Please see Plural Wives of Joseph Smith for further references.
Questions Answered: Was Joseph Smith’s introduction of plural marriage revealed by the Lord? Was Joseph Smith ensnared by many convoluted activities and expediencies because of his involvement in plural marriage? Should we entertain the possibility of self-deception? Was the Prophet involved in adulterous practices or live a dual life?
Note: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not currently practice plural marriage. Please see the revelation on this subject.
The same God that has thus far dictated me and directed me and strengthened me in this work, gave me this revelation and commandment on celestial and plural marriage, and the same God commanded me to obey it. He said to me that unless I accepted it, and introduced it, and practiced it, I, together with my people would be damned and cut off from this time henceforth. We have got to observe it. It is an eternal principle and was given by way of commandment and not by way of instruction. 1
I do not wonder at some of our sisters having sorrow in what is termed plural marriage; for they do not live so as to have the Spirit and power of God upon them; if they did, they would see its beauty and excellence, and not a word would be said against it from this time henceforth and for ever. But they see this with a selfish eye, and say, “I want my glory and my comfort here;” their eye is not on the resurrection and on the kingdom we are looking for when Jesus will come and reign King of nations as he does King of Saints. 2
As far as this pertains to our natural lives here, there are some who say it is very hard. They say, “This is rather a hard business; I don’t like my husband to take a plurality of wives in the flesh.” Just a few words upon this. We would believe this doctrine entirely different from what it is presented to us, if we could do so. If we could make every man upon the earth get him a wife, live righteously and serve God, we would not be under the necessity, perhaps, of taking more than one wife. But they will not do this; the people of God, therefore, have been commanded to take more wives. The women are entitled to salvation if they live according to the word that is given to them; and if their husbands are good men, and they are obedient to them, they are entitled to certain blessings, and they will have the privilege of receiving certain blessings that they cannot receive unless they are sealed to men who will be exalted. 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. He has had a talent that he has hid up. He will come forward and say, “Here is that which thou gavest me, I have not wasted it, and here is the one talent,” and he will not enjoy it, but it will be taken and given to those who have improved the talents they received, and he will find himself without any wife, and he will remain single for ever and ever. But if the woman is determined not to enter into a plural marriage, that woman when she comes forth will have the privilege of living in single blessedness through all eternity. Well, that is very good, a very nice place to be a minister to the wants of others. I recollect a sister conversing with Joseph Smith on this subject. She told him: “Now, don’t talk to me; when I get into the celestial kingdom, if I ever do get there, I shall request the privilege of being a ministering angel; that is the labor that I wish to perform. I don’t want any companion in that world; and if the Lord will make me a ministering angel, it is all I want.” Joseph said, “Sister, you talk very foolishly, you do not know what you will want.” He then said to me: “Here, brother Brigham, you seal this lady to me.” I sealed her to him. This was my own sister according to the flesh. 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. I tell this so that you can get the idea. If in the resurrection you really want to be single and alone, and live so forever and ever, and be made servants, while others receive the highest 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. . . .
After the earth was prepared Father Adam came and stayed here, and there was a woman brought to him. There was a certain woman brought to Father Adam whose name was Eve, because she was the first woman, and she was given to him to be his wife; I am not disposed to give any farther knowledge concerning her at present. There is no doubt but that he left many companions. The great and glorious doctrine that pertains to this I have not time to dwell upon; neither should I at present if I had time. He understood this whole machinery or system before he came to this earth. 3
You sisters may say that plural marriage is very hard for you to bear. It is no such thing. A man or woman who would not spend his or her life in building up the kingdom of God on the earth, without a companion, and travel and preach, valise in hand, is not worthy of God or his kingdom, and they never will be crowned, they cannot be crowned; the sacrifice must be complete. If it is the duty of a husband to take a wife, take her. But it is not the privilege of a woman to dictate the husband, and tell who or how many he shall take, or what he shall do with them when he gets them, but it is the duty of the woman to submit cheerfully. Says she—”My husband does not know how to conduct himself, he lacks wisdom—he does not know how to treat two wives and be just.” That all may be true, but it is not her prerogative to correct the evil, she must bear that; and the woman that bears wrong—and any number of them do in this order—patiently, will be crowned with a man far above her husband; and the man that is not worthy, and who does not prove himself worthy before God, his wife or wives will be taken from him and given to another, so the woman need not worry. It is the man who has need to worry and watch himself, and see that he does right. Where is the man who has wives, and all of them think he is doing just right to them? I do not know such a man; I know it is not your humble servant. If I would only be dictated by women I should make a hell of it; but I cannot be, I can humor them and treat them kindly, but I tell them I shall do just what I know to be right, and they may help themselves the best they can. I do not say that in so many words, but that is what I mean, and I let them act it out. 4
In Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, third chapter, he writes as follows—
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.”
I have read this that your minds may be refreshed, and that you may know how it does read.
Instead of my believing for a moment that Paul wished to signify to Timothy that he must select a man to fill the office of a Bishop that would have but one wife, I believe directly the reverse; but his advice to Timothy amounts simply to this—It would not be wise for you to ordain a man to the office of a Bishop unless he has a wife; you must not ordain a single or unmarried man to that calling.
If you will read this chapter carefully, you will learn the qualifications necessary for Deacons and Bishops, and also for their wives.
I will simply give my views with regard to this matter, and then leave it.
I have no testimony from the Bible, neither have I from any history that I have any knowledge of, that a man was ever prohibited in the Church in the days of Paul from taking more than one wife. If any historian has knowledge to the contrary, let him make it known at a suitable time; but if such was the case it has not come to my knowledge
I will now give you my reasons why it is necessary that a Bishop should have a wife, not but that he may have more than one wife. In the first place he is (or should be) like a father to his ward, or to the people over whom he presides, and a good portion of his time is occupied among them. Still he does not wish to be bound up, or flooded with cares of this world, so but that he can officiate in his office, and magnify it to acceptance.
The office of a Bishop is in his ward; and when he finds a man who is doing a good business as a farmer or a tradesman, and who has plenty around him, and is faithfully paying his tithing, he has no business there only to receive the tithing that man has to pay for the benefit of the kingdom of God; his business is more particularly in the houses of widows and orphans, and he is called to administer to them in righteousness, like a father.
Paul, knowing by observation and his own experience the temptations that were continually thrown before the Elders, gave instructions paramount to this—Before you ordain a person to be a Bishop, to take the charge of a Branch in any one district or place, see that he has a wife to begin with; he did not say, “but one wife;” it does not read so; but he must have one to begin with, in order that he may not be continually drawn into temptation while he is in the line of his duty, visiting the houses of widows and orphans, the poor, the afflicted, and the sick in his ward. He is to converse with families, sometimes upon family matters, and care for them, but if he has no wife, he is not so capable of taking care of a family as he otherwise would be, and perhaps he is not capable of taking care of himself. Now select a young man who has preserved himself in purity and holiness, one who has carried himself circumspectly before the people, and before God: it would not do to ordain him to the office of a Bishop, for he may be drawn into temptation, and he lacks experience in family matters; but take a man who has one wife at least, a man of experience, like thousands of our Elders, men of strength of mind, who have determination in them to preserve themselves pure under all circumstances, at all times, and in all places in their wards. Now, Timothy, select such a man to be a Bishop.
A Bishop in his calling and duty is with the Church all the time; he is not called to travel abroad to preach, but is at home; he is not abroad in the world, but is with the Saints.
When you have got your Bishop, he needs assistants, and he ordains Counselors, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, and calls them to help him; and he wishes men of his own heart and hand to do this. Says he, “I dare not even call a man to be a Deacon, to assist me in my calling, unless he has a family.” It is not the business of an ignorant young man, of no experience in family matters, to inquire into the circumstances of families, and know the wants of every person. Some may want medicine and nourishment, and to be looked after, and it is not the business of boys to do this; but select a man who has got a family to be a Deacon, whose wife can go with him, and assist him in administering to the needy in the ward.
