Plural Marriage

Chapter 9

Part 1


Mormon apologist John J. Stewart admits that "there are at least two points of doctrine and history of the Church about which many LDS themselves—to say nothing of non-members—feel apologetic or critical. One of these is its doctrine and history regarding plural marriage. There is probably no other Church subject on which there is so much ignorance and misunderstanding and so many conflicting views" (Brigham Young and His Wives, p. 8).

On pages 21 and 22 of the same book, Mr. Stewart states:

So gross have been the falsehoods circulated against it, and so strong the feelings created over it, that it may be an understatement rather than an over-statement to say that within the Church itself misunderstanding and lack of understanding about it are more nearly universal than a correct understanding of it. This despite the fact that seven of our nine Church presidents have lived plural marriage, and that this principle still is and always will be a doctrine of the Church.

The revelation sanctioning the practice of plural marriage was given by the Prophet Joseph Smith on July 12, 1843. This revelation is still printed in the Doctrine and Covenants—one of the four standard works of the Mormon church. The following is taken from this revelation:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—

Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.

Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.


For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory....

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation....

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end....

God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife....

Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it....

Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness....

David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, ... and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.

David's wives and concubines were given unto him of me....

And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God....

Let no one, therefore, set on my servant Joseph; for I will justify him....

And again, as pertaining to the law of the Priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he can not commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified (The Doctrine and Covenants, published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1966, 132:1-4, 19, 20, 34, 35, 38, 39, 52, 60-62).

In the beginning Mormon church leaders claimed they did not believe in the practice of plural marriage. In the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, printed in 1835, there was a section which absolutely denounced the practice of polygamy.


A photograph of Section 101 of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. This section, which condemns the practice of plural marriage, was deleted from the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876.


In section 101:4 it was stated: "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."

This section was printed in every edition of the Doctrine and Covenants until the year 1876. At that time the Mormon leaders inserted section 132, which permits a plurality of wives. Obviously, it would have been too contradictory to have one section condemning polygamy and another approving of it in the same book! Therefore, the section condemning polygamy was completely removed from the Doctrine and Covenants.

Just when and how the practice of plural marriage started in the Mormon church has caused much controversy. There is evidence, however, to show that it was secretly practiced when the church was in Kirtland, Ohio. In the introduction to volume 5 of Joseph Smith's History of the Church, the Mormon historian B. H. Roberts stated that the "date in the heading of the Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, including the Plurality of Wives, notes the time at which the revelation was committed to writing, not the time at which the principles set forth in the revelation were first made known to the Prophet."


Suppressed 1831 Revelation

Joseph Fielding Smith, who was LDS church historian and later became the tenth president of the church, made this statement in a letter written to J. W. A. Bailey in 1935:

The exact date I cannot give you when this principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith, but I do know that there was a revelation given in July 1831, in the presence of Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps and others in Missouri, in which the Lord made this principle known through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Whether the revelation as it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants as [sic] first given July 12, 1843, or earlier, I care not. It is a fact, nevertheless, that this principle was revealed at an earlier date (Letter dated September 5, 1935, typed copy).

In 1943 Joseph Fielding Smith told Fawn Brodie about this revelation, but he would not allow her to see it: "Joseph F. Smith, Jr., the present historian of the Utah Church, asserted to me in 1943 that a revelation foreshadowing polygamy had been written in 1831, but that it had never been published. In conformity with the church policy, however, he would not permit the manuscript, which he acknowledged to be in possession of the church library, to be examined" (No Man Knows My History, 1971, p. 184, footnote).


Michael Marquardt, a student of Mormon history who became very disturbed with the church's policy of suppressing important records, became interested in this revelation. He found that some Mormon scholars had copies of the revelation, but had to promise not to make any additional copies. Finally, however, Mr. Marquardt learned what appears to be the real reason why the revelation was suppressed: because the revelation commanded the Mormons to marry the Indians to make them a "white" and "delightsome" people!

Now, to a Christian who is familiar with the teachings of the Bible, the color of a man's skin makes no difference. In Mormon theology, however, a dark skin is a sign of God's displeasure. In the Mormon publication Juvenile Instructor (vol. 3, p. 157), the following statement appeared: "We will first inquire into the results of the approbation or displeasure of God upon a people, starting with the belief that a black skin is a mark of the curse of heaven placed upon some portions of mankind.... We understand that when God made man in his own image and pronounced him very good, that he made him white."

