Friday, November 19, 2010

Marriage, Religion and the State : A Mormon history (Part 4)

Post Manifesto Polygamy in the LDS Church

Contrary to popular belief, this normalization of relations with the Federal Government and the polygamy manifesto did not end the practice of plural marriage in the LDS church. This became evident during the January 1904 senate hearings to determine whether Reed Smoot, a newly elected Republican Utah senator and LDS apostle would be given his seat in the chamber. During the proceedings, LDS President Joseph F. Smith took the witness stand to face three days of interrogation and this clearly revealed that polygamy had not ceased in Utah after the manifesto. President Smith testified that he believed in the principle of plural marriage as much as he ever did, however he accepted in good faith the manifesto as a proclamation to end the practice, stating “the law of the land is more binding on actions than on beliefs”1. Smith further admitted to living in cohabitation with his plural wives and fathering 11 children, in defiance of the Utah law and the 1890 Manifesto, explaining “the church gave me those wives and the church cannot be consistent with itself and compel me to forsake them” .2 Joseph F further stated that the majority of people involved in old polygamous marriages were openly living in a state of cohabitation since Utah’s statehood, with broad tolerance from the community at large.3 Initially arguing that polygamy was only practiced among about 3% of the church membership, he eventually admitted that the actual number was closer to about 20% of the adult membership. Almost all of the prominent men in the state of Utah, including the church leadership, were polygamists.4 Several questions were asked regarding rumors that prominent members of the church, including at least two apostles5, had taken polygamous wives since the 1890 polygamy prohibition. Initially, President Smith simply denied knowledge of any of these marriages. Eventually, the senate Chairman asked if President Smith had made any enquiries to determine if high officials or anyone in the church had been guilty of plural marriage or performing polygamous sealings since 1890. In response, Smith stated “No sir. It has not been my business6” The senators did not seem content with these answers and Reed Smoot’s hearing went on for 3 consecutive years, called more than 100 witnesses and eventually compiled a record of more than 3,500 pages on every aspect of Mormonism7.

At the following April 1904 LDS General Conference, President Smith brought forward an Official Declaration, commonly called the 2nd manifesto, before the membership of the church. This stated, in part “"I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with, according to the rules and regulations thereof, and excommunicated therefrom.8” In way of explanation, Joseph F. Smith stated that “ They charge us with being dishonest and untrue to our word. They charge the Church with having violated a "compact," and all this sort of nonsense. I want to see today whether the Latter-day Saints representing the Church in this solemn assembly will not seal these charges as false by their vote.”. The membership voted to endorse the statement and to support the church courts in the enforcement of the policy. In seconding the motion, Elder Brigham H Roberts stated “ I am pleased with the opportunity of the Church saying in its official capacity that the Latter-day Saints not only now are, but have been, true to the compact between the State of Utah and the United States, and that they are true to the Constitution of the state, which, by express provision, forever prohibited plural or polygamous marriages, and made that irrevocable, without the consent of the United States. The adoption by the Church of this resolution should put to silence those who have accused us of being covenant-breakers.”

This 1904 resolution, rather than the 1890 manifesto, marked the end of newly authorized polygamous marriages in the LDS church. Joseph F. Smith followed this declaration with the excommunication of Apostle John W Taylor, who was in Canada during the Smoot hearings and would not answer a subpoena to appear before the senate. Apostle Matthias Cowley was also and the disfellowshipped. In spite of these actions, existing plural marriages continued to be honored, and all the presidents of the church up to and including Heber J Grant (1918 to 1945) were active polygamists9.

Between the first and second manifestos, more than 200 plural marriages were solemnized in the LDS church. Like the early history of polygamy, this was a time of secret practice and open denial10. The LDS official website summarizes this period with “Just as the practice of plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints began gradually, the ending of the practice after the Manifesto was also gradual. Some plural marriages were performed after the Manifesto, particularly in Mexico and Canada. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith called for a vote from the Church membership that all post-Manifesto plural marriages be prohibited worldwide.11”

1. Proceedings before the committee on privileges and elections on the united states senate. in the matter of the protest against the right hon. Reed Smoot a senator from the state of Utah.
Reed Smoot Hearing case P. 120
2 ibid p 188, p210
3 ibid p 85
4 ibid p127 and 182
5 NYTimes Feb 8, 1906 MORMON APOSTLE DEAD.; Leaves Seven Wives and 49 Children -- Was Wanted as a Witness.
6 ibid p. 245
7 The Politics of American Religious Identity, Kathleen Flake Introduction :
8 Conference report April 1904
9 Deseret News 1906-12-28 page 2 “Grant will be here to Answer”
10 Twentieth Century Polygamy by Ken Driggs
11 gospel library/gospel topics/polygamy

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