These are simply my views in a few words on this subject, and always have been since I have reflected upon the doctrine that the fathers teach us in the Holy Scriptures. I will venture to say the view I take of the matter is not to be disputed or disproved by Scripture or reason.
I have no reasonable grounds upon which to say it was not the custom in ancient times for a man to have more than one wife, but every reason to believe that it was the custom among the Jews, from the days of Abraham to the days of the Apostles, for they were lineal descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom taught and practiced the doctrine of plurality of wives, and were revered by the whole Jewish nation, and it is but natural that they should have respected and followed their teachings and example. 5
The plurality of wives included in this system of marriage is what gave rise to grave concern in the minds of the faithful men to whom it was revealed. The world never made a greater mistake than when it supposed that plural marriage was hailed with delight by the Elders who were commanded of the Lord to introduce its practice in this generation. They saw clearly that it would bring additional reproach upon them from the world; that it would run counter to the traditions and prejudices of society, as, indeed, it was contrary to their own traditions; that their motives would be misunderstood or misconstrued. All this they saw, and naturally shrank from the undertaking required of them by the revelation of God. How Elder Taylor looked upon this matter and how he received it is best told in his own words:
“Joseph Smith told the Twelve that if this law was not practiced, if they would not enter into this covenant, then the Kingdom of God could not go one step further. Now, we did not feel like preventing the Kingdom of God from going forward. We professed to be the Apostles of the Lord, and did not feel like putting ourselves in a position to retard the progress of the Kingdom of God. The revelation says that ‘All those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.’ Now, that is not my word. I did not make it. It was the Prophet of God who revealed that to us in Nauvoo, and I bear witness of this solemn fact before God, that He did reveal this sacred principle to me and others of the Twelve, and in this revelation it is stated that it is the will and law of God that ‘all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
I had always entertained strict ideas of virtue, and I felt as a married man that this was to me, outside of this principle, an appalling thing to do. The idea of going and asking a young lady to be married to me when I had already a wife! It was a thing calculated to stir up feelings from the innermost depths of the human soul. I had always entertained the strictest regard of chastity. I had never in my life seen the time when I have known of a man deceiving a woman—and it is often done in the world, where, notwithstanding the crime, the man is received into society and the poor woman is looked upon as a pariah and an outcast—I have always looked upon such a thing as infamous, and upon such a man as a villain. * * * Hence, with the feelings I had entertained, nothing but a knowledge of God, and the revelations of God, and the truth of them, could have induced me to embrace such a principle as this.
We [the Twelve] seemed to put off, as far as we could, what might be termed the evil day. Some time after these things were made known unto us, I was riding out of Nauvoo on horseback, and met Joseph Smith coming in, he, too, being on horseback. * * * I bowed to Joseph, and having done the same to me, he said: ‘Stop;’ and he looked at me very intently. ‘Look here,’ said he, ‘those things that have been spoken of must be fulfilled, and if they are not entered into right away the keys will be turned. Well, what did I do? Did I feel to stand in the way of this great, eternal principle, and treat lightly the things of God? No. I replied: ‘Brother Joseph, I will try and carry these things out.” 6
Where did this commandment come from in relation to polygamy? It also came from God. It was a revelation given unto Joseph Smith from God, and was made binding upon His servants. When this system was first introduced among this people, it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood. Joseph Smith told others; he told me, and I can bear witness of it, “that if this principle was not introduced, this Church and kingdom could not proceed.” When this commandment was given, it was so far religious, and so far binding upon the Elders of this Church that it was told them if they were not prepared to enter into it, and to stem the torrent of opposition that would come in consequence of it, the keys of the kingdom would be taken from them. When I see any of our people, men or women, opposing a principle of this kind, I have years ago set them down as on the high road to apostacy, and I do to-day; I consider them apostates, and not interested in this Church and kingdom. It is so far, then, a religious institution, that it affects my conscience and the consciences of all good men—it is so far religious that it connects itself with time and with eternity. What are the covenants we enter into, and why is it that Joseph Smith said that unless this principle was entered into this kingdom could not proceed? We ought to know the whys and the wherefores in relation to these matters, and understand something about the principle enunciated. . . .
Our position was just as Joseph said: if we could not receive the Gospel which is an everlasting Gospel; if we could not receive the dictum of a Priesthood that administers in time and eternity; if we could not receive a principle that would save us in the eternal world, and our wives and children with us, we were not fit to hold this kingdom, and could not hold it, for it would be taken from us and given to others. This is reasonable proper, consistent, and recommends itself to the minds of all intelligence when it is reflected upon in the light of truth. Then, what did this principle open up to our view? That our wives, who have been associated with us in time—who had borne with us the heat and burden of the day, who had shared in our afflictions, trials, troubles, and difficulties, that they could reign with us in the eternal kingdoms of God, and that they should be sealed to us not only for time, but for all eternity. This unfolded to us the eternal fitness and relationship of things as they exist on the earth, of man to man, and of husband to wife; it unfolds the relationship they should occupy in time to each other, and the relationship that will continue to exist in eternity. Hence it is emphatically a religious subject so deep, sacred, and profound, so extensive and far-reaching, that it is one of the greatest principles that was ever revealed to man. Did we know anything about it before? No. How did we get a knowledge of it? By revelation. And shall we treat lightly these things? No. The Lord says that his servants may take to themselves more wives than one. Who gives to them one wife? The Lord. And has he not a right to give to them another, and another, and another? I think he has that right. Who has a right to dispute it, and prohibit a union of that kind, if God shall ordain it? Has not God as much right to-day to give to me, or you, or any other person two, three, four, five, ten, or twenty wives, as he had anciently to give them to Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, etc.? Has not the Lord a right to do what he pleases in this matter, and in all other matters, without the dictation of man? I think He has. Every principle associated with the Gospel which we have received is eternal, hence our marriage covenant is an eternal covenant given unto us of God. Then, when poor, miserable, corrupt men would endeavor to trample us under their feet because of the principles of truth which we have received from God, shall we falter in the least? No, never. Its opposers may croak against it until they go down to the dust of death; God will defend his work which he has introduced in the latter days; and, the Lord being our helper, we will help him to sustain it. 7
Say they, “Look, what a wicked people these ‘Mormons’ are, they have more wives than one. It is true we have mistresses besides our wives; it is true we commit adultery; it is true we are covered with infamy and debauchery; it is true that the stink of our crimes and iniquities rises into the nostrils of Jehovah, as it did in former days, but we will cover all that over.” But they cannot do it; it sticks out on every side; the covering is too narrow. They are murderers and murderesses of their infants, and the stench of their infamy ascends into the nostrils of Jehovah; and you that want them, take them, and you that do will go along with them, and go to perdition with them; and I tell you that in the name of the Lord. And you that want your children to go to perdition send them to be taught by those not of us. 8
In the month of April, 1843, I returned from my European mission. A few days after my arrival at Nauvoo, when at President Joseph Smith’s house, he said he wishd to have some private talk with me, and requested me to walk out with him. It was toward evening. We walked a little distance and sat down on a large log that lay near the bank of the river. He there and then explained to me the doctrine of plurality of wives; he said that the Lord had revealed it unto him, and commanded him to have women sealed to him as wives; that he foresaw the trouble that would follow, and sought to turn away from the commandments; that an angel from heaven then appeared before him with a drawn sword, threatening him with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment.
He further said that my sister Eliza R. Snow had been sealed to him as his wife for time and eternity. He told me that the Lord would open the way, and I should have women sealed to me as wives. This conversation was prolonged, I think one hour or more, in which he told me many important things.