The teaching that a dark skin is the result of God's displeasure comes directly from Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon teaches that about 600 B.C. a prophet named Lehi brought his family to America. Those who were righteous (the Nephites) had a white skin, but those who rebelled against God (the Lamanites) were cursed with a dark skin. The Lamanites eventually destroyed the Nephites; therefore, the Indians living today are referred to as Lamanites. The following verses are found in the Book of Mormon and explain the curse on the Lamanites:

And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations (Book of Mormon, I Nephi 12:23).

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity ... wherefore, as they were white, and exceeding fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them (2 Nephi 5:21).

And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression ... (Alma 3:6).

The Book of Mormon stated that when the Lamanites repented of their sins "their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites" (3 Nephi 2:15). The


Book of Mormon also promised that in the last days the Lamanites—i.e., the Indians—will repent and "many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people" (2 Nephi 30:6).

These teachings have caused the Mormon church some embarrassment. The anti-Mormon writer Gordon H. Fraser claims that the "skin color" of the Indians converted to Mormonism "has not been altered in the least because of their adherence to the Mormon doctrines" (What Does The Book of Mormon Teach? p. 46).

Spencer W. Kimball, who on December 30, 1973, became the twelfth president of the church, feels that the Indians are actually becoming a "white and delightsome people." In the LDS General Conference, October 1960, Mr. Kimball stated:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.... For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.

At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl-sixteen-sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather.... These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-23).

While Spencer W. Kimball seems to feel that the Indians are to be made white by the power of God, Michael Marquardt, a student of Mormon history, learned that Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation says they are to be made "white" through intermarriage with the Mormons. Because of this fact Mormon leaders seemed to feel that it was necessary to suppress this revelation. Only the most trusted men, such as Dr. Hyrum Andrus, were allowed a copy of it. It was only after a great deal of research that Mr. Marquardt was able to obtain a typed copy of it. We printed this revelation in its entirety in Mormonism Like Watergate? (pp. 7-8). The important part of the revelation reads as follows:

Verily, I say unto you, that the wisdom of man, in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood,


but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

After the contents of the revelation are given, the following appears:

Reported by W. W. P. About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the "natives" as we were all married men? He replied, instantly 'In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.

According to what Mr. Marquardt could learn, the original revelation is preserved in a vault in the LDS church historical department. The paper on which it is written has the appearance of being very old. There is also a second copy of the revelation in the church historical department. This appears in a letter from W. W. Phelps to Brigham Young. The letter is dated August 12, 1861. Dr. Hyrum Andrus, of Brigham Young University, actually quoted part of this revelation as it appears in the letter, but he was very careful to suppress the fact that the wives to be taken were Lamanites:

The Prophet understood the principle of plural marriage as early as 1831. William W. Phelps stated that on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, he and others were with Joseph Smith over the border west of Jackson County, Missouri, when the latter-day Seer received a revelation, the substance of which said in part: "Verily I say unto you, that the wisdom of man in his fallen state knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my Holy Priesthood, but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness." According to Elder Phelps, the revelation then indicated that in due time the brethren would be required to take plural wives (Doctrines of the Kingdom, by Hyrum L. Andrus, Salt Lake City, 1973, p. 450).

The reader will notice that in his quotation from the revelation, Dr. Andrus suppressed the important portion concerning marriage to the Indians.

In 1976 we were able to examine a microfilm of the original revelation, but we found it difficult to determine when it was actually recorded. From Phelps' letter to Brigham Young we know that the revelation had to have been recorded by 1861. As we understand it, the first document—containing only the revelation


and Phelps' comment—appears to be older than the letter dated August 12, 1861. It is possible that the revelation could have been recorded any time between 1831 and 1861. W. W. Phelps served as scribe on a number of occasions during Joseph Smith's lifetime. If the revelation and the note at the bottom were written at the same time, then obviously the revelation could not have been written until sometime after 1834. It could be, however, that Phelps added the note at a later time. It will not be possible to decide this vital question unless Mormon leaders allow scholars to closely examine the document itself and any other material relating to it.

Regardless of when the revelation was actually written on paper, we have found definite historical proof that such a revelation was given in 1831. The proof is derived from a letter written by Ezra Booth and published in the Ohio Star only five months after the revelation was given! In this letter, Ezra Booth stated:

In addition to this, and to co-operate with it, it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent. It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the state of N.Y. that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at liberty to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission, was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state, that the Lord had made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime that I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism (Ohio Star, December 8, 1831).

