the 1890 Manifesto
Elden J. Watson (08/11/2008)
It has been more than 150 years since the Lord caused plural marriage to be instituted as an official doctrine of the LDS Church, and more than 100 years since He caused it to be removed by having Wilford Woodruff issue the Manifesto. Sufficient time has now passed to allow us to look back in perspective and examine what happened, and how it happened and see just what the Lord accomplished.
It was on August 29th1852 that Orson Pratt introduced the principle of plural marriage as an official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the first speaker of the second day of a special conference in Salt Lake City,. Elder Pratt said he had been unexpectedly requested to address the Saints on the principle of plurality of wives, and he spent the entire morning session of conference expounding that principle. During his discourse he referred to a revelation which had been received by the Prophet Joseph Smith on the subject.
In the afternoon session, President Brigham Young supported Orson Pratt’s morning address and gave a little more of the history of the revelation of which Orson Pratt had spoken. He stated that a copy of this revelation had been in his possession for many years.(1) He then had Thomas Bullock read the contents of the revelation, which is now published as Doctrine and Covenants section 132, to the assembled congregation.
[(1) The following is from Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p 348, n. 9: “See Deseret News Extra (14 September 1852). Concerning his possession of the revelation, Brigham Young said, ‘This Revelation has been in my possession many years; and who has known it? None but those who should know it. I keep a patent lock on my desk, and there does not anything leak out that should not’ (Ibid.). Newel K. Whitney retained possession of the Kingsbury copy until March 1847, when it was given to President Young. (See Horace K. Whitney Journal, 14 March 1847, Church Archives, where he mentions making a copy for Bishop Whitney because Brigham Young had asked for the Kingsbury copy.)]
Minutes of the special conference including the revelation were first published in a Deseret News Extra dated September 14, 1852. These minutes were later copied into the Millennial Star volume 15 Supplement. The revelation was also published separately by S. W. Richards in the Millennial Star of January 1, 1853 (15:5-8) and by Orson Pratt in January 1853 in the first issue of The Seer (1:7-11). In all of these early publications the revelation is consistently identified as having been received by Joseph Smith, July 12th 1843. This is because the manuscript revelation, in the handwriting of Joseph Kingsbury contains the title “Revelation given to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, July 12th 1843.” The date on which Joseph Smith actually received the revelation has been questioned, and in our current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants the section header begins: “Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843.” The statement that the revelation was recorded July 12, 1843 implies that the revelation was actually received sometime prior to that date.
When did Joseph Smith first become aware of the principle of plural marriage?
In Orson Pratt’s original address publicly introducing the plurality of wives, he says the following:
But, says one, how have you obtained this information? By new revelation. When was it given, and to whom? It was given to our Prophet, Seer and Revelator, Joseph Smith, on the 12th day of July, 1843; only about eleven months before he was martyred for the testimony of Jesus.He held the keys of these matters: he had the right to enquire of the Lord and the Lord has set bounds, and restrictions to these things; He has told us in that revelation, that only one man can hold these keys upon the earth at the same time; and they belong to that man who stands at the head to preside over all the affairs of the Church and kingdom of God in the last days. They are the sealing keys of power, or in other words of Elijah, having been committed and restored to the earth by Elijah, the Prophet who held many keys, among which were the keys of sealing, to bind the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers; together with all the other sealing keys and powers, pertaining to the last dispensation. They were committed by that Angel who administered in the Kirtland Temple, and spoke unto Joseph the Prophet, at the time of the endowments in that house. (MS 15:S26)
In this discourse, Orson Pratt assumes that the keys to perform plural marriages were among those keys of sealing power which were given to Joseph Smith by Elijah in the Kirtland temple. A portion of D&C 132 may therefore have been revealed to Joseph as early as April 3, 1836 in the Kirtland temple, but it was seven more years before Joseph Smith was instructed to implement the principle.
The question naturally arises, when Elijah committed the keys of the sealing power into the hands of Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple, was he already aware of their application to plural marriage, or was he possibly at that time thinking they applied to monogamous relationships only? Is it possible that the application of the sealing power pertaining to plural marriages could have occurred to him at some later time?
