Thursday, November 18, 2010

Marriage, Religion and the State : A Mormon history (Part 2)

Historical Analysis Method

History is subject to the principle of relativity. There are often as many different versions of a story as there are witnesses to the actual event and it is always difficult, if not impossible, to determine which story best represents what actually happened. Stories differ because people had different vantage points and varying levels of first-hand information. In addition to this, plural marriage was a very controversial doctrine that was initially shared exclusively within a trusted inner circle of the community. Recognizing this reality, we will not attempt to assign motives to actions and statements. We will only present the information along with the source in as objective manner as possible. This process may be complicated when the story is closely tied to the foundation of someone’s faith.

The analysis will be performed in phases. First we will break the history into three major time periods; from 1830 to 1850, 1850 to 1910 and 1910 to present. For each time period we will summarize the information regarding marriage that was officially published by the church for presentation to the general membership and to the broader public. For the time periods from 1850 onward, this process may be repeated for each of the denominations to reflect the diverging viewpoints.

The Beginning (1820 to 1850)

Marriage has a complex history in the LDS tradition. On one hand, all the revelations and public teachings during Joseph Smith’s lifetime consistently taught that monogamy was the correct form of marriage. This fact has been confirmed by an exhaustive computer search of all the official Latter-Day Saints newspapers, publications and scriptures from this time period1. Perhaps even more interesting, there are no positive references to a polygamy doctrine and in the entire seven volume “History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - by Joseph Smith”. This narrative, abbreviated as HC, covers the time period between 1805 and 1847 and most of it was written for serial publication in the Times and Seasons during Joseph’s lifetime2. After careful editing and revision by B.H. Roberts, under the direction of the Utah Apostles, the history was published by the LDS church in 1902(3). Perhaps significantly, the only mention of polygamy in this history are clear condemnations of polygamy, spiritual wifery and plural wives during the time period from July,1842 to July,1844. The only positive reference to polygamy comes in B.H. Robert’s 1902 introduction to Volume 5, where he expresses his conviction that the revelation was first written by Joseph in July 1843 and known of as early as 18314. Obviously, Roberts , who was born in 1857, did not know this from first hand information.

The first reference to marriage in the new scripture of the LDS movement is contained in the Book of Mormon, which was published in March 1830, prior to the official formation of the church. This reference comes from the teachings of Jacob which states “ For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none”. This statement comes in the context of a strong condemnation of the practice of polygamy, including the actions of David and Solomon. The passage ends with “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.5” leaving a hint that marital practices may change at specific times. Other than this single example in the Book of Mormon, all of the other LDS scriptures and statements recorded in the church periodicals from this time period endorsed monogamous marriage and condemned polygamy. The first modern revelation with reference to marriage was received on February 9, 1831, less than one year after the church was organized. This statement, now recorded in Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants, reads “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart and shall cleave unto her and none else”. In March of 1831 a revelation, now Doctrine and Covenants 49 given in response to questions about the Shaker community, contains the following; “whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore it is lawful that he should have one wife and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”. This statement directly confronted the Shaker claim that a celibate lifestyle was superior to a married one.

In spite of these consistent and clear teachings, the early Mormon church was frequently viewed with suspicion, especially concerning marital fidelity. In response to these accusations, a the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants contained the following statement on marriage “ Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death when either is at liberty to marry again”6. For the remainder of Joseph’s life, there were no additional revelations published on the subject of marriage. Rumours that the Mormons taught or practiced polygamy continually plagued the church and Joseph Smith regularly defended himself and the organization against these claims7.