I solemnly declare before God and holy angels, and as I hope to come forth in the morning of the resurrection, that the above statement is true. 9
We understand that the people have been endeavoring to work together in the United Order, meeting with more or less disappointment. Because of reverses or failures in our attempts to successfully operate our temporal affairs, we should not allow such disappointment to detract from the principle itself; but rather let us attribute our misfortunes to human weaknesses, regarding the principle as divine, revealed for our special benefit and blessing, and in every instance of apparent failure let us ever be resolved to “try again.” The principles of Plural Marriage were revealed for the benefit and exaltation of the children of men, but how much unhappiness has arisen through failure, on the part of some who have contracted this order of marriage, to conform to the laws that govern it! But does it arise through any defect in the order of the marriage system? O no; but from ignorance and the folly and wickedness of those individuals who enter into it, who abuse, rather than righteously obey, it. 10
Joseph F. Smith
When that principle was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith … he did not falter, although it was not until an angel of God, with a drawn sword, stood before him; and commanded that he should enter into the practice of that principle, or he should be utterly destroyed, or rejected, that he moved forward to reveal and establish that doctrine. 11
“It is polygamy that causes all the trouble!” This is the mind of our enemies generally, yet nothing can be more fallacious; those who assert this only expose their ignorance. The fact is that since the announcement and practice of that principle by this people, their persecutions have been comparatively trivial and harmless to what they were, before it was even known to themselves.
But the plural marriage of the “Mormons” now seems to form one of the strongest pretexts for the bitterness of our enemies, and the thoughtless readily fall into the ranks of the maligners of this principle. Did they ever stop to reflect as to what harm this principle and practice has done? Let me ask the ladies in this vast audience, Have any of you, or do you know of any woman who has been compelled to practice polygamy among this people? Or who has been compelled even to marry at all? I think not. Has plural marriage deprived any woman of a home, of husband or children? Has it promoted immorality or vice? No, it has not. Has it sown the seeds of corruption and death among the people? On the contrary it has promoted healthy, robust and vigorous increase, and the laws of life and health. Can the Elders of this Church be accused of going to the Gentiles for their wives and daughters? No, for we think we have better ones at home, we have not the least occasion to go abroad. So far as relates to this matter we are independent of the world. We are willing to let them and theirs alone, and mind our own business, while we respectfully request them also to attend to their own affairs.
The real facts are, the Latter-day Saints have embraced the unpopular doctrine of Jesus Christ, have received the keys of the Holy Priesthood—heaven’s delegated authority to man, and are not ashamed of the gospel, knowing it to be the power of God unto salvation. Hence the Devil is enraged, and although they will not believe it, this professedly pious, hypocritical world are moved with hatred towards, the work and the people of God, instigated by the spirit of him whose servants they are. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” 12
There is a great deal said about our plural marriage by the outside world, and sometimes it is referred to by the Latter-day Saints at home. I fancy sometimes that not only is the world without knowledge in relation to this principle, but many of those who profess to be Latter-day Saints are far from possessing a correct understanding of it.
In the first place, it is a principle that savors of life unto life, or of death unto death; therefore it is well for those who have embraced the Gospel to obtain a knowledge in relation to this matter. It is a principle that pertains to eternal life, in other words, to endless lives, or eternal increase. It is a law of the Gospel pertaining to the celestial kingdom, applicable to all gospel dispensations, when commanded and not otherwise, and neither acceptable to God or binding on man unless given by commandment, not only so given in this dispensation, but particularly adapted to the conditions and necessities thereof, and to the circumstances, responsibilities, and personal, as well as vicarious duties of the people of God in this age of the world. God has revealed it as a principle particularly suited to the nature of the work we are called to perform, that it might be hastened to its consummation. It is a righteous principle not an unrighteous one. It is a pure and holy principle; and, therefore, persons, either male or female, who have not the desire in their hearts to become pure and righteous, have no business to practice it, for it cannot be practiced acceptably before God on any other principle than that of purity and righteousness, therefore no wicked unjust or impure person can enter into the law of celestial or plural marriage without incurring the displeasure of the Almighty and his own condemnation before the Lord, unless he speedily repent of all this impure motives and designs. A man that is not honest in his heart, who does not desire to be just and impartial, even as God is just and impartial, has no business in plural marriage; and before he enters into the practice of that principle he needs to repent, to learn wisdom to get the Spirit of God, to get understanding in relation to the purpose God has in view in regard to this principle; that he may go into the practice of it understandingly, that his heart and mind may be set upon practicing it in righteousness. . . .
Evil and corrupt practices are not the results of obedience to the Gospel, but of disobedience, and of the preservation of truth. If we would keep this in our minds we would not cast blame upon the principles themselves when we see or hear of men, who should represent them, do wrong; but we would rather say, the man has departed from his principles and gone into error. It is he that is defective, through not practicing what he professes, the principles are good and holy, and he himself would become so too, if he would but practice them.
It is precisely so in relation to our domestic relations. We see trouble in families occasionally, not any more so in plural than in single families. There is no reason why there should be any difference between the husband and wife, or the husband and wives, in the midst of this people, if all are disposed to obey the principles and doctrines of the Gospel. It is only by the practice of these principles that we can avoid the disturbances that occur in families, or among mankind. We must learn and obey correct principle, or we will ever be in turmoil and confusion, and in antagonism one towards another. Where differences exist in families they are traceable directly to some cause. I want to impress upon the minds of my hearers that the cause of such evils is not traceable to the practice of any principle which God has revealed touching these matters, but to the non-observance of them; and this is true in relation to every principle of the Gospel. Sometimes it is the fault of the man, sometimes of the woman, and oftener of both, but never the fault of the principle. The principle is correct, great, ennobling and calculated to bring joy, satisfaction and peace, if we would but observe and practice it as we should. But in order to do this we must get wisdom and understanding. These, by many, are acquired only through long experience. We begin as children, we have to learn precept by precept, line after line, here a little and there a little, which is good, provided we profit by that which we learn. Men must be just, so also must women, in relation to these matters. All must be just one towards another; also forbearing and patient, cultivating largely that Christian attribute called Charity, in order to get along peaceably with our neighbors, our brethren and sisters, as well as with our wives, husbands and children. We are all imperfect, we have to learn by little as we pass along, profiting ofttimes by that which we suffer, yet often repeating the same errors.. When we find ourselves overcome in fault, that should be set down as an example for the future time, if possible, never allowing ourselves to be caught in the same predicament again. Thus profiting by the experience we gain.
Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or non-essential, to the salvation or exaltation 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 solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false. There is no blesssing promised except upon conditions, and no blessing can be obtained by mankind except by faithful compliance with the conditions, or law, upon which the same is promised. The marriage of one woman to a man for time and eternity by the sealing power, according to the will of God, is a fulfillment of the celestial law of marriage in part—and is good so far as it goes—and so far as a man abides these conditions of the law, he will receive his reward therefor, and this reward, or blessing, he could not obtain on any other grounds or conditions. But this is only the beginning of the law, not the whole of it. Therefore, whoever has imagined that he could obtain the fullness of the blessings pertaining to this celestial law, by complying with only a portion of its conditions, has deceived himself. He cannot do it. When that principle was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, he very naturally shrank, in his feelings, from the responsibilities thereby imposed upon him; foreseeing, as he did in part, the apparently insurmountable difficulties in the way of establishing it, in the face of the popular opinion, the traditions and customs of many generations, the frowns, ridicule, slander, opposition and persecutions of the word. Yes, this man of God, who dared to meet the opposition of the whole world with bold and fearless front, who dared to dispute the religious authority and accumulated learning and wisdom of the age—who dared everything for the truth, and shrank not even from the sacrifice of his own life in testimony of his divine mission, shrank, in his feelings, from the weight of the responsibility of inaugurating and establishing this new innovation upon the established customs of the world. But he did not falter, although it was not until an angel of God, with a drawn sword, stood before him; and commanded that he should enter into the practice of that principle, or he should be utterly destroyed, or rejected, that he moved forward to reveal and establish that doctrine.
To put this matter more correctly before you, I here declare that the principle of plural marriage was not first revealed on the 12th day of July, 1843. It was written for the first time on that date, but it had been revealed to the Prophet many years before that, perhaps as early as 1832. About this time, or subsequently, Joseph, the Prophet, intrusted this fact to Oliver Cowdery; he abused the confidence imposed in him, and brought reproach upon himself, and thereby upon the church by “running before he was sent,” and “taking liberties without license,” so to speak, hence the publication, by O. Cowdery, about this time, of an article on marriage, which was carefully worded, and afterwards found its way into the Doctrine and Covenants without authority. This article explains itself to those who understand the facts, and is an indisputable evidence of the early existence of the knowledge of the principle of patriarchal marriage by the Prophet Joseph, and also by Oliver Cowdery.