This letter furnishes irrefutable proof that Joseph Smith gave the revelation commanding the Mormons to marry the Lamanite women. On March 6, 1885, S. F. Whitney, Newel K. Whitney's brother, made an affidavit which furnishes additional evidence that there was a revelation on this subject:

Martin Harris ... claimed he had a revelation when he first came to Kirtland for him to go to Missouri, and obtain an Lamanite squaw for a wife to aid them in propagating Mormonism. Martin told me soon after Joseph, the prophet, left Kirtland, that, two years before, he had told him that as his wife had left him he needed a woman as other men (Naked Truths About Mormonism, Oakland, California, January, 1888, p. 3).

It is interesting to note that Martin Harris, one of the three


witnesses to the Book of Mormon, was one of "seven Elders" present when the 1831 revelation was given.

Like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young taught that the Indians would "become 'a white and delightsome people' " (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 143). While Brigham Young never released the 1831 revelation, there is evidence that he was familiar with its teaching that the Indians should be made white through intermarriage. In a book published in 1852, William Hall commented:

About the time of the breaking up of the camp at Sugar Creek, the people were called together and several speeches delivered to them by Brigham Young, and others. The speech of Young was in substance as follows:

"... We are now going to the Lamanites, to whom we intend to be messengers of instruction.... We will show them that in consequence of their transgressions a curse has been inflicted upon them—in the darkness of their skins. We will have intermarriages with them, they marrying our young women, and we taking their young squaws to wife. By these means it is the will of the Lord that the curse of their color shall be removed and they restored to their pristine beauty ..." (The Abominations of Mormonism Exposed, Cincinnati, 1852, pp. 58-59).

Juanita Brooks gives the following information concerning the marriage of Mormons to Indians at the Salmon River Mission:

Very early, some of the Mormon leaders recommended that the missionaries marry Indian women as a means of cementing the friendship between the races....

The Elders who were sent to the Salmon River Mission were given similar instructions by Brigham Young and his party, who visited them in May, 1857. At least three different missionaries tell of them, all under date of Sunday, May 10, 1857. Milton G. Hammond says simply, "The president and members of the Twelve all spoke. Pres. Young spoke of Elders marrying natives." ...

As a result of these teachings, at least three of the brethren married Indian women.... As to the Indian women whom they had taken as wives the "L.D.S. Journal History" of April 9, 1858, records: "Two squaws who had married the brethren refused to come, fearing the soldiers would kill all the Mormons" (Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 12, pp. 28-30).

T. B. H. Stenhouse provides further information concerning the Salmon River Mission:


Before any of the married brethren could make love to a maiden with the view of making her a second, third, or tenth wife, he was expected to go and obtain Brigham's permission.... He sent at one time a mission to Fort Linahi, Salmon River.... When Brigham and Heber afterwards visited the missionaries to see how they were succeeding, Heber, in his quaint way, told them that he did not see how the modern predictions could well be fulfilled about the Indians becoming "a white and delightsome people" without extending polygamy to the natives. The approach of the United States army, in 1857, contributed to break up that mission, but not before Heber's hint had been clearly understood, and the prophecy half fulfilled! Heber was very practical, and believed that the people should never ask "the Lord" to do for them what they could do themselves, and, as all "Israel" had long prayed that the Indians might speedily become a "white and delightsome people," he thought it was the duty of the missionaries to assist "the Lord" in fulfilling his promises. This was not the first time that a Mormon prophet attempted to aid in bringing to pass the prophecies of "the Lord." More than one missionary appears to have thoroughly understood him! (The Rocky Mountain Saints, 1873, pp. 657-59).

In 1857 John Hyde, Jr., made the following comments: "... Brigham now teaches that 'the way God has revealed for the purification of the Indians, and making them "a white and delightsome people," as Joseph prophesied, is by us taking the Indian squaws for wives!!' Accordingly several of these tawny beauties have been already 'sealed' to some of the Mormon authorities" (Mormonism: Its Leaders And Designs, pp. 109-10).

William Hall claimed that "Brigham Young was married to two young squaws, ... near Council Bluffs." So far we have been unable to find any additional documentation for his statement. If Hall's statement is correct, Brigham Young must have left these Indian women behind, because we do not find them mentioned as Young's wives in Utah. According to John D. Lee, on May 12, 1849, Brigham Young said that he did not want to take the Indians "in his arms until the curse is removed."