These strong and consistent condemnations of polygamy did not hint at the pressures that were building within the Mormon community at Nauvoo. A major Flashpoint occurred during the short and intense career of Dr. John C Bennett, who had quickly risen to the position of Assistant President of the Church, Counselor in the First Presidency and Mayor of Nauvoo between April 1841 and May 1842. On July 1, 1842, Joseph Smith publicly addressed this case stating that Bennett “ went to some of the females of the city who knew nothing of him but as an honourable man and began to teach them that promiscuous intercourse between the sexes was a doctrine believed in by the Latter-Day Saints and that there was no harm in it; but this failing, he had recourse to a more influential and desperately wicked course; and that was, to persuade them that myself and others of the authorities of this church not only sanctioned, but practiced the same wicked acts; and when asked why I preach so much against it, said that it was because of the prejudice of the public and that it would cause trouble in my own house.8”. Later in the same article, an affidavit appears where Bennett apparently signed an notarized document stating “he never knew the said Smith to countenance any improper conduct whatever, either in public or private, and that he never did teach to me in private that an illegal illicit intercourse with females was under any circumstances, justifiable, and I that I never knew him to so teach others”. Joseph continued to describe how Bennett had appeared before the Nauvoo council to state the same facts and asked that he be allowed to remain in the city. In reality, Bennett had quickly left Nauvoo and by July 15th, 1842, his letters were appearing in newspapers from surrounding communities accusing the Mormon leadership of polygamy9. Bennett’s published accusations prompted several prominent LDS leaders, including Sidney Rigdon and William Law of the First Presidency, to publish sworn statements refuting Bennett’s claims and defending Joseph Smith. William Marks, President of the Nauvoo Stake, also published a statement, stating “ I would further state that I know of no order in the Church which admits to a plurality of wives, and do not believe that Joseph Smith ever taught such doctrine10”

The apparent unity among the LDS leadership on the subject of polygamy did not last long. This is clearly evidenced by the conflicts that arose between men in prominent church leadership positions during last few months of Joseph’s leadership. By April 18, 1844, major conflicts broke out between Joseph Smith and some of his closest associates, leading to the excommunication of William Law (his counselor in the First Presidency), Jane Law, Wilson Law, Robert Foster (a general of the Nauvoo Legion) and the Higbees. While in Carthage, William Law and the dissenters organized a rival church based on the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s revelations, with the objective of reforming social, political and economic policies. On Sunday, May 26, from the stand in Nauvoo Joseph spoke against the dissenters. On the charge of polygamy, Joseph stated “I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this.11”.

The tensions erupted when William Law and his group came back to Nauvoo and set up a printing press to expose the church leadership and spread their ideas for reform among the citizens of Nauvoo. The first, and last, edition of the paper was published on June 7, 1844 and it summarized the claims of the dissenting organization. Strongly affirming that “We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants, and Book of Mormon, is verily true12” they continued to explain that after unsuccessful attempts to address the situation with Joseph privately, they now “are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles”. Their first claim was that women were joining the church and gathering to Nauvoo, only to be approached by Joseph or some other leader and told they should be their plural wife. The dissenters continued to explain how they had been excommunicated without receiving the due process that should have been accorded them under official church law.

After setting the background for their case, Law and his group give a series of fifteen resolutions. These include a demand to renounce false doctrines, “such as a plurality of gods above the God of this universe and his ability to fall with all his creations; the plurality of wives, for time and eternity; the doctrine of unconditional sealing up to eternal life, against all crimes except that of sheding innocent blood, by a perversion of their priestly authority and thereby forfeiting the holy priesthood...”. and “That we disapprobate and discountenance every attempt to unite church and state; and that we further believe the effort now being made by Joseph Smith for political power and influence, is not commendable in the sight of God.”. They further resolve that Joseph should make a proper response to the legal claims from Missouri and cease from interfering in the financial affairs of the church.

The Expositor also contained sworn affidavits from William Law, his wife Jane and Austin Cowles. Austin, who had been a member of the Nauvoo High Counsel, claimed Hyrum Smith had read a revelation from Joseph Smith at a meeting held in the late summer of 1843. He stated “ that according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines; lst the sealing up of persons to eternal life, against all sins, save that of shedding innocent blood or of consenting thereto; 2nd, the doctrine of a plurality of wives,...”13 The affidavit by William Law, a counselor to Joseph Smith in the first presidency of the church, constitutes the first public admission of a “revelation (so called)” on polygamy by any LDS leader.