When the revelation was written, in 1843, it was for a special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form. There are personalities contained in a part of it which are not relevant to the principle itself, but rather to the circumstances which necessitated its being written at that time. Joseph Smith, on the day it was written, expressly declared that there was a great deal more connected with the doctrine which would be revealed in due time, but this was sufficient for the occasion, and was made to suffice for the time. And, indeed, I think it much more than many are prepare to live up to even now. When the time came to introduce this doctrine to those who were worthy in the church, God commanded the Prophet and he obeyed. He taught it as he was commanded to such as were prepared to receive and obey it, and they were commanded to enter into it, or they were threatened that the keys would be turned against them, and they would be cut off by the Almighty. It need scarcely be said that the Prophet found no one any more willing to lead out in the matter in righteousness than he was himself. Many could see it—nearly all to whom he revealed it believed it, and received the witness of the Holy Spirit that it was of God; but none excelled, or even matched the courage of the Prophet himself.
If, then, this principle was of such great importance that the Prophet himself was threatened with destruction, and the best men in the Church with being excluded from the favor of the Almighty, if they did not enter into and establish the practice of it upon the earth, it is useless to tell me that there is no blessing attached to obedience to the law, or that a man with only one wife can obtain as great a reward, glory or kingdom as he can with more than one, being equally faithful.
Patriarchal marriage involves conditions, responsibilities and obligations which do not exist in monogamy, and there are blessings attached to the faithful observance of that law, if viewed only upon natural principles, which must so far exceed those of monogamy, as the conditions responsibilities and power of increase are greater. This is my view and testimony in relation to this matter. I believe it is a doctrine that should be taught and understood.
The benefits derived from the righteous observance of this order of marriage do not accrue solely to the husband, but are shared equally by the wives; not only is this true upon the grounds of obedience to a divine law, but upon physiological and scientific principles. In the latter view, the wives are even more benefitted, if possible, than the husband physically. But, indeed, the benefits naturally accruing to both sexes, and particularly to their offspring, in time, say nothing of eternity, are immensely greater in the righteous practice of patriarchal marriage than in monogamy, even admitting the eternity of the monogamic marriage covenant.
Man may receive great reward, exaltation and glory by entering into the bond of the new and everlasting covenant, if he continue faithful according to his knowledge, but he cannot receive the fullness of the blessings unless he fulfills the law, any more than he can claim the gift of the Holy Ghost after he is baptized without the laying on of hands by the proper authority, or the remission of sins without baptism, though he may repent in sack-cloth and ashes.
“But,” says one, “how will it be with good men who believe the doctrine, but are prevented, or cannot enter into the practice of it?” I reply that every man and woman will receive all that they are worthy of, and something thrown in perhaps on the score of the boundless charity of God. But who can justly expect to obtain more than they merit? All the judgments of God are not given unto man. What we do not learn relative to the salvation of our souls which are our bodies and spirits, in this probation we will have to learn in the eternity which lies before us, for we cannot be saved without knowledge. “But what if we never get knowledge?” Then we never will be saved.
Suppose we live and die without knowledge? Then, if we ever obtain salvation we will have to get it in the next world, as the Antediluvians did, who rejected the Gospel as preached unto them by Noah and were destroyed by the flood, sent to the prison-house to be punished for their disobedience and other wickedness, and in the meridian of time received knowledge by the proclamation of the Gospel, as preached unto them by the Savior while his body slept in the tomb, without which they would forever have remained ignorant of God, his government and laws, in a lost condition. All men must obtain salvation upon their own merits, for by our works shall we be judged, and by them justified or condemned.
It is a glorious privilege to be permitted to go into a Temple of God to be united as man and wife in the bonds of holy wedlock for time and all eternity by the Authority of the Holy Priesthood, which is the power of God, for they who are thus joined together “no man can put asunder,” for God hath joined them. It is an additional privilege for that same man and wife to re-enter the Temple of God to receive another wife in like manner if they are worthy. But if he remain faithful with only the one wife, observing the conditions of so much of the law as pertains to the eternity of the marriage covenant, he will receive his reward, but the benefits, blessings and power appertaining to the second or more faithful and fuller observance of the law, he never will receive, for he cannot. As before stated no man can obtain the benefits of one law by the observance of another, however faithful he may be in that which he does, nor can he secure to himself the fullness of any blessing without he fulfills the law upon which it is predicated, but he will receive the benefit of the law he obeys. This is just and righteous. If this is not correct doctrine then I am in error, and if I am in error I want to be corrected.
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. But what will become of him that cannot abide it? Says the Lord, “whoso having knowledge have I not commanded to repent, and he that hath not understanding it remaineth with me to do according as it is written.” In other words he that is without understanding is not under the law, and it remains for God to deal with him according to his own wisdom. If a man acknowledge that he is incapable, or disqualified by a lack of knowledge, wisdom or understanding to obey this law, when it remains with God to deal with him according to those principles of justice which are written, or are yet to be revealed it is not like however, that he will take his seat with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or share in their promised blessings. This law is in force upon the inhabitants of Zion, and he that is qualified to obey it cannot neglect or disregard it with impunity. But it must be observed in righteousness. 13
Question: “In the context of the revelation commanding polygamy, you wrote, “The possibility of an imaginary revelation, erupting from his own heart and subconscious mind, seems not to have occurred to Joseph.” But it apparently occurred to you. For some members, what is most troubling about pre-Utah polygamy (besides, of course, the practice itself) includes the secrecy, public disavowals, and the fact that many of Joseph Smith’s wives were already married to other men. How do you make sense of the Church’s history of polygamy?”
Answer (Bushman): “I sense two related questions here. One has to do with the possibility that Joseph was misled; the other about the miseries and deceptions following from plural marriage. I don’t think Joseph entertained the possibility of self-deception. He knew all too well the horrendous consequences for the Church and himself personally in instituting plural marriage. Though usually punctilious in obeying the commandments, he delayed nearly a decade (save for the unhappy experiment with Fanny Alger) before complying with this one. Once into plural marriage, he found himself ensnared in all the convoluted activities you name. The expediencies he adopted made him and lots of other people unhappy. I don’t know anyone who can make real sense of this. All I can say is that the practice did result in the creation of a powerful culture in fifty years. The descendants of the people who came through those times are the core of faithful members today. In actual fact, plural marriage did raise up a people to the Lord.” 14
“I believe the disconnect can damage young Latter-day Saints who learn later in life they have not been given the whole story on Church history. They are tempted to doubt the credibility of their former teachers; what else are they hiding, the shocked young people want to know? On the other hand, are we obligated to talk about Joseph’s character defects in Sunday School class, or his thirty wives? That may defeat the purpose of Sunday School or Institute. I am hoping that a book like mine will help to introduce all aspects of Joseph’s life into common lore about the Prophet the way most people know he had a seerstone. These now disturbing facts will become one more thing you accept along with visitation of angels and gold plates. People will wonder, question, and eventually assimilate.” 15
Heber C. Kimball
The revelations which Joseph Smith has given to this people were given to him by Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world; and this people cannot be blessed if they lightly esteem any of them, but they will lose the Spirit, and sorrow and vexation will come into their families. The Lord designs that we shall be separate and distinct from every other people, and wishes to make us His peculiar people, and to raise up for himself a pure seed who will keep His law and walk in His statutes. For this purpose did He give the revelation on plurality of wives, as sacred a revelation as was ever given to any people, and fraught with greater blessings to us than we can possibly conceive of, if we do not abuse our privileges and commit sin. This doctrine is a holy and pure principle, in which the power of God for the regeneration of mankind is made manifest; but while it offers immense blessings, and is a source of immense power to God’s people, it will bring sure and certain damnation to those who seek through its means to defile themselves with the daughters of Eve. All those who take wives from any other motive than to subserve the great purpose which God had in view in commanding his servants to take unto themselves many wives, will not be able to retain them. Wives are sealed to men by an everlasting covenant that cannot be broken, if the parties live faithfully before God, and perform with a single eye to his glory the duties of that sacred contract. . . .