Pres. B. Y. Said that he did not aprehend [sic] any danger from the Indians. Neither did he feel, as Some of the Brethren do, he does not want to live amoung [sic] them & take them in his arms until the curse is removed from of [sic] them.... But we will take their children & shool [sic] them & teach them to be clenly [sic] & to love morality & then raise up seed amoung [sic] them & in this way they will be brought back into the presance [sic] & knowlege [sic] of God ... (A Mormon Chronicle, The Diaries of John D. Lee, vol. 1, p. 108).


It would appear, then, that Brigham Young would not follow Joseph Smith's revelation to take "wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." Even though the revelation said that "their females are more virtuous than the gentiles," Brigham Young built up his "kingdom" with women who were already "white" and "delightsome." If Brigham Young did not follow the 1831 revelation to marry the Lamanites, we must remember that he was only following Joseph Smith's example, for Smith also married "white" women. Even though Brigham Young suppressed Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation and chose "white" women in preference to the Lamanites, he did at least encourage others to marry them "that the curse of their color shall be removed and they restored to their pristine beauty."

Since Brigham Young's time the church has tended to frown upon interracial marriage with the Indians, even though there is no written rule against the practice. Apostle Mark E. Petersen has been especially vocal against interracial marriage. Apostle Petersen and other Mormon leaders who are opposed to intermarriage are probably very disturbed now that the 1831 revelation has come to light. The fact that they have suppressed this revelation could well mean that they do not really believe that it came from God. They have been involved in a cover-up to protect the image of Joseph Smith.*

At any rate, we know from many sources that plural marriage was being considered by the Mormon leaders in the early 1830s. Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the church, once stated: "The great and glorious principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the Gospel, at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates. Among them were Oliver Cowdery and Lyman E. Johnson ..." (As quoted in Historical Record, 1887, vol. 6, p. 219).

Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe said that "The evidence seems clear that the revelation on plural marriage was received by the Prophet as early as 1831" (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, p. 236).

*In their new book, The Mormon Experience, page 195, Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington and his assistant Davis Bitton, finally come to grips with the reality of the 1831 revelation: "A recently discovered document is a copy of a purported revelation of 1831 that instructed seven missionaries in Missouri as follows: 'For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.'"


The Mormon writer John J. Stewart claims that Joseph Smith may have entered into plural marriage "in the early or mid-1830's." On page 31 of his book Brigham Young and His Wives, he states that "Nancy Johnson" may have been Joseph Smith's first plural wife. Eli Johnson felt that Joseph Smith was "too intimate" with his sister Nancy. This may help explain why Smith was mobbed in March, 1832. In any event, less than a year after Joseph Smith gave the revelation to marry Lamanites his name was linked with Nancy Johnson.

While Joseph Smith was still living in Ohio his name was also linked with Fanny Alger. The Mormon writer Max Parkin commented about this matter: "The charge of adulterous relations 'with a certain girl' was leveled against Smith by Cowdery in Missouri in 1837; this accusation became one of the complaints the Church had against Cowdery in his excommunication trial in Far West, April 12, 1838. In rationalizing Cowdery's accusation, the Prophet testified 'that Oliver Cowdery had been his bosom friend, therefore he entrusted him with many things'" (Conflict at Kirtland, 1966, p. 166).

The reader will remember that Oliver Cowdery was one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. In a letter dated January 21, 1838, Cowdery plainly stated that Joseph Smith had an "affair" with Fanny Alger:

When he [Joseph Smith] was there we had some conversation in which in every instance I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger's was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself (Letter written by Oliver Cowdery and recorded by his brother Warren Cowdery; see photograph in The Mormon Kingdom, vol. 1, p. 27).

Mormon writers admit that there was a connection between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger. However, they claim that Fanny Alger was Joseph Smith's plural wife and that he was commanded by God to enter into polygamy. Andrew Jenson, who was the assistant L.D.S. church historian, made a list of 27 women who were sealed to Joseph Smith. In this list he said the following concerning Fanny Alger: "Fanny Alger, one of the first plural wives sealed to the Prophet" (Historical Record, p. 233). John A. Widtsoe stated: "It seems that Fannie Alger was one of Joseph's first plural wives" (Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth, p. 237).