At the next Nauvoo council meeting, held on June 8, 1844 the Expositor and its’ publishers were the primary order of business. According to the minutes of the meeting14, Law and his group were accused oppressing the poor, adultery, lying, stealing, counterfeiting, destroying the city charter and inciting mob violence against the church. The regular Council meeting adjourned at 6:00 PM until Monday, June 10. The meeting of June 10 started in much the same way as the previous meeting but soon turned to deliberate what should be done to stop the Expositor. During this conversation, Joseph and Hyrum seem to acknowledge the presence of a revelation pertaining to marriage ;“Mayor [Joseph] said he had never preached the revelation in private; but he had public. Had not taught to the anointed in the Church in private, which statement many present confirmed; that on inquiring concerning the passage on the resurrection concerning "they neither marry nor are given in marriage," &c., he received for answer, "Man in this life must marry in view of eternity. otherwise they must remain as angels, or be single in heaven.15” Later Joseph is quoted as saying “ They make it a criminality for a man to have a wife on the earth while he has one in heaven, according to the keys of the Holy Priesthood; and he then read a statement of William Law's from the Expositor, where the truth of God was transformed into a lie concerning this thing.16” These statements seem to indicate that the purpose of the revelation was not to marry additional women in this life, but to be sealed for the eternities.

In the course of the meeting, consensus moved towards destroying the press. The Constitutions of the United States and the state of Illinois were consulted regarding the freedom of the press. In the end, it was decided that the press could be declared a nuisance because “ a nuisance was anything that disturbs the peace of a community, ... and the whole community has to rest under the stigma of these falsehoods (referring to the Expositor)17”

According to Joseph Smith’s History of the Church from the entry for Monday, June 10, 1844 “I was in the City Council ... investigating the merits of the Nauvoo Expositor, and also the conduct of the Laws, Higbees, Fosters, and others, who have formed a conspiracy for the purpose of destroying my life, and scattering the Saints or driving them from the state.18”. The paper was libelous and the Nauvoo city Council declared the Expositor to be a public nuisance and it was ordered to be destroyed. By 8:00 PM, the Marshall returned to report that the press, type, fixtures and printed paper had been taken into the street and was destroyed. - “This was done because of the libelous and slanderous character of the paper, its avowed intention being to destroy the municipality and drive the Saints from the city19” After the press was destroyed, about 100 citizens arrived at Joseph’s home and he assured them that they had done the right thing and nothing would harm them.

Unfortunately, for Joseph and his followers, his prediction was not correct. An arrest warrant was sworn out against the men responsible for destroying the press and by June 12, Joseph was arrested.20 Refusing to travel to Carthage to face charges, Joseph remained “under arrest” in Nauvoo which appeared to inflame anger and resentment in the neighboring towns. In spite of sending letters to Governor Ford, the pressure in the surrounding community continued to build as Joseph refused to submit to state authorities. By June 18, Nauvoo was place under martial law in anticipation of mob attack21. As Nauvoo and the surrounding county prepared for war, Governor Ford finally arrived in Carthage by June 21.22 After several rounds of letters and seeing no other way out, Joseph and Hyrum eventually travelled to Carthage, under Governor Ford’s personal guarantee of safety, to face charges on June 24. Once in Carthage, the charges of riot were heard and when bail was met, a charge of treason was put forward for placing Nauvoo under martial law23. This required that Joseph and Hyrum be held in Carthage jail until June 27. They were assassinated by a mob before their case could be heard.