I speak of plurality of wives as one of the most holy principles that God ever revealed to man, and all those who exercise an influence against it, unto whom it is taught, man or woman will be damned, and they and all who will be influenced by them, will suffer the buffetings of Satan in the flesh; for the curse of God will be upon them, and poverty, and distress, and vexation of spirit will be their portion; while those who honor this and every sacred institution of heaven will shine forth as the stars in the firmament of heaven, and of the increase of their kingdom and glory there shall be no end. This will equally apply to Jew, Gentile, and Mormon, male and female, old and young. . . . The men or women who raise their voices or use their influence against that holy order of plural marriage will be cursed, and they will wither away, for they have undertaken to fight against God. 16
George A. Smith
There is one ground of complaint that is alleged against us here, and that is, we believe in a plurality of wives. A great many men and woman have practiced this principle rigidly, in all good faith; and until we can find some man who can show us a single passage in either the Old or New Testament, that actually prohibits it, we feel justified in following the examples of Prophets, Patriarchs, and holy men, fathers of the faithful, believing that if it were right in their case it can not be wrong in ours. We are told that the Old Testament sets forth such an example, but that the New Testament condemns it, for the Savior did it away. The only question I would ask in reference to this subject it—If the Savior did away with plural marriage, why didn’t he say so? If the Apostles put it down why did they not tell us of it? In the last two chapters of the Bible we have an account of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the gates of which we are told are to be named after the twelve sons of four wives by one father; and if we enter the gates of that city we face this polygamy, and if we can not face this polygamy we cannot enter the gates into the city. So we understand the New Testament. On account of our belief in and practice of the Scriptural doctrine, extraordinary legislation has been asked against us, that our lives, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness may be at the control of four or five individuals. This is the extreme of folly.
In considering this subject, let us ask where, in all the world, has a Territory been settled under as many disadvantages as this? Where have a hundred and fifty thousand people been collected together and exhibited more order, and given proof of more industry and prosperity under the circumstances than we have? Nowhere. Brigham Young, as President of the Church and leader of the people, from the death of Joseph Smith to the present time, through the influence that he has exercised with his brethren and friends throughout the world, has been able to bring thousands of people from America and other nations, and to locate them in these valleys and put them in possession of happy homes, and to make thriving, flourishing and prosperous communities. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Then, the true policy is to leave men to the enjoyment of their religion, to the enjoyment of the holy Gospel as they may receive it, extending liberty, peace, good order and happiness to all. I believe to-day there is no Territory so lightly taxed and, with all the drawbacks, none so well governed as this. . . . I am ashamed of our federal authorities for fastening upon a people such a system of drunkenness, licentiousness and debauchery [licensing sale of alcohol], while they are make such a terrible howl over a man who may have two wives, and who labors hard for their support, and for the education of their children, and acknowledges them honorably before the world. Everybody to his taste.
When Mr. Morrill, of Vermont, the author of what is termed the anti-polygamy bill of 1862, told me that he would not care anything about plurality of wives if it were not in the United States, and he was afraid that Vermont was partly responsible for it, I told him that they had a system of licensing prostitution in Vermont. I, however, should raise no objection to that, but I felt myself disgraced and ashamed because I was associated with a State that licensed such a system as that; and that if I could put up with Vermont, he could put up with Utah, that was not more than fair, it was shake for shake.
. . . I remember once, in traveling through the State of Indiana, encountering a gentleman who called himself Professor Jones, connected with a university there. He asked me a great many questions about our system in the mountains, and wanted to know how we did this and how we did that. I explained it to him as correctly as I could. I traveled with him a day or two, and he kept asking questions and making notes. When we parted he said he was very much surprised, he has supposed that our system was one of immorality, but he had learned to the contrary. He did not pretend to say anything about its justness and correctness; of course he did not sympathize with it, but one thing was sure, said he, “If you continue the course you are now pursuing, you will produce a set of men in those mountains who will be able to walk the rest of mankind under their feet.” I suppose, like enough, he may be one of the men who would like to proscribe us now. I know this, if the reports of learned men are true, the course now being pursued by a great many of our Christian friends in the East, will, in a few generation, wipe out the race of ’76 and give the country into the hands of strangers. It is time that somebody was fulfilling the great command of God, to multiply and replenish the earth, and put away licentiousness, and labor for the upbuilding and welfare of the human race. 17
It is said by faith Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph, and that he conferred upon them a blessing to the uttermost bounds of the everlasting hills. Who was Joseph? Why, Joseph was the son of Rachel. And who was Rachel? Rachel was the second wife of Jacob, a polygamist. Jacob had four wives, and after he had taken the second (Rachel), she, being barren, gave a third wife unto her husband that she might bear children unto him for her; and instead of being displeased with her for giving her husband to another wife, God heard her prayer, blessed her, worked a miracle in her favour by opening her womb, and she bore a son, and called his name Joseph, rejoicing in God, whom she testified would give her another son. The question now arises, were not Rachel and Jacob one flesh? Yes. Leah and Jacob were also one flesh. Jacob is selected by the Apostle Paul as a pattern of faith for Christians to follow; he blessed his twelve sons, whom he had by four wives. The law of God, as it existed in those days, and as laid down in this book (the Bible) makes a child born of adultery or of fornication a bastard; and the same is prohibited from entering into the congregation of the Lord unto the tenth generation. Now, instead of God’s blessing Rachel and Jacob and their offspring, as we are told He did, we might have expected something entirely different, had it not been that God was pleased with and approbated and sustained a plurality of wives.
While we are considering this subject, we will inquire, did the Saviour in any place that we can read of, in the course of his mission on the earth, denounce a plurality of wives? He lived in a nation of Jews; the law of Moses was in force, plurality of wives was the custom, and thousands upon thousands of people, from the highest to the lowest in the land, were polygamists. The Saviour denounced adultery; he denounced fornication; he denounced lust; also divorce; but is there a single sentence asserting that plurality of wives is wrong? If so, where is it? Who can find it? Why did he not say it was wrong?
. . . Abraham and Jacob and others had a plurality. These are the men who are referred to in Scripture as patterns of piety and purity. David had many wives. The Scriptures say that David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart which shall fulfil all my will. Of this man’s seed hath God, according to His promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus.” (Acts 13:22-23). Did David sin in taking so many wives? No. In what, then, did his sin consist? It was because he took the wife of Uriah, the Hittite—that is, violated the law of God in taking her. The Lord had given him the wives of Saul and would have given him many more; but he had no right to take one who belonged to another. When he did so the curse of adultery fell upon his head, and his wives were taken from him and given to another. We will now inquire in relation to the Saviour himself. From whom did he descend? From the house of David a polygamist; and if you will trace the names of the families through which he descended you will find that numbers of them had a plurality of wives. How appropriate it would have been for Jesus, descending as he did from a race of polygamists, to have denounced this institution of plural marriage and shown its sinfulness, had it been a sin! Can we suppose, for one moment, if Patriarchal marriage were wrong, that He would, under the circumstances, have been silent concerning it or failed to denounce it in the most positive manner? Then if plural marriage be adultery and the offspring spurious, Christ Jesus is not the Christ; and we must look for another. 18
George Q. Cannon
We are engaged in a great and mighty spiritual contest, we are seeking to establish or rather to re-establish the principles of truth and righteousness on the earth. We are endeavoring to erect a standard of purity higher than that which now prevails and is recognized by men, and to elevate the people to that standard. That is the aim and labor of the Saints. We are misunderstood—so were Jesus and his Apostles, and the Prophets of God in ancient days. We stand in goodly company. We are arrayed, in this respect, with the noblest of earth’s sons. Our names are cast out as evil, and everything we do is misrepresented and misunderstood, but this does not change our disposition or the character of the work we are engaged in. We are resolved, notwithstanding this, to stand firm to the principles which God has revealed unto us. This is the duty of every Latter-day Saint, come life or come death, or whatever may be the consequences. If God has entrusted us with the revelations of his will, if he has taught us holy and pure doctrines, as we testify that he has, we would be recreant to God and to the duties and obligations he has placed upon us if we did not stand up and face the world in arms, if necessary, to maintain his great truths in the earth.