The answer is no. In February of 1882, as 2nd counselor to President Wilford Woodruff, President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the funeral services of Sister Elizabeth A. Whitney. During that talk he gave the following pertinent information:
Here, the speaker [President Joseph F. Smith] said, perhaps, for the first time in public, that the women who entered into plural marriage with the Prophet Joseph Smith were shown to him and named to him as early as 1831; when the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation in relation to the eternity of the marriage covenant, which includes plural marriage, in 1831, the Lord showed him those women who were to engage with him in the establishment of that principle in the Church, and at that time some of these women were named and given to him, to become his wives when the time should come that this principle should be established. (Deseret Evening News, February 17, 1882, p. 3, as modified by “Correction” Deseret Evening News, February 18, 1882 p. 2)
So Joseph Smith knew of plural marriage and his own role in implementing it as early as 1831, so there can be no doubt that when the keys of the sealing power were committed to him in the Kirtland temple, he was both interested in and fully aware of their application to plural as well as monogamous marriages. In 1886, President Joseph F. Smith said that the principle of Celestial Marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but that at that time he was
“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 most intimate associates. Among them were Oliver Cowdery and Lyman E. Johnson, the latter confiding the fact to his traveling companion Elder Orson Pratt, in the year 1832. . . And this great principle remained concealed in the bosoms of the prophet Joseph and the few to whom he revealed it, until he was commanded, about 1843, to instruct the leading members of the Priesthood, and those who were most faithful and intelligent, and best prepared to receive it, in relation thereto, at which time, and subsequently until his martyrdom, the subject, in connection with the great principles of baptism, redemption and sealings for the dead became the great themes of his life (Deseret Evening News, May 20, 1886, p.2.)
President Joseph F. Smith went on to say that this revelation
remained an “unwritten law” and commandment of the Almighty to the faithful only of his Saints, designed to be enlarged as intelligence and fidelity to the laws of God increased; until the 12th day of July, 1843, when a portion of the revelation was written . . . (Ibid.)
Why did the Lord Command that Plural Marriage be Introduced into the Church?
There are several reasons which are frequently given regarding the circumstances under which the Lord will command plural marriage. The Lord tells us in Jacob 2:27-30 that if he wants to raise up a righteous seed unto him quickly he will command his people; otherwise they shall hearken unto “these things”. (i.e. “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;”“ Therefore, the standing law of God is monogamy with polygamy being the exception when God has certain specific purposes in mind.
We also know that several of the ancient prophets practiced plural marriage, including Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and even Moses, David and Solomon. Therefore, as a part of the restoration of all things, in this last dispensation, the principle of plural marriage must necessarily be restored. With his infinite foreknowledge, the Lord also knew that the Saints as a body would be driven from the United States and he was aware of the many privations which would be endured by widows and children who would be among the body of the Saints. He evidently used the principle of plural marriage to ameliorate the privation that many of these widows and their children would undergo if they did not have a husband and father to help support and sustain them. It is possible that there are also some other reasons which I have overlooked.
There is however another major reason which must be included among the reasons for which the Lord commanded the institution of plural marriage; a reason which has been widely overlooked and little if at all mentioned in the history of the Church. The Lord used the principle of plural marriage to save the Church from annihilation and utter extinction. To understand how this occurred, it is necessary to examine a quick summary of persecutions of the Church, and the reasons for those persecutions, with which this salvation of the Church is ultimately connected.
New York Persecutions
The Church was organized in New York state on April 6, 1830. Some of the teachings of this new religion were not well liked by inhabitants of the surrounding area. As early as February of 1831 there were reports in the local newspapers defaming and ridiculing Joseph Smith and his followers. There was no reason for these reports to be accurate, as their purpose was to stir up prejudice against the Church and its believers, but they spewed out their thoughts and feelings.