Following the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum, the church was thrown into a leadership crisis. According to the revelations of Joseph Smith as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, three main quorums or groups in the church had claim for leadership authority24. Sidney Rigdon, as the remaining member of the First Presidency, Brigham Young, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles or “twelve traveling councilors”, and William Marks as the president of the Nauvoo Stake and a member of the standing High Council. By the middle of August, William Marks had clearly placed his support behind Sidney Rigdon’s leadership claims25, leaving Brigham and Sidney as the primary contenders. By August 15, 1844 Brigham Young, as President of the Twelve, sent a letter to the general membership26. This letter first addressed the relationship of the church and the government saying “ As rulers and people have taken counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed, and have murdered him who would have formed and saved the nation, it is not wisdom for the saints to have anything to do with politics, voting, or president-making, at present.”. This recommendation was made with the opinion that none of the candidates were willing to redress the wrongs that had been done to the church and the candidates lacked commitment to the “ the enlarged principles, universal freedom, and equal rights and protection, expressed in the views of our beloved Prophet and martyr, General Joseph Smith”. The political advice was not intended to be “ binding on the consciences of others” as the Apostles “are perfectly willing that every member of this church should use his own freedom in all political matters; but we give it as our own rule of action27.” Other sermons and statements addressed a tendency among the Nauvoo membership to leave the city and form communities in the wilderness. This was strongly denounced, arguing that the membership needed to remain united and active in the completion of the Nauvoo temple where endowments could be given28.

A clear and irreconcilable split emerged between Brigham and Sidney Rigdon by the beginning of September. On Sept, 3. 1844, Brigham met with Sidney and he claimed that Sidney “ said he had power and authority above the Twelve Apostles and did not consider himself amenable to their counsel29”. Later on the same day, members of the Twelve met with Sidney and demanded his priesthood license, which he refused to surrender reportedly saying “the church had not been lead by the Lord for a long time, and he should come out and expose the secrets of the church30”. By September 7, members of the High Council were being disfellowshipped by the Twelve for “following Elder Rigdon”. A formal excommunication trial was held for Rigdon on September 8, where Brigham Young openly stated that those who supported Sidney formed “another party” from those who would follow him31. Sidney Rigdon did not attend the trial and only William Marks spoke in his defense. Sidney Rigdon was excommunicated by Brigham Young’s supporters and then assembled church members were asked to vote whether they supported Sidney’s case. The small minority who voted to support Sidney, or any who “shall hereafter be found advocating his principles” were suspended from the church until they could have a trial before the high council. This marked the start of a process to purge church members who opposed Brigham Young’s leadership claims32. This extended to undermining the influence of William Marks, who in spite of being disfellowshipped from the high council for supporting Sidney, was still the president of the Nauvoo Stake33 until he was dropped from this position at the conference of October 6, 1844 “because he did not acknowledge the authority of the Twelve, but the authority of Elder Rigdon34”.

For his part, Sidney returned to Pennsylvania and began to assert his leadership claims through a newspaper called “The Latter Day Saint’s Messenger and Advocate”. In the first edition, published on October 15, 1844, Sidney condemned Brigham Young and the Twelve on the subject of polygamy stating “ It is a fact, so well known, that the Twelve and their adherents have endeavored to carry on this spiritual wife business in secret, that I hardly need mention it here, and have gone to the most shameful and desperate lengths to keep it from the public.35”. This paper also contained the minutes of a conference held in Pittsburgh on Oct. 12 which was held to “ascertain the minds of the members of the church in this place, relative to the heretical doctrines taught and practiced in Nauvoo by the quorum of the Twelve and some of their associates36”. The resolutions from this conference included “ 2. Resolved, that in correspondence of the most flagrant violation of the original true principles and order of the church, by the Twelve and their abettors, by rejecting Elder Rigdon, and practicing the doctrine of polygamy, despoiling female virtue and chastity by seducing them, and tyranizing over those who will not sanction their works of darkness”. Sidney further responded to claims that he was dividing the church with “I call upon the twelve, including Mr. J. E. Page, to deny the existence of such a doctrine [polygamy] among them, believed taught and practiced by them. This is the doctrine that has made what these men call the division in the Church37”.