The Mormon writer John J. Stewart provides further information:


Benjamin F. Johnson, another close friend to Joseph ... says, "In 1835, at Kirtland, I learned from my sister's husband, ... 'that the ancient order of Plural Marriage was again to be practiced by the Church,' This, at the time, did not impress my mind deeply, although there lived then with his family [the Prophet's] a neighbor's daughter, Fannie Alger, a very nice and comely young woman ... it was whispered even then that Joseph loved her." Johnson, a Church patriarch at the time of writing, put his finger on the beginning of Oliver Cowdery's and Warren Parrish's downfall—Parrish was the Prophet's secretary: "There was some trouble with Oliver Cowdery, and whisper said it was relating to a girl then living in his (the Prophet's) family; and I was after wards told by Warren Parrish, that he himself and Oliver Cowdery did know that Joseph had Fannie Alger as wife, for they were spied upon and found together." ... "Without doubt in my mind," says Johnson, "Fannie Alger was, at Kirtland, the Prophet's first plural wife, in which, by right of his calling, he was justified of the Lord, ..." One of the charges against Cowdery when he was excommunicated was that he had insinuated that Joseph was guilty of adultery (Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, pp. 103-4).

In his history of the church, John Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, also told that "plurality of wives" came into the church in the 1830s.

In 1842 Joseph Smith wanted to marry Newel K. Whitney's daughter Sarah Ann Whitney. At that time he gave a special revelation concerning polygamy. Orson F. Whitney stated:

This girl was but seventeen years of age, but she had implicit faith in the doctrine of plural marriage.... The revelation commanding and consecrating this union, is in existence, though it has never been published. It bears the date of July 27, 1842, and was given through the Prophet to the writer's grandfather, Newel K. Whitney, whose daughter Sarah, on that day, became the wedded wife of Joseph Smith for time and all eternity (The Contributor, vol. 6, no. 4, January 1885, p. 131, as cited by H. Michael Marquardt in The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Joseph C. Kingsbury and Heber C. Kimball, p. 1).

This revelation was suppressed by Mormon leaders, but in 1973 Michael Marquardt obtained a typed copy and published it in his pamphlet The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney ..., page 23. In this revelation we find the following:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto my servant N. K. Whitney, the thing that my servant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your family and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes.... These are the words which you shall pronounce


A photograph of The Contributor, Jan. 1885, page 131. Orson F. Whitney tells of a special revelation Joseph Smith received when he wanted to marry Newel K. Whitney's daughter.


upon my servant Joseph and your daughter S. A. Whitney. They shall take each other by the hand and you shall say, You both mutually agree, calling them by name, to be each other's companion so long as you both shall live.... If you both agree to covenant and do this, I then give you, S. A. Whitney, my daughter, to Joseph Smith, to be his wife.... Let immortality and eternal life hereafter be sealed upon your heads forever and ever.

The reader will notice that this revelation on polygamy is dated a year earlier than the one published in the Doctrine and Covenants.


The 1843 Revelation Examined

The 1843 revelation (now published in the Doctrine and Covenants) was apparently given to convince Emma Smith (Joseph's wife) that polygamy was right. William Clayton, who wrote the revelation as Smith dictated it, provides this intimate information:

On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843; Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office.... They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, "If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace." Joseph smiled and remarked, "You do not know Emma as well as I do." ... Joseph then said, "Well, I will write the revelation and we shall see." ... Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life....

Joseph quietly remarked, "I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did." Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket.... Two or three days after the revelation was written Joseph related to me and several others that Emma had so teased, and urgently entreated him for the privilege of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teasing, and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy it and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish in this matter to pacify her, realizing that he ... could rewrite it at any time if necessary (History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, Introduction to vol. 5).

Brigham Young said that,

Emma took that revelation, supposing she had all there was; but Joseph had wisdom enough to take care of it, and he had handed the revelation to Bishop Whitney, and he wrote it all off.... She went to the fireplace and put it in, and put the candle under it and burnt it, and she thought that was the end of it, and she will be damned as sure as she is a living woman. Joseph used to say


that he would have her hereafter, if he had to go to hell for her, and he will have to go to hell for her as sure as he ever gets her (Journal of Discourses, vol. 17, p. 159).

