

Interestingly, FAIR, the prominent LDS apologist organization, doesn’t deny that it was illegal.

Some LDS scriptures condemn polygamy

The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 (after Joseph married his second wife):

“Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”

Of course, that section of the Doctrine and Covenants was completely removed in 1876 when Section 132 was added.  Contradictions!  But the History of the Church is quite clear about it in Volume 2, page 247.

Jacob 2:27-30 has this to say:

“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; for I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. 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.”

Interestingly, the only possibility the scripture allows is if the Lord commands it so that seed can be raised up unto Him.  But the church flatly denies that Joseph Smith ever had children with his plural wives, despite plenty of accounts that he did have sex with them.  So why did he marry them?

The sealing power had not been restored when Joseph married his second wife

Joseph married Fanny in either 1833 or 1835, but the sealing power was restored in 1836. Under what authority and for what purpose was that marriage performed if not to seal for time and eternity?

Joseph Smith lied about practicing polygamy

The church fully admits on its official site that Joseph married multiple wives before 1844.  Yet the History of the Church is quite clear that he said this in 1844:

“I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man does not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this…I wish the grand jury would tell me who they are – whether it will be a curse or blessing to me. I am quite tired of the fools asking me…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.”

In 1838, the Elder’s Journal, edited by Joseph Smith, had this excerpt:

“Question 7th. Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one?

“Answer. No, not at the same time. But they believe that if their companion dies, they have a right to marry again.”

In a letter to the church from Liberty Jail, History of the Church Vol 3, p 230:

“We have heard that it is reported by some, that some of us should have said, that we not only dedicated our property, but our families also to the Lord; and Satan, taking advantage of this, has perverted it into licentiousness, such as a community of wives, which is an abomination in the sight of God.”

The church and other church leaders besides Joseph lied about polygamy

The Doctrine and Covenants had this gem beginning in 1835 before the church removed it years later:

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

Joseph’s Brother Hyrum, while being married to multiple women, wrote this in the Times and Seasons in 1844:

“Whereas brother Richard Hewitt has called on me to-day, to know my views concerning some doctrines that are preached in your place, and states to me that some of your elders say, that a man having a certain priesthood, may have as many wives as he pleases, and that doctrine is taught here: I say unto you that that man teaches false doctrine, for there is no such doctrine taught here; neither is there any such thing practiced here. And any man that is found teaching privately or publicly any such doctrine, is culpable, and will stand a chance to be brought before the High Council, and lose his license and membership also: therefore he had better beware what he is about.”

John Taylor published a tract in England in 1850:

“We are accused here of polygamy,… and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived. These things are too outrageous to admit of belief;… I shall content myself by reading our views of chastity and marriage, from a work published by us containing some of the articles of our Faith. ‘Doctrine and Covenants,’ page 330… Inasmuch as this Church of Jesus Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death,…”‘

Lorenzo Snow wrote in the Temple Lot Case:

“A man that violated this law in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, until the acceptance of that revelation by the church, violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage. Yes sir, he would have been cut off from the church, I think I should have been if I had. Before the giving of that revelation in 1843 if a man married more wives than one who were living at the same time, he would have been cut off from the church. It would have been adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the state, too.”

Joseph Smith died because he tried to hide his polygamy

One school of thought is that Joseph and other church leaders had to lie to protect themselves. As it turned out, Joseph’s death was directly caused by his polygamy and trying to cover it up.  I won’t recount the whole story, as Wikipedia does an adequate job, but it’s rather eye-opening.

Next step: Polygamy after Joseph Smith

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From → Church History

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