BOOK OF MORMON
Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of November last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others, arrived at that village with the "New Bible," on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously -- took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of "Heavenly Origin." Rigdon with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately. They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, -- that no one had been authorized to preach &c. for that period -- that Jo Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority, would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the new Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New-York would (probably) be sunk. Smith (they affirmed, had seen God frequently and personally -- Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels and had been directed to locate the site for the new Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should "step their feet" upon it. They pretend to heal the sick and work miracles, and had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to do so. The Indians were the lost 10 tribes -- some of them had already been dipt. From 1 to 200 (whites) had already been in the water and showed great zeal in this new religion -- many were converted before they saw the book. Smith was continually receiving new revelations and it would probably take him 1000 years to complete them -- commissions and paper were exhibited said to have been signed by Christ himself!!! Cowdery authorized three persons to preach, &c. And descended the Ohio river. The converts are forming "common stock" families, as most pleasing in the side of God. They pretend to give the "Holy Spirit," and under its operations they fall upon the floor -- see visions, &c. Indians followed Cowdery daily and finally saw him enter the promised land, where he placed a pole in the ground, with a light on its top, to designate site of the New Jerusalem. (The Reflector, Palmyra: February 14, 1831 Volume II., Series 1. - No. 132)
A close examination of the contents of this article reveals that all of the major complaints revolve around the fundamental concept of the heavens being opened, and new revelation being received in our day and age. This was a concept which the early antagonists of the Church were entirely unprepared to accept.
The local antagonism continued to worsen, and in the Winter of 1831-1832 Joseph Smith and the Church which he founded, which at that time consisted largely of the Colesville Branch, migrated to Kirtland Ohio and vicinity. This migration was initially prompted by a revelation given in December of 1830 in which the Lord said that it was expedient in him that the Church should assemble together at the Ohio. (D&C 37:3)
The concept of new revelation, however, was no more acceptable in Ohio than it had been in New York. Local newspapers soon picked up the hue and cry against modern revelation claimed by Joseph Smith and the Saints. Max Parkin in his thesis “Conflict at Kirtland” reports the following:
Besides the rejection of the Book of Mormon as a new revelation of God, these early anti-Mormon critics made light of other Mormon claims of revelation. John Whitmer brought on his journey to Kirtland “a new batch of revelations from God, as he pretended, which have just been communicated to Joseph Smith,” scoffed the Telegraph. Subsequently, the Telegraph found frequent opportunity to challenge the Mormon claim of direct revelation in modern times . . . The Dayton Evangelical Inquirer said, “Who would have thought of meeting advocates of a fresh revelation in the nineteenth century.” A visitor who reported in the Ohio Atlas declared, “They [the Mormonites] all have revelations in proportion to their faith.” Joanna Southcott, who published her prophecies in London in 1804, had followers that claimed the powers of visions and revelations. “If an imposture, like [hers],” the Telegraph reasoned, “could spring up in the great metropolis of England, and spread over a considerable portion of that kingdom, it is not surprising that one equally absurd, should have its origin in this neighborhood.”(Parkin, “Conflict at Kirtland,” p 50)
Many of the difficulties which members of the Church experienced in Ohio were undoubtedly brought on by the Saints themselves. At this early period, not only did some of the Saints have false interpretations about the revelations which had been received, but a few of them had no problems about spreading their false understandings around to the local inhabitants.
According to an article appearing in  the Painesville Telegraph, when Martin Harris arrived in Kirtland March 12, 1831, he immediately proceeded to the bar-room of the hotel and enthusiastically prophesied to the patrons that “all who believed the new bible would see Christ within fifteen years, and all who did not would absolutely be destroyed and dam’d.”(78) Another non-Mormon wrote that Harris had predicted that, within four years from September, 1832, there will not be one wicked person in the United States; the righteous will be gathered to Zion, (Missouri); there will be no President of the United States after that time; every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States shall be broken down; every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites; and the rest of the human race shall perish . (Parkin, “Conflict at Kirtland” pp 53-54)
Understandably statements such as these would have antagonized all who heard them and such unusual and abusive statements would have undoubtedly been widely spread by word of mouth. Ohio was only a refuge for the Saints for a brief period of four to five years. When the church leaders were driven from Ohio they went to Missouri where some of the saints had already been gathering for several years.