The revelation was not printed until 1852 and did not appear in the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876. As we have shown, the revelation on polygamy is now printed as section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Upon careful examination it can be seen that this revelation is filled with inconsistencies. The first problem is the date it was given. The date on the revelation reads July 12, 1843, yet Lorenzo Snow, who became the fifth president of the church, testified that anyone who lived in plural marriage prior to the time the revelation was given was living in "adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the State, too" (Temple Lot Case, p. 320).

We find that Joseph Smith was married to at least twelve women prior to July 12, 1843. According to Lorenzo Snow's statement, this would make Joseph Smith an adulterer. In an article published in the church's own Millennial Star on July 25, 1857, we read as follows: "The Latter-day Saints, from the rise of the Church in 1830, till the year 1843, had no authority to marry any more than one wife each. To have done otherwise, would have been a great transgression" (Millennial Star, vol. 19, p. 475). In order to get out of this dilemma Mormon leaders now claim that Joseph Smith received the revelation prior to the time he wrote it down and that the date on the revelation is the date the revelation was written down, not the date it was actually received. Joseph Smith's History of the Church, however, says that the revelation was actually given on July 12, 1843: "Wednesday, 12.—I received the following revelation.... Revelation on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, including the Plurality of Wives. Given through Joseph, the Seer, in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, July 12th, 1843" (History of the Church, vol. 5, pp. 500-501).

The revelation on polygamy contradicts section 58, verse 21 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which reads as follows: "Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land."

In order to practice polygamy in Nauvoo the Mormons had to break the law of the land, for the State of Illinois had laws against both adultery and bigamy (or "the crime of marrying while one has a wife or husband still living from whom no valid divorce has been effected"). The Mormon church leaders understood that polygamy was a crime. In an article published in the church's own Times and Seasons on November 15, 1844,


the following appeared: "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 ..." (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 715).

After the Mormons came to Utah, Brigham Young commented: "If I had forty wives in the United States, they did not know it, and could not substantiate it, neither did I ask any lawyer, judge, or magistrate for them. I live above the law, and so do this people" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 361).

Just before he was murdered Joseph Smith was indicted be cause of his practice of polygamy. The following is found in the Church Chronology under the date of May 25, 1844: "Sat. 25.—Joseph Smith learned that the grand jury at Carthage had found two indictments against him, one of them for polygamy" (Church Chronology, p. 25). According to Wesley Walters, the actual charge in the county records was "adultery." Joseph Smith was murdered shortly after this, but had he lived, it is very possible that he would have gone to prison for being a polygamist.

In his revelation Joseph Smith used the polygamous practices of David and Solomon as justification for polygamy. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: "Verily, thus saith the Lord ... you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants ... David and Solomon, ... as touching the principle and doctrine of having many wives and concubines ... David's wives and concubines were given unto him of me ..." (132:1, 39).

This is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Book of Mormon. In the Book of Mormon, page 111, verses 23 and 24, we read:

For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

Notice that the revelation states that David and Solomon were justified in their polygamous practices, whereas the Book of Mormon states that it was an abominable practice. In a letter to Morris Reynolds, dated July 14, 1966, Apostle LeGrand Richards admitted that he was unable to reconcile this contradiction (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 205).

Joseph R Smith, the sixth president of the church, gave the following testimony in the "Reed Smoot Case":


THE CHAIRMAN. That is the Book of Mormon?
MR. SMITH. Yes, sir; that is the Book of Mormon.


THE CHAIRMAN. Is the doctrine of polygamy taught in that revelation?
MR. SMITH. Taught in it?
MR. SMITH. It is emphatically forbidden in that book.
THE CHAIRMAN. In that book it is emphatically forbidden?
MR. SMITH. It is. (Reed Smoot Case, vol. 1, p. 480.)

Orson Pratt once admitted that "The Book of Mormon, therefore, is the only record (professing to be divine) which condemns the plurality of wives as being a practice exceeding abominable before God" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 351).

The Doctrine and Covenants contains this statement: "... I, the Lord his God ... commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife" (132:65). This is in direct contradiction to the account given in the Bible, for the Bible says nothing about God commanding this but rather that "Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai" (Gen. 16:2). Why, then, did Sarai give Hagar to Abram? Simply because she did not believe that she could have a child in her old age. It is obvious that God was not involved in this transaction, for Genesis 16:5 makes it clear that Sarai had sinned in this matter: "And Sarai said unto Abram, my wrong be upon thee...."