It is so with everything connected with our religion. There is nothing impure about it—it is God’s. There may be impurity in men, and they may fail in carrying out the doctrines which God has entrusted to them, but this does not alter the doctrines. They are true and good from beginning to end, from the first to the last that has been committed to us, and their practice among the people will exalt them. “What?” says one, “will plural marriage, that we have been taught to look upon as so degrading, elevate people?” Yes, even that principle, much abused as it is, when it is understood by the people, will be viewed in a very different light from what it is now. And so with every other principle of the Gospel. There is nothing that we teach or practice but what is contained in the Bible, and for which we do not have the example of Prophets and Apostles, and that was not embodied in the plan of salvation revealed to the ancients. We are willing to be tested by the word of God. Not by man’s traditions and misconceptions; but we are willing to go to and be tested by that book upon which Christendom relies—the translation of the Scriptures made by King James the First, of England. If we have embraced error, we are willing to renounce it whenever it is proved to us. 19
I remember the time in my boyhood, when it was thought the worst thing—that is, before the principle of plural marriage was taught. It is very often said now, “If you were not polygamists, and did not believe in polygamy, there would be no trouble. You are a pretty good people, you ‘Mormons,’ if you would only get rid of your peculiar institutions we could get along with you.” It seems to be but a few years ago when we were not known generally as believers in plural marriage, and what was the objection to us then? “You ‘Mormons’ believe in new revelation, and we do not know what kind of revelation you may get: you may profess to receive a revelation and get a false one, and we do not know what may be the result; it is a dangerous doctrine.” Well, it is a dangerous doctrine for the wicked world. 20
Plurality of wives. I expect there are gentlemen and ladies here who would rather hear that spoken of than all that could be said besides; who would rather hear an Elder tell how many wives and children he has got than all that could be said about Jesus, his Apostles, the Holy Ghost or its gifts. There is a prurient curiosity on the part of a great many people in relation to this subject . . . Here is a great phenomenon before their eyes in this Territory, of intense interest and of immense importance, yet their souls cannot rise high enough to comprehend the first feature of it, and no higher than to ask about the number of a man’s wives! When I hear such inquiries I pity the person who makes them. I think if a person cannot allow his or her mind to rise any higher than that, he or she is in a most deplorable condition.
I am satisfied that there is an immense amount of misunderstanding among the people of the world with respect to the Latter-day Saints and their belief in this peculiar doctrine. It is generally believed that we have embraced it for sensual purposes, and that we are a sensual people. We see these ideas frequently advanced in newspapers, and it is stated by them that we gather the people from the nations because of this doctrine. What a silly idea! Why, any man with a grain of common sense might know better if he would give a little reflection to the matter! How much easier it would be, if we were licentious, to practice licentiousness according to the popular method! Why go to the trouble and expense and incur the odium of sustaining wives and children merely to gratify licentiousness, when we could do it to the fullest extent, on the popular plan, without incurring odium or assuming responsibility and care? Read the records of New York, Washington, Chicago, and the records of all the cities east and west on our continent, and then go to the old world, and you may find that men can gratify their lustful desire without incurring odium. They can even destroy females by the thousands in the gratification of their sensual appetites, but because the Latter-day Saints choose to marry them, to make women and their children respected and honorable, all hell is moved against them. The devil does not like it. I will tell you a rule, brethren, sisters and friends, that I have observed through my intercourse with men, in my travels, and that is, that they who have opposed this principle most bitterly when they understood it, have been the most corrupt men, the very men who have practiced adultery and whoredom in secret; while openly, to hear them speak of our system of patriarchial marriage, one might think them immaculate; but I never found pure-minded men or women, honest and true to their God, and to their partners if they had them, but what, when they heard it explained as the Saints in this Territory understand, preach and practice it, let them believe what they might on other points, they would acknowledge that there was something godlike in that doctrine, if we carried it out as we believed it. That has been my experience.
We are solving the problem that is before the world to-day, over which they are pretending to rack their brains. I mean the “Social Problem.” We close the door on one side, and say that whoredoms, seductions and adulteries must not be committed amongst us, and we say to those who are determined to carry on such things we will kill you; at the same time we open the door in the other direction and make plural marriage honorable. What is the result? Why, a healthy, pure and virtuous community, a community which, in these respects, has no equal on the earth. 21
No Territory has ever applied for admission into the Union with so many advantages as ours. . . . It might be thought, then, that with such a lengthened experience and advantages, with such capacity for self-government, with such a developed and lightly taxed Territory, with such good order and freedom from debt, that Utah would be welcomed into the union of states. Why are we not? Because we are “Mormons.” That embodies the whole reason. If we are split up into factions, if we were fighting, party against party, if drinking saloons and houses of ill-fame were through all our settlements, and if we were heavily in debt, not having even the requisite population, and were not “Mormons,” we would be admitted into the union of states. What is the reason assigned for it? “We do not want to countenance polygamy. If we admit Utah, we sanction, to a certain extent, polygamy.” This is the reason assiged. Suppose, for instance, that one man of every ten among these “Mormons” is a polygamist, are there any more than that? If there are I do not know it. I have never taken the census, but in the range of my personal acquaintance, as I have scanned them, I think that there are not one-tenth of the men in this Territory who have attained their majority who are polygamists. And we will say there are 150,000 people in the Territory, how many of them are men? If we apply the same rule of ascertaining this that we do to other communities—and it will not apply to ours because our children are in excess; but as it is, we will apply the same rule and divine 150,000 by five, how many does it leave? Thirty thousand. We will say there are thirty thousand men in Utah Territory who have attained their majority, and one-tenth of this number are polygamists, what do we have left? Three thousand men. And for three thousand men the Congress of the United States say that the bulk of the people shall not have their political rights. Does it not seem as though—by the action of Congress in this respect, that they are uplifting a doctrine comparatively obscure, when you take into consideration the forty millions of people that live under the flag of the United States—and giving it national importance? This is one of the most extraordinary instances of fatuity that I ever recollect reading of in any history; yet such a thing is done, and this is the only reason that can be truthfully and correctly assigned for the refusal, on the part of the nation, of admitting Utah as a State. In spite of all we can say and do, there seems to be a determination to give this doctrine of plural marriage a national and world-wide importance, like everything else connected with this people. It has been advertised and talked of as though it might be the practice of twenty millions of people, instead of that of three or four thousand men. 22
A knowledge of the future condition of affairs in this Territory is gradually growing, and although it may be but slowly, it is of faster growth than we generally imagine. This is especially true of that much abused principle called plural marriage. It is becoming recognized in its true light, and people are beginning, as I never heard them before in my experience, to talk about it and reflect upon it, often alluding to it in a way that shows that a better understanding of the subject is steadily spreading among the people. And there is a reason for this: This question has been so much agitated. It is a remarkable fact that every publication against this doctrine of the Latter-day Saints has the effect to spread the knowledge of it among the people and it makes men and women reflect upon it. Our efforts alone would not be attended with the results that are now witnessed. But every man that has published articles against it, or lectured or written books or made any effort against it, has helped to propagate the knowledge of it; they have been missionaries in its favor. And no true doctrine need ever fear being assailed and denounced; for it will emerge from the conflict brighter and better understood than it otherwise would appear. Every man who has gone down to Washington from here to fight us has made men in Congress think about us and talk about us, and has made editors write about us. They have, without designing it, helped to disseminate a knowledge of our cause. The more the “Mormon” question, as it is termed, is agitated, the better it is for us; the more it is fought, the more it is written against and talked about, the more that Congress is stirred up to take steps against it, the better the principles of our faith are understood; because there are some men and some women who reflect upon these things, and who will contrast that which they hear of us, with that which exists in their midst. And when they see a man stand up boldly and say, “We believe in plural marriage; we do not believe in prostitution; we do not suffer women to become the slaves of men’s lusts; but believe they ought to become honored wives and mothers, and that children ought to be educated and provided for and called by the name of their father, and at their father’s death his property be equally divided among them even though heir mothers should be plural wives.” When they hear this, they cannot help thinking about such a condition of affairs; and they say, there is a moral courage which these people evince in this matter that is admirable. I have had it said to me often times, by both sexes, that it is better that we should live as we do, than such practices as exist elsewhere should come in our midst. So that, as has often been said, everything done against us is overruled for the good and spread of the work of God.