The Twelve refuted Sidney’s claims in the Times and Seasons of Nov. 15, 1844. In response to the accusation about polygamy they stated “The law of the land and the rules of the church do not allow one man to have more than one wife alive at once, but if any man’s wife die, he has the right to marry another, and to be sealed to both for eternity; to the living and the dead! There is no law of God or man against it! This is all the spiritual wife system that ever was tolerated in the church, and they know it38”.

In March, 1845, Sidney Rigdon’s organization further clarified their position towards the Nauvoo organization through a series of statements published in their Messenger and Advocate. These statements included a further denunciation of the Nauvoo organization for “abrogating the marriage contract and substituting under the professed sanction of heaven, a system of extreme licentiousness” and for their using “duplicity, hypocrisy and falsehoods” to conceal their “odious system of polygamy”. A series of resolutions followed, which included “we maintain the truth and the truth only, at all hazards, renouncing once and forever the unsanctifying dogma that it is sometimes lawful to lie” and “our subjugation to the law of God impels us to yield implicit obedience to the law of the land39”

The LDS church continued their official practice of denying the doctrine of polygamy for several years after they migrated to Salt lake. In January 1850, Orson Pratt, then editor of the Millennial Star newspaper in England, wrote in an article entitled “Who is the Liar!”. Pratt wrote “12th Lie - Joseph Smith taught a system of polygamy. 12th Refutation - The Revelations given through Joseph Smith state the following:- “If any commit adultery, they shall be dealt with according to the Law of God.” Page 127- “He that look upon a woman to lust after her; or, if any commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not that the Spirit.” Page 150. Page “Thou shalt love thy wife, and shalt cleave unto her, and none else.” Page 124. “We believe that one man should have one wife.” Doctrine and Covenants, Page 331.(40)”

1 See for an exhaustive library of early LDS publications with search capabilities.
2 The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History by Dean C. Jessee see (accessed Nov, 2010)
3 accessed Nov. 2010
4 History of the Church V5 p. 29-45
5 Book of Mormon Jacob 2: 24-30
6 Doctrine and Covenants Section 111:4b RLDS or Section 101 1835 edition
7 “"Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one?" No, not at the same time. But they believe that if their companion dies, they have the right to marry again.” Elders Journal July 1838. Less than a month before his death, on May 26, 1844, Joseph Smith publicly defended himself against charges of polygamy, stating “ What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers” History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 6:410-41
8 Times and Seasons v3 n 17 [July 1, 1842] p. 840
9 Times and Seasons V3 N19 P875 Aug 1, 1842
10 Times and Seasons V3 N19 P875 Aug 1, 1842
11 Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6 p. 410
12 Nauvoo Expositor Full Text several versions consulted, this uses
13 Nauvoo Expositor Full Text several versions consulted, this uses
14 Joseph Smith : History of the Church, Volume 6 p435
15 ibid page 442
16 HC Volume 6 p 441
17 ibid p. 442
18 Joseph Smith : History of the Church, Volume 6 p432
19 ibid
20 ibid p 454
21 ibid p. 507
22 ibid p. 522
23 ibid p. 598
24 Doctrine and Covenants Section 107 v 22 - 40
25 Mormon Enigma: Emma Smith p. 206-207
26 Joseph Smith : History of the Church, Volume 7 p. 252
27 ibid p. 252
28 ibid p. 256
29 ibid v7 p. 267
30 ibid p. 267
31 Joseph Smith : History of the Church, Volume 7 p. 268 - 269
32 ibid 274
33 ibid p. 284
34 Joseph Smith History of the Church V7 p. 297
35 The Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate Vol 1 No 1 Pittsburgh Oct 15, 1844
p. 14
36 The Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate Vol 1 No 1 Pittsburgh Oct 15, 1844
p. 11
37 The Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate Vol 1 No 1 Pittsburgh Oct 15, 1844
p. 15
38 Times and Seasons v5 No. 21 p. 715
39 Messenger and Advocate vol.1 p. 176
40 Millennial Star vol 12 no.2 p. 30

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