Mormonism and polygamy

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Mormonism and polygamy

Important introductory material on plural marriage available here

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Plural marriage
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Joseph Smith era:

Post-Joseph Smith:


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This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.


Joseph Smith initiated the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the Church. Plural marriage was practiced in secret during Joseph's lifetime, and was not publicly announced until the Saints had moved to Utah. There are no contemporaneous records which tell us when Joseph first taught plural marriage, or when he first had a revelation endorsing it. A number of questions arise regarding the practice of plural marriage in the Church.

  • Why was the practice initiated?
  • How was it practiced among Latter-day Saints?
  • Why did the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants state that monogamy was the practice of the Church?
  • Why did the Church deny that polygamy was practiced prior to the time that it was revealed to the world?
  • Was divorce available if one was not happy in a plural marriage?
  • What effect did the Manifesto have on the practice of plural marriage?

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," Gospel Topics, (2013)

In accordance with a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage—the marriage of one man to two or more women—was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s. Thereafter, for more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints. Only the Church President held the keys authorizing the performance of new plural marriages. In 1890, the Lord inspired Church President Wilford Woodruff to issue a statement that led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church. In this statement, known as the Manifesto, President Woodruff declared his intention to abide by U.S. law forbidding plural marriage and to use his influence to convince members of the Church to do likewise.

After the Manifesto, monogamy was advocated in the Church both over the pulpit and through the press. On an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law; a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years. In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages. Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.

Click here to view the complete article

FairMormon Perspectives offers answers to these questions

Valerie Hudson"A Reconciliation of Polygamy," Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference (August 2011)

During the period of time when the restored Church was commanded by the Lord to practice polygamy, some practiced it without any discernible hardship and still others with great pain. Contemporary Church members may look back upon that period with acceptance, or indifference, or discomfort, and I would like to say at the outset that I don’t see that diversity of feelings is harmful that people differ in their reactions to polygamy I don’t think is the issue. Rather, since the New and everlasting covenant of marriage is at the heart of the work of eternal life and godhood; confusion about the nature and form of lawful marriage ordained by God is harmful.

Click here to view the complete article


  • Relationship to the modern Church
    Brief Summary: Critics or ill-informed commentators often try to make it appear as if modern polygamist groups continue to have Church connections. Some often call upon the Church to "stop" the polygamist activities of such groups. (Click here for full article)
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  • Did President Gordon B. Hinckley state that polygamy was not doctrinal?
    Brief Summary: Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement on Larry King Live on September 8, 1998 with regard to the practice of polygamy: "I condemn it [polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law." (Click here for full article)
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  • Twentieth century LDS publications on plural marriage
    Brief Summary: Some have claimed that the Church suppressed the fact that Joseph Smith taught plural marriage, or other details. This selection of books published by Church leaders and in presses associated with the Church (e.g., Deseret Books, Bookcraft, BYU) demonstrate that there has not been silence on plural marriage. Not all of the information is entirely correct, given what is now known from the historical record, but are included here as written as a reference for the type of discussions which continued regarding plural marriage. (Click here for full article)
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  • Will polygamy be reinstated before the Second Coming?
    Brief Summary: Bruce R. McConkie said in his book Mormon Doctrine that polygamy would be practiced again before the Second Coming. Is this a teaching within the Church? (Click here for full article)
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  • Early Christians on plural marriage
    Brief Summary: There is extensive, unequivocal evidence that polygamous relationships were condoned under various circumstances by biblical prophets, despite how uncomfortable this might make a modern Christian. Elder Orson Pratt was widely viewed as the victor in a three-day debate on this very point with Reverend John P. Newman, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in 1870. (Click here for full article)
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  • Polygamous marriages involving mothers, daughters and sisters
    Brief Summary: A biblical prohibition under the Mosaic law prohibited polygamous marriages involving a mother and daughter: "Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time." Leviticus 18:18. The law also prohibited one from marrying two sisters: "And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you." Leviticus 20:14. Why, then, was Joseph Smith sealed to mothers, daughters and sisters? Did this not violate a biblical prohibition? (Click here for full article)
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  • Why were Adam and Noah not commanded to practice polygamy?
    Brief Summary: If polygamy was commanded of God to "raise seed," then why were Adam and Noah not commanded to practice polygamy? (Click here for full article)
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Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy. From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry). (Click here for full article)