The subject of plural marriage is always an interesting subject, and it is made still more so by the constant attacks made upon it, and the misrepresentations made concerning it. Whenever people meet with the Latter-day Saints it is almost sure to be the first topic broached. The opinion which some entertain who take their views from the slanderous reports published about us is that we are a licentious people, who take wives to gratify lust. Such persons, if reasonably honest, are soon made to reflect and to modify their views by asking them a few questions. A prominent gentleman with whom I recently conversed, entertained that opinion. I said to him, after conversing a little while: Sir, you believe the people of Utah are bad and licentious, and that they degrade women by their system of plural marriage. Let me ask you, if their purposes were only sensual, have they any occasion in this day to marry women? Could they not accomplish sensual ends much easier, cheaper and without creating any especial remark by not marrying women and not caring for and educating and legitimatizing their children? There are practices which prevail in society and which are not unpopular if a certain degree of secrecy be observed which a licentious people could avail themselves of, without the trouble, care, expense and responsibility of marriage. What is the crime of which the people of Utah are accused? It is of marrying women! It is not that of seducing or debauching them. All the pains and penalties inserted in bills before Congress for the punishment of the “Mormon” people are affixed to the marriage of women. This is made a crime, and because of it, it is proposed to punish men. Not one word of condemnation, nor penalty of any character, is proposed for the seducer, or the vile betrayer of female innocence; he is to walk up to the polls and vote unchallenged; but the man who marries women, and maintains them honorably and virtuously, sustaining family and parental relations in all purity and sacredness, is to be disfranchised and visited with other pains and penalties! You will perceive, therefore that the “Mormon” people are either not a licentious people or they are the most foolish in the world. No one ever charges them with a lack of shrewdness or prudence. Such a charge would be utterly at variance with all their known characteristics. If they were not a conscientious people, with strong moral and religious convictions, they would not risk becoming martyrs, as they do, for the sake of marrying women, when, if they followed the usual practice of the age, they could get them without marrying.
He frankly acknowledged that what I had said has given him a new view of the case, and he admitted that if the gratification of sensual desires were our object, we could reach that without marriage and without exciting any particular odium. The fact is, illicit connexions are winked at and overlooked by very many people in the world while they are kept from public knowledge; they only excite scandal and unfavorable comment when the parties to them are so unfortunate as to become known. 23
I am interested in this [Patriarchal or Celestial Marriage] doctrine, because I see salvation, temporal and spiritual, embodied therein. I know, pretty well, what the popular feelings concerning this doctrine are; I am familiar with the opinions of the world, having travelled and mingled with the people sufficiently to be conversant with their ideas in relation to this subject. I am also familiar with the feelings of the Latter-day Saints upon this point. I know the sacrifice of feeling which it has caused for them to adopt this principle in their faith and lives. It has required the revelation of God, our heavenly Father, to enable His people to receive this principle and carry it out. I wish, here, to make one remark in connection with this subject—that while there is abundant proof to be found in the Scriptures and elsewhere in support of this doctrine, still it is not because it was practiced four thousand years ago by the servants and people of God, or because it has been practiced by any people or nation in any period of the world’s history, that the Latter-day Saints have adopted it and made it part of their practice, but it is because God, our heavenly Father, has revealed it unto us. If there were no record of its practice to be found, and if the Bible, Book of Mormon and Book of Doctrine and Covenants were totally silent in respect to this doctrine, it would nevertheless be binding upon us as a people, God Himself having given a revelation for us to practice it at the present time. This should be understood by us as a people. It is gratifying to know, however, that we are not the first of God’s people unto whom this principle has been revealed; it is gratifying to know that we are only following in the footsteps of those who have preceded us in the work of God, and that we, to-day, are only carrying out the principle which God’s people observed, in obedience to revelation from Him, thousands of years ago. It is gratifying to know that we are suffering persecution, that we are threatened with fines and imprisonment for the practice of precisely the same principle which Abraham, the “Friend of God,” practiced in his life and taught to his children after him.
. . . Who was this Abraham? . . . We read of no word of condemnation from the Lord for this act—something which we might naturally expect if, as this unbelieving and licentious generation affirm, the act of taking more wives than one be such a vile crime, and so abominable in the sight of God; for if it be evil in the sight of the Lord to-day, it was then, for the Scriptures inform us that He changes not, He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and is without variableness or the shadow of turning. But instead of condemnation, God revealed Himself continually to His friend Abraham, teaching His will unto him, revealing all things concerning the future it was necessary for him to understand, and promising him that, though he had been blessed with a son, Ishmael, yet in Isaac, a child of promise, not yet born, should his seed be called.
. . . It is a blessed thing to know that, in this as every other doctrine and principle taught by us as a Church, we are sustained by the revelations God gave to His people anciently. One of the strongest supports the Elders of this Church have had, in their labors among the nations, was the knowledge that the Bible and New Testament sustained every principle they advanced to the people. When they preached faith, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, the gathering of the people from the nations, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the second coming of Christ, and every other principle ever touched upon by them, it was gratifying to know that they were sustained by the Scriptures, and that they could turn to chapter and verse among the sayings of Jesus and his Apostles, or among those of the ancient prophets, in confirmation of every doctrine they ever attempted to bring to the attention of those to whom they ministered. There is nothing with which the Latter-day Saints can, with more confidence, refer to the Scriptures for confirmation and support, than the doctrine of plural marriage, which at the present time, among one of the most wicked, adulterous and corrupt generations the world has ever seen, is so much hated, and for which mankind generally are so anxious to cast out and persecute the Latter-day Saints.
. . . Every law of the Gospel has a trial connected with it, and the higher the law the greater the trial; and as we ascend nearer and nearer to the Lord our God we shall have greater trials to contend with in purifying ourselves before Him. He has helped us thus far. He has helped us to conquer our selfish feelings, and when our sisters seek unto Him He helps them to overcome their feelings; He gives them strength to overcome their selfishness and jealousy. There is not a woman under the sound of my voice to-day, but can bear witness of this, if she has tried it. You, sisters, whose husbands have taken other wives, can you not bear testimony that the principle has purified your hearts, made you less selfish, brought you nearer to God and given you power you never had before? There are hundreds within the sound of my voice to-day, both men and women, who can testify that this has been the effect that the practice of this principle has had upon them.
I am speaking now of what are called the spiritual benefits arising from the righteous practice of this principle. I am sure that, through the practice of this principle, we shall have a purer community, a community more experienced, less selfish and with a higher knowledge of human nature than any other on the face of the earth. It has already had this effect to a great extent, and its effects in these directions will increase as the practice of the principle becomes more general.