The Saints were also not well liked in Missouri. The reasons behind the antagonism are summed up nicely by Mr. Robert W. Taylor who was the chief counsel for the complainants in the Reed Smoot Hearings. He said:
[Mr. Tayler] A large number of Mormons drifted, along about 1834 or 1835 (the exact time is unimportant), into Jackson County, Mo. They came, after a time, into conflict with the public sentiment of the State. There were wrongs perpetrated on both sides. Perhaps in the main more wrongs in the sense of lawless acts, were done to the Mormons than they did to others. They probably resorted to lawless methods, in so far as they did so at all, for the purpose of defending themselves from what they considered lawless attacks upon them; but the point I make about it is that the apprehension which was in the minds of the people who lived in Jackson County, Mo., the thing that they professed to be alarmed about, the thing that sufficed to excite popular indignation against the Mormons was that the church claimed to receive revelations from Almighty God, and that that community did not know how it might be able to deal with another community so near at hand that had immediate intercourse with God Almighty. That was the foundation of the trouble, to whatever lengths it may have gone afterwards. (Reed Smoot Hearings 3:598)
It is true that Joseph Smith and other church leaders began the practice of polygyny (what they practiced was termed polygamy at the time) in Nauvoo. However, it was introduced among a select and tight knit society, mostly among leading officials of the Church and close friends of the Prophet. It was quite secretive, and even most of those who were members of the Church did not know it was going on. The practice of polygamy was rumored among some of the apostates and anti-Mormons at that time, but it was not well enough known to produce the persecution and antagonism that was experienced by the Saints in Nauvoo. The anti-Mormon fervor was still fueled at that time by the concept that the Saints believed that the heavens were open and they were receiving new revelations from God. In his statement before the Reed Smoot committee, Mr. Robert W. Tayler continued his testimony as follows:
[Mr. Tayler] Joseph Smith lost his life. He was murdered, as was his brother Hyrum. But the emphasis that I lay on it is this, that it all grew out of the claim that they spoke by authority because Almighty God revealed to him His will; and when you had that state of mind among the Mormon people, with the practices that would necessarily flow from it, we can conceive the state of mind that would exist among those who were round about them.
The result was that they came into serious conflict with the civil authorities and were compelled to leave Nauvoo (Reed Smoot Hearings 3:599)
Persecutions Become National
The Saints were driven from Nauvoo in 1846 and made their way across the Great Western Desert, arriving in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in July of 1847. Three years later, in 1850, Utah became a territory and Brigham Young was appointed Governor of the Utah Territory. His position as governor had to be approved by the U.S. Senate, which it was.
Plural marriage was publicly announced as a doctrine of the Church in 1852, after which Brigham Young sent missionaries throughout the United States to announce and teach this new doctrine and other Mormon principles to the world.
1) Orson Pratt, Washington D. C. “The Seer,” 1853-1854
2) Erastus Snow, St. Louis Mo. “The Luminary,” 1854-1855
3) Parley P. Pratt, San Francisco, “The Mormon Herald” 1855 (prospectus only)
4) John Taylor, Washington D. C. “The Mormon” 1855-1857
5) George Q. Cannon, San Francisco, “The Western Standard” 1856-1857
When Brigham Young’s first term as Governor expired in 1854 the appointment was first offered to Colonel Edward J. Steptoe, who turned it down, and it was then given to Brigham Young for his second term. The U.S. Senate was fully aware by this time that the Mormons were practicing plural marriage in Utah, but they apparently didn’t care, and they approved Brigham Young’s second term as governor anyway. (Reed Smoot Hearings 4:508)
It was over the course of the next 35 years, that the Lord slowly redirected the animosity against the Latter-day Saints away from the concept of receiving direct revelation from God, gradually replacing it with animosity against the principle of Polygamy.
Anti-Mormon sentiment at a national level began in 1854 with the adoption by the first Republican Party platform which contained condemnation of the twin relics of barbarism: southern slavery and Mormon polygamy. Although the Republican Party lost the 1856 election, some high ranking Democrats decided it was politically expedient for them to come out against Mormonism as well. Rising public sentiment caused President Buchanan to send an army to Utah in 1857 to enforce federal law. Specific laws against plural marriage began with the passage of the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act of 1862. The act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, but it was never his intent to enforce it.