  • Initiation of plural marriage
    Brief Summary: When and how did plural marriage begin in the Church? (Click here for full article)
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  • Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage
    Brief Summary: Church sources and authors that discuss Joseph Smith's plural marriages (Click here for full article)
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  • Introduction of eternal marriage
    Brief Summary: This chapter also discusses Fanny Alger (Click here for full article)
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  • Early womanizer
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith had a long history of "womanizing" before practicing plural marriage. This chapter includes Eliza Winters and Marinda Nancy Johnson. (Click here for full article)
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  • Illegal marriages in Ohio?
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith performed monogamous marriages for time of already-married members, violating Ohio law in Kirtland. Such claims are false and represent a misunderstanding about the law of the day. (Click here for full article)
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  • Age of wives
    Brief Summary: Critics of Joseph Smith are sometimes filled with righteous indignation when they raise the issue of his wives' ages. (Click here for full article)
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  • Children of polygamous marriages
    Brief Summary: While the record is frustratingly incomplete regarding sexuality, it does little but tease us when we consider whether Joseph fathered children by his plural wives. Fawn Brodie was the first to consider this question in any detail, though her standard of evidence was depressingly low. Subsequent authors have returned to the problem, though unanimity has been elusive. (Click here for full article)
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  • Polyandry
    Brief Summary: Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history. (Click here for full article)
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  • Bennett's Brothel at Nauvoo
    Brief Summary: Bennett had a brothel, and some have claimed that the Mormons' tolerance of it illustrates their moral depravity. In fact, the Saints destroyed the brothel and ultimately excommunicated Bennett for this and related acts. (Click here for full article)
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  • Rise and Fall of Bennett in Nauvoo
    Brief Summary: Bennett quickly rose in influence and popularity in Nauvoo, but his inappropriate behavior ultimately led to his excommunication. In return, he vowed revenge on Joseph Smith. (Click here for full article)
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  • Sarah Pratt
    Brief Summary: John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith exchanged charges, each claiming that the other had attempted the seduction of Sarah Pratt, wife of apostle Orson Pratt. Learn about this complex period of LDS history here. (Click here for full article)
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  • John C. Bennett and Prostitution in Nauvoo
    Brief Summary: Bennett was charged with procuring women for purposes of prostitution, and teaching others in Nauvoo how to religiously manipulate women into sexual intercourse. These events eventually led to Bennett's excommunication. Individuals drawn into Bennett's schemes would later play a role in the events that led to Joseph's incarceration and murder in Carthage. (Click here for full article)
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  • Nancy Rigdon and Plural Marriage
    Brief Summary: Even more complex than the Sarah Pratt episode, Sidney Rigdon's daughter Nancy was approached by Joseph Smith regarding plural marriage. (Click here for full article)
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  • Sidney Rigdon and Bennett's charges
    Brief Summary: In part due to Bennett's determination to disgrace Joseph, the Nancy Rigdon episode almost led to a rupture between Joseph and his long-time friend and counselor in the First Presidency. A miraculous series of events convinced Sidney to continue to support Joseph, though the Prophet's confidence in his counselor was never entirely restored. (Click here for full article)
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See also Brian Hales' discussion: Joseph Smith’s Pre-Nauvoo Reputation--Nancy Rigdon and Athalia Rigdon
Some charge an early involvement with Nancy and/or Athalia Rigdon, but these charges are implausible. (Link)
Three Changes after the February 1842 Angelic Visit
The third change, which occurred in April, came as Joseph Smith made his second proposal to a previously unmarried woman in Nauvoo and the first proposal since his marriage to Louisa Beaman. (Link)
John C. Bennett Impacts the Secret Expansion of Plural Marriage
John C. Bennett arrived in Nauvoo in September of 1840 and stayed less than two years. In spite of his relatively brief time living among the Saints, his impact upon the secret expansion of plural marriage was immense. (Link)
Was Bennett a Polygamy Confidant of Joseph Smith?
His accusations against Joseph Smith could not be based upon firsthand knowledge. Clearly, Bennett was positioned to hear rumors about polygamy and the identities of plural wives. However, his apparent distance from the nucleus of Nauvoo polygamy is obvious in his writings and accusations. (Link)
William and Jane Law and the Prophet
William Law was Joseph's counselor, but eventually broke with the Prophet and helped publish the Nauvoo Expositor. (Link)
Plural Marriage and the Martyrdom
Did Joseph Smith Intend to Abandon Plural Marriage?
William Marks related that Joseph’s conversation denouncing plural marriage occurred “three weeks before his death” or around June 6. Perhaps Joseph had such a change of heart during the first week of June, but this seems unlikely and other parts of Marks’ recollection are implausible. (Link)

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