Although some of the kings mentioned in the Old Testament had many wives, Deuteronomy 17:17 condemned this practice: "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away...."

There is no mention in the New Testament of any of the apostles practicing polygamy. In fact, in 1 Timothy the bishops and deacons were instructed to have only one wife: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife.... Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife ..." (I Timothy 3:2, 12).

The Mormon church uses the Old Testament to justify the practice of plural marriage. While it is true that it was practiced by the people of the Old Testament, that does not mean that it was right in the sight of God. These people also committed many other sins which God will not allow us to commit now that Christ has revealed the perfect way. The people in the Old Testament also had slaves, and cursed their enemies. To say that plural marriage is right because it was practiced in the Old Testament makes no more sense than to say that God approves of slavery since it was also practiced in the Old Testament.


Christ came to set us free from these Old Testament practices. For instance, divorce was common in the Old Testament, but Jesus said "... Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so" (Matt. 19:8). Polygamy, as well as divorce, was instituted by man, not God. Jesus said that the perfect pattern for marriage was that the "twain shall be one flesh" (Matt. 19:5).

In the revelation on polygamy (Doctrine and Covenants 132:54) Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, is threatened with destruction: "... I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not my law." It is interesting to note, however, that it was Joseph who was destroyed. He was killed less than a year after this revelation was written, while Emma lived until 1879 and was a bitter enemy to polygamy.

The Doctrine and Covenants 132:64 reads: "And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law."

Apostle John Henry Smith testified as follows in the case concerning "the application of John Moore, for naturalization":

"Q. Do you understand that revelation to be to this effect—that if the first wife refuses to consent to her husband taking a second wife, she shall be damned? A. I understand that principle; and a good many women have taken that chance. Under the Mormon theory they shall be damned." (Reminiscences of Early Utah, by R. N. Baskin, 1914, p. 95).

In section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants it is plainly stated that a man must obtain the consent of the first wife in order to be justified in taking more wives: " ... if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified..." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:61).

Joseph Smith certainly did not follow the rules of his own revelation, for he took plural wives without his first wife's consent. Emily Dow Partridge claimed that she was married to Joseph before Emma gave her consent:

... the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family, and they treated us with great kindness.... I was married to Joseph Smith on the 4th of March 1843.... My sister Eliza was also married to Joseph a few days later. This was done


without the knowledge of Emma Smith. Two months afterward she consented to give her husband two wives, providing he would give her the privilege of choosing them. She accordingly chose my sister Eliza and myself, and to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a second time, in Emma's presence.... From that very hour, however, Emma was our bitter enemy. We remained in the family several months after this, but things went from bad to worse until we were obligated to leave the house and find another home (Historical Record, vol. 6, p. 240).

Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the church, was questioned as follows:

SENATOR PETTUS. Have there been in the past plural marriages without the consent of the first wife?
MR. SMITH. I do not know of any, unless it may have been Joseph Smith himself.
SENATOR PETTUS. Is the language that you have read construed to mean that she is bound to consent?
MR. SMITH. The condition is that if she does not consent the Lord will destroy her, but I do not know how He will do it.
SENATOR BAILEY. Is it not true that in the very next verse, if she refuses her consent her husband is exempt from the law which requires her consent?
MR. SMITH. Yes; he is exempt from the law which requires her consent.
SENATOR BAILEY. She is commanded to consent, but if she does not, then he is exempt from the requirement?
MR. SMITH. Then he is at liberty to proceed without her consent, under the law.
SENATOR BEVERIDGE. In other words, her consent amounts to nothing?
MR. SMITH. It amounts to nothing but her consent (Reed Smoot Case, vol. 1, p. 201).

Many other Mormons married without obtaining the consent of the first wife. Joseph Smith told Heber C. Kimball to take a second wife and not to let his first wife know anything about it. Heber C. Kimball's daughter related:

... my father, ... was taught the plural wife doctrine, and was told by Joseph, the Prophet, three times, to go and take a certain woman as his wife; but not till he commanded him in the name of the Lord did he obey. At the same time Joseph told him not to divulge this secret, not even to my mother, for fear that she would not receive it.... This was one of the greatest tests of his faith he had ever experienced. The thought of deceiving the kind and faithful wife of his youth ... was more than he felt able to


bear... his sorrow and misery were increased by the thought of my mother hearing of it from some other source, which would no doubt separate them, and he shrank from the thought of such a thing, or of causing her any unhappiness. Finally he was so tried that he went to Joseph and told him how he felt—that he was fearful if he took such a step he could not stand, but would be overcome. The Prophet ... inquired of the Lord; His answer was "Tell him to go and do as he has been commanded, and if I see that there is any danger of his apostatizing, I will take him to myself" (Life of Heber C. Kimball, by Orson F. Whitney, pp. 335-36).

In Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? page 207, we show that Apostle Orson Pratt published certain rules governing the practice of polygamy. One of those rules was that a man must obtain the consent of the first wife before entering into the practice of plural marriage, yet Pratt himself married two of his wives without the knowledge or consent of any of his other wives.

One thing that is very obvious when reading section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the fact that Joseph Smith was already in the practice of plural marriage before he ever inquired of the Lord to see if it was right. The first verse of section 132 tells that Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord to see if plural marriage was right, but verse 52 shows that he had already taken wives before the revelation was given, for it commands Emma (his first wife) to receive the other women that had already been given to Joseph: "And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph ..." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:52).

Some people have tried to excuse this by saying that the date on the revelation was only the date it was written down and not the date it was actually given, but anyone who honestly examines this argument must admit that it doesn't make any difference when the revelation was given. Whether it was given in 1843 or years before isn't important. Regardless of the date it was given, verse 52 plainly states that Joseph had already entered into the practice of polygamy.

It is interesting to note that section 132 not only says that plural marriage is justifiable in God's sight, but also concubinage: "Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness ..." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:37).

The Mormon leaders seem to be puzzled as to why the Lord gave the revelation on polygamy to Joseph Smith. Apostle John A. Widtsoe stated: "We do not understand why the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage." (Evidences and Reconciliations,


1960, p. 393). One of the most popular explanations is that the church practiced polygamy because there was a surplus of women. The truth is, however, that there were less women than men.

Apostle Widtsoe admitted that there was no surplus of women:

The implied assumption in this theory, that there have been more female than male members in the Church, is not supported by existing evidence. On the contrary, there seems always to have been more males than females in the Church....

The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church. Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States, ... there was no surplus of women (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1960, pp. 390-92).

The sociologist Kimball Young says that "under polygamy some men would have to remain unwed.... it was not uncommon for a man to select a plural mate from among recent arrivals of converts in Salt Lake City" (Isn't One Wife Enough? 1954, p. 124).

The Mormon leaders were evidently worried that the missionaries would take the best women. Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency, admonished: "I say to those who are elected to go on missions, ... remember they are not your sheep: they belong to Him that sends you. Then do not make a choice of any of those sheep; do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold. You under stand that. Amen" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 256).

Stanley P. Hirshon adds this instructive information:

Kimball always kept an eye out for romance. "Brethren," he instructed some departing missionaries, "I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake" (The Lion of the Lord, New York, 1969, pp. 129-30).

The shortage of women was so great that some of the men were marrying girls who were very young. Fanny Stenhouse stated: "That same year, a bill was brought into the Territorial Legislature, providing that boys of fifteen years of age and girls of twelve might legally contract marriage, with the consent of their parents or guardians!" (Tell It All, 1875, p. 607).


The early Mormon leaders certainly did allow their young people to marry at an early age. Mosiah Hancock was only 11 years old when he was "sealed" to a "young girl." According to his journal, he was "born in Kirtland, Ohio, on April the 9th, 1834." ("The Mosiah Hancock Journal," typed copy, p. 1). On pages 20 and 21 of the same journal, he recorded:

On about January 10, 1846, I was privileged to go in the temple and receive my washings and annointings. I was sealed to a lovely young girl named Mary, who was about my age, but it was with the understanding that we were not to live together as man and wife until we were 16 years of age. The reason that some were sealed so young was because we knew that we would have to go West and wait many a long time for another temple.

Stanley P. Hirshon provides this additional information:

"Make haste and get married," Remy heard Young preach. "Let me see no boys above sixteen and girls above fourteen unmarried." ... In 1857 The New York Times, reporting the sealings to old men of two girls aged ten and eleven, estimated that most girls married before they were fourteen.... Troskolawsski knew one bishop who was sealed to four of his nieces, the youngest thirteen years old... . On August 1, 1856, he put on the stagecoach for Ohio twelve-year-old Emma Wheat, who was being forced into a marriage she detested (The Lion of the Lord, pp. 126-27).



Back | Next

Table of Contents