Having signed the bill, President Lincoln was apparently willing to let the matter rest, as attested by an interview with T.B.H. Stenhouse, then a Mormon in good standing. When Stenhouse asked the President what course he intended to pursue with reference to the Mormons, he replied, “Stenhouse, when I was a boy on the farm in Illinois there was a great deal of timber on the farms which we had to clear away. Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone.” (Gustave O. Larson, The ‘Americanization’ of Utah for Statehood, p. 60 n. 61.)
The Morrill anti-bigamy act was specifically designed to prosecute polygamists in the Territory of Utah, but it was largely ignored or circumvented by Utah Mormons, and government officials found it almost impossible to enforce.
There were a number of anti-Mormon bills presented in congress during the 1860s, but none of them ever made it into law. The most significant of these was the Cullom bill which would have subjected
the territory of Utah to federal control through diminishing the elective process by enlarging the governor’s appointive power to include all local judges, notaries, and sheriffs. It proposed to deny the probate courts all criminal jurisdiction and place the selection of jury panels in the hands of federal appointees; to exclude believers in plural marriage from jury service in polygamy and cohabitation trials, exempt these offenses from the statute of limitations, and permit wives to testify against husbands in cases involving plurality of wives; to prescribe fines and imprisonment for polygamy and cohabitation and bar polygamists from naturalization, voting, and holding office; and finally, to ensure effective operation of the above measures, it would empower the president of the United States to employ military force if and when deemed necessary. (Larson, The ‘Americanization’ of Utah for Statehood, p 65.)
The Cullom bill passed the House on March 23, 1870, but it was successfully kept from coming to the floor of the Senate. However, the near passage of the bill caused a great deal of excitement among the Utah Mormons. It remained for most of the provisions of the Cullom bill to be passed into law by the Edmunds law of 1882. The Edmunds law made polygamy a felony and allowed a maximum sentence of five years in prison or a $500 fine or both. By this law polygamists were also denied the right to vote, the right to sit on juries and the right to hold political office. In Utah the Edmunds law was interpreted to mean that not only were polygamists punishable, but those who professed a belief in polygamy also. Since with the absence of public records, polygamy itself was difficult to prove, the concept of unlawful cohabitation became the litmus test. Unlawful cohabitation was considered a misdemeanor and was punishable by six months in prison and/or a $300 Fine.
Angus M. Cannon tried to comply with the Edmunds Law after it was passed. He divided his home into separate apartments and discontinued living with his plural wives. The courts still found him guilty of unlawful cohabitation by deciding that providing food and shelter on a regular basis constituted cohabitation. Later, beginning with the trial of Lorenzo Snow the courts also decided that unlawful cohabitation could be divided into years, months or even weeks and that each period could be tried separately. More than 1300 men and a few women were sentenced to jail for polygamy or unlawful cohabitation or both.
Persecutions under the Edmunds Law of 1882 were restricted mainly to prosecution and imprisonment of individuals, but this was expanded by the Edmunds-Tucker bill of 1886 which went beyond the attack against polygamists themselves to the extreme measure of destroying the Church to which they belonged. It did this by (among other things) dissolving the corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; requiring women to testify against their husbands; abolishing woman suffrage in Utah, disinheriting polygamous issue; and causing forfeiture of all Church property both real and personal in excess of $50,000 to the Federal Government. The Edmunds-Tucker bill became law on March 3, 1887 without the signature of President Grover Cleveland. In November of the same year the federal courts appointed Marshal Frank Dyer as Receiver and almost immediately he applied to take possession of the Church’s real estate. He confiscated the President’s Office, the Temple Block, the Tithing Office, the Gardo House and the Church Historian’s Office. (Thomas G. Alexander, Things in Heaven and Earth, p. 253)
Marshall Dyer capitulated to some extent, and in an agreement worked out through the courts to leave “sacred places of worship” alone, the Temple Block was returned to the Church. The Church made an appeal to the Supreme Court in an attempt to have the other Church properties returned, but in May of 1890 the Supreme Court ruled that the Church had engaged in illegal activities and the federal government was justified in escheating Church properties. This decision justified the confiscation of all Church properties including all temples and houses of worship. (Ibid