A lady visitor remarked to me not long ago in speaking upon this subject, “Were I man, I would feel differently probably to what I do; to your sex the institution cannot be so objectionable.” This may be the case to some extent, but the practice of this principle is by no means without its trials for the males. The difficulties and perplexities connected with the care of a numerous family, to a man who has any ambition, are so great that nothing short of the revelations of God or the command of Jesus Christ would tempt men to enter this order. 24
In regard to plural marriage. A great many men say—”Oh, well, I can get along, I can live, and I believe I shall only have one wife.” Well, that is your privilege, nobody compels you to take more than one; but with the commandment of the Lord before us like a blaze of light, can we disregard it and serve him acceptably? If we can, then why not retain those laws and commandments in heaven, and not send them down here to earth? These commandments are sent for our good, for our salvation and exaltation. Here is a woman who, in speaking of celestial marriage, says, “It will do very well for others, but it will not do in my house;” “it may do very well for somebody else, because her feelings are not quite so fine as mine, she has been differently raised from what I have.” I do not know that the Lord will pay any particular respect as to how we are raised, and how fine and delicate our feelings may be, or how coarse and uncultivated they may be. I believe that if we submit to the law of heaven, that law has power to refine us and to fit us for immortality and eternal life. That is my opinion. Now hear this good sister, she says—”It will not do for me, I am not going to submit to it.” Another sister says—”I am willing to submit to the law of Christ.” Let these two sisters come together and talk over the law of marriage, and see whether their spirits will run together. They will no more run together than water and oil will unite. 25
Polygamy is a principle revealed from heaven with a commandment to enter into it practically. The principle is abundantly corroborated in the ancient scriptures, approved of God and sanctioned by all righteous men; and he who labors to overthrow this principle, fights against Jehovah and makes himself a shining target, courting the arrows of the Almighty upon his head, heart and country. Would to God, that I could, conscientiously, make an exception here of our wise and learned judges, attorneys, juries and marshals; but conscience forbids it. 26
Matthias F. Cowley
Joseph Smith was a man of unblemished character. His veracity was never impeached. His honor in religion, in morality and business transactions, attested by friend and foe, were unsullied to the end of his mortal career, when he sealed his testimony with his innocent blood. 27
The principles of Plural Marriage were revealed for the benefit and exaltation of the children of men, but how much unhappiness has arisen through failure, on the part of some who have contracted this order of marriage, to conform to the laws that govern it! But does it arise through any defect in the order of the marriage system? O no; but from ignorance and the folly and wickedness of those individuals who enter into it, who abuse, rather than righteously obey, it. 28
I want to say a few words in regard to the revelation on polygamy. 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 (I am very glad to say that only a few such instances have come under my notice,) a brother or a sister say, “I am a Latter-day Saints, 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. Or a person might as well say, “I believe in Mormonism, and in the revelations given through Joseph Smith, but I am not a polygamist, and do not believe in polygamy.” What an absurdity! If one portion of the doctrines of the Church is true, the whole of them are true. 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, according to the revelations that are contained in these books, to believe a part of them to be divine—from God—and part of them to be from the devil; that is foolishness in the extreme; it is an absurdity that exists because of the ignorance of some people. I have been astonished at it. I did hope there was more intelligence among the Latter-day Saints, and a greater understanding of principle than to suppose that any one can be a member of this Church in good standing and yet reject polygamy. The Lord has said, that those who reject this principle reject their salvation, they shall be damned, saith the Lord; those to whom I reveal this law and they do not receive it, shall be damned. Now here comes in our consciences. We have either to renounce Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, Book of Covenants, and the whole system of things as taught by the Latter-day Saints, and say that God has not raised up a Church, has not raised up a prophet, has not begun to restore all things as he promised, we are obliged to do this, or else to say, with all our hearts, “Yes, we are polygamists, and believe in the principle, and we are willing to practice it, because God has spoken from the heavens.”
. . . I want to prophecy that all men and women 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 from 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. That is just as true as it is that all the nations and kingdoms of the earth, when they hear this Gospel which God has restored in these last days, will be damned if they do not receive it; for the Lord has said so. One is just as true as the other. . .
How happy old Jacob will be, for instance, when in the resurrection, if he has not already been raised—a great many Saints were raised when Jesus arose and appeared to many—if Jacob did not rise then, and his four wives, and his children, how happy he will be, when he does come forth from the grave, to embrace his family, and to rejoice with them in a fulness of joy, knowing that, by virtue of that which was sealed upon him here in time, he will reign upon the earth! Will it not be a glorious thing, when that polygamist, by virtue of promises made to him here, comes forth to reign as king and priest over his seed upon the earth? I think that in those days polygamy will not be hated as it is now. I think that all things that have been prophesied by the ancient prophets will be fulfilled, and that Jacob will get his wives, by virtue of the covenant of marriage; and that he will have them here on the earth, and he will dwell with them here a thousand years, in spite of all the laws that may be passed to the contrary. . . . Old Father Abraham will come up with his several wives, namely Sarah, Hagar and Keturah and some others mentioned in Genesis; and besides these all the holy prophets will be here on the earth. I do not think there will be any legislation against polygamy.
By and by they will build a polygamous city, and it will have twelve gates, and in order to place as much honor upon these gates as possible, they will name them after the twelve polygamist children that were born to the four polygamous wives of Jacob; and these good old polygamists will be assembled together in this beautiful city, the most beautiful that ever had place on the earth. 29
I sometimes illustrate this matter by taking up a pair of shears, if I have one, but then you all know they are composed of two halves, but they are necessarily parts, one of another, and to perform their work for each other, as designed, they belong together, and neither one of them is fitted for the accomplishment of their works alone. And for this reason says St. Paul, “the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” In other words, there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way. I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female. Some of those who are disposed to cavil will say, how will you explain the idea of a plurality in the female department? Here opens a subject involving philosophy and the philosophical propagation of our species, and it involves the great principles of virtue, and the laws that govern, or should govern through all eternity the commerce of the sexes; and the more they are scanned in the light of true philosophy and revelation, the more it will be proven that the superior wisdom of Jehovah has ordained that in the higher type of the Godhead, they are not limited in their union of the sexes; I refer to the female principle. 30
Joseph was commanded to take more wives and he waited until an angel with a drawn sword stood before him and declared that if he longer delayed fulfilling that command he would slay him. 31
I know whereon I stand, I know what I believe, I know what I know and I know what I testify to you is the living truth. As I expect to meet it at the bar of the eternal Jehovah, it is true. And when you stand before the bar you will know. He preached polygamy and he not only preached it, but he practiced it. I am a living witness to it. It was given to him before he gave it to the Church. An angel came to him and the last time he came with a drawn sword in his hand and told Joseph if he did not go into that principle, he would slay him. 32
Benjamin F. Johnson
His brother, Hyrum, said to me, “Now, Brother Benjamin, you know that Brother Joseph would not sanction this if it was not from the Lord. The Lord revealed this to Brother Joseph long ago, and he put it off until the Angel of the Lord came to him with a drawn sword and told him that he would be slain if he did not go forth and fulfill the law.” He told my sister to have no fears, and he there and then sealed my sister, Almira, to the Prophet. 33
- Joseph Smith, Contributor, Vol. 5, p. 259
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:301-302
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 16:167-168
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 17:160
- JOD, 2:88-89
- John Taylor, as told by B.H. Roberts in The Life of John Taylor, p. 100
- John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 11:221-223
- John Taylor, JD 22:303.
- Lorenzo Snow, Affidavit of President Lorenzo Snow, as quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, pp. 67-68
- Lorenzo Snow, Journal of Discourses 18:376
- Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 20:28-29
- Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 19:196
- Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 20:26-31
- Richard Bushman Responds: 12 Questions on Rough Stone Rolling (RSR),http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2759#more-2759
- Richard Bushman Responds: 12 Questions on Rough Stone Rolling (RSR),http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2759#more-2759
- Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 11: 211-212
- George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 17:100-102
- George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:38-42
- George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 15:297
- George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 20:93
- George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 14:57-58
- George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 20:4-5
- George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 20:37-39
- George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 13:197-209
- Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 16:236
- Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 20:99.
- Matthias F. Cowley, Cowley’s Talks on Doctrine [Chattanooga: Ben. E. Rich, 1902], 176
- Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 18:376
- Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 17:225-229
- Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses 19:270-71.
- Hyrum Smith, Elder Benjamin F. Johnson’s Letter to George S. Gibbs, 1903
- Mary Lightner, Address to Brigham Young University, April 14th, 1905, BYU Archives and Manuscripts
- Benjamin F. Johnson, Joseph Smith’s personal secretary and church patriarch, My Life’s Review