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Polygamy After Joseph Smith

More women than men in early Utah?

Although commonly used as justification, this was false. There were more men than women in Utah from 1850 until at least 1950.

Apostle John A. Widtsoe wrote in his book Evidences and Reconciliations:

“Plural marriage has been a subject of wide and frequent comment. Members of the Church unfamiliar with its history, and many non-members, have set up fallacious reasons for the origin of this system of marriage among the Latter-day Saints. The most common of these conjectures is that the Church, through plural marriage, sought to provide husbands for its large surplus of female members. The implied assumption in this theory, that there have been more female than male members in the Church, is not supported by existing evidence. On the contrary, there seem always to have been more males than females in the Church…

The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church. Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States, as would be expected in a pioneer state. The births within the Church obey the usual population law – a slight excess of males… The theory that plural marriage was a consequence of a surplus of female Church members fails from lack of evidence…

Another conjecture is that the people were few in number and that the Church, desiring greater numbers, permitted the practice so that a phenomenal increase in population could be attained. This is not defensible, since there was no surplus of women…”

Polygamous marriages continued after the 1890 Manifesto

This can easily be confirmed by searching through It was confirmed in the Reed Smoot Hearings as well, causing the church to proclaim the Second Manifesto in 1904.

Every president of the church was polygamous until 1945

Again, historical fact and not denied by the church. Until Heber J. Grant’s death in 1945, the church had never had a monogamous leader. Just a slightly disturbing factoid.

An Apostle was excommunicated for his secret polygamy

Richard R. Lyman, an Apostle from 1918 to 1943, was kicked out of the church for his secret polygamous marriage that happened in 1925.

Some interesting quotes from church leaders

Apostle Heber C. Kimball

The Twenty Seventh Wife, p. 101:

“I think no more of taking another wife than I do of buying a cow.”

The Lion of the Lord, p. 129-130, also from New York Times.

“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.”

Deseret News, April 22, 1857, also Journal of Discourses Vol 5, page 22:

“I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly.”Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors his word. Some of you may not believe this, but I not only believe it but I also know it. FOR A MAN OF GOD TO BE CONFINED TO ONE WOMAN IS SMALL BUSINESS,… I DO NOT KNOW WHAT WE SHOULD DO IF WE HAD ONLY ONE WIFE APIECE.”

Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 203:

“Some quietly listen to those who speak against the plurality of wives, and against almost every principle that God has revealed. Such persons have half-a-dozen devils with them all the time. You might as well deny ‘Mormonism,’ and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives. Let the Presidency of this Church, and the Twelve Apostles, and all the authorities unite and say with one voice that they will oppose the doctrine, and the whole of them will be damned.”

Millennial Star, vol. 28, p.190:

“It would be as easy for the United States to build a tower to remove the sun, as to remove polygamy, or the Church and kingdom of God.”

Deseret News, Nov. 7, 1855:

“…Principle of plurality of wives never will be done away,…”

Apostle George A. Smith, Deseret News, April 16, 1856, also Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, page 291:

“We breathe the free air, we have the best looking men and handsomest women, and if they (Non-Mormons) envy us our position, well they may, for they are a poor, narrow-minded, pinch-backed race of men, who chain themselves down to the law of monogamy, and live all their days under the dominion of one wife.”

Apostle Orson Pratt

Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, page 195:

“This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans…”

Journal of Discourses, vol. 17, pp. 224-225:

“God has told us Latter-day Saints that we shall be condemned if we do not enter into that principle; and yet I have heard now and then… a brother or sister say, ‘I am a Latter-day Saint, but I do not believe in polygamy.’ Oh, what an absurd expression! What an absurd idea! A person might as well say, ‘I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, but I do not believe in him.’ One is just as consistent as the other…. If the doctrine of polygamy, as revealed to the Latter-day Saints, is not true, I would not give a fig for all your other revelations that came through Joseph Smith the Prophet; I would renounce the whole of them, because it is utterly impossible,… to believe a part of them to be divine–from God–and a part of them to be from the devil;… The Lord has said that those who reject this principle reject their salvation, they shall be damned, saith the Lord;…

“Now I want to prophecy a little…. I want to prophecy that all men who oppose the revelation which God has given in relation to polygamy will find themselves in darkness; the Spirit of God will withdraw from them the very moment of their opposition to that principle, until they will finally go down to hell and be damned, if they do not repent…. if you do not become as dark as midnight there is no truth in Mormonism.”

“God has told us Latter-day Saints that we shall be condemned if we do not enter into that principle.”

The Seer, page 172:

“…It will be seen that the GREAT MESSIAH who was the founder of the Christian religion, WAS A POLYGAMIST, …the MESSIAH chose…by MARRYING MANY honorable WIVES himself, show to all future generations that HE approbated the PLURALITY OF WIVES under the Christian dispensation, as well as under the dispensation in which His Polygamist ancestors lived.”

President Wilford Woodruff

Journal of Discourses 13:165 – p.166:

“If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians and do as the world does, then all would be right.”

Journal of John Henry Smith, 21 May 1888, LDS Church Archives:

“We will not end the practice of plural marriage until the coming of the Son of Man”

President Brigham Young

The Deseret News, August 6, 1862:

“Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire….Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ it is the only popular religion there,…”

Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, p.166:

“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 11, p. 269, emphasis mine:

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.”

Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266:

“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. 1, page 50:

“Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and Sinner! When OUR FATHER ADAM came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, ONE OF HIS WIVES WITH HIM.”

President John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227:

“…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”

President Joseph F Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 20, pp. 28-31:

“Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or nonessential to the salvation of mankind. In other words, some of the Saints have said, and believe that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the Priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my protest against this idea, for I know it is false…”

“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.”

I can provide sources for each of those upon request. Many came from the Journal of Discourses, which is available online.

Of course, the church now desperately wants to distance itself from polygamy.

Larry King: You condemn it (polygamy)?

Gordon B. Hinckley: I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal.

I don’t understand why Hinckley would ignore current scripture and past teachings. It’s rather difficult to nail down the church’s modern stance on polygamy. Is it renounced because it was illegal and church members are bound to obey the law? Were Joseph Smith and so many other early church leaders wrong about it being required for exaltation? FAIR, the most prominent apologist site, makes an argument that it is no longer required for exaltation. But does the church believe that once in the celestial kingdom, it will be required?

One interesting note on the modern policy is that if a man and woman are sealed to each other and get a civil divorce without a temple divorce, the man is free to be sealed to a different woman while the woman cannot be sealed to a different man until the original temple sealing is annulled. That seems to indicate strongly that polygamy is still a doctrine, just one that the church no longer discusses. Interestingly, in 1998 the church made a subtle policy change (Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 72), allowing a woman to be sealed to multiple men, but only if both the woman and the men were already dead (performed in their names). Confused yet? Let me try to break it down:

  • Bob gets sealed to Doris.
  • They get a civil divorce, but their temple sealing remains intact.
  • Bob is free to marry and get sealed to Julie. Then after that marriage sinks, he can get married and sealed to Margaret. And so on.
  • Doris can get married civilly to Edgar, but not get sealed to him. Before 1998, the policy was that they could never get sealed. So Doris in the next life presumably is stuck with Bob still (and potentially his other wives). Edgar, if he never got sealed to anyone else, is a free agent.
  • After 1998, Doris and Edgar can get sealed, but only after both are dead. And in the next life, Doris is sealed to both Edgar and Bob (and Bob’s wives).

I wish I knew what the church’s actual doctrine was on it. But it won’t speak on the issue, likely because it is trying so hard to distance itself from its past.

Next Step: The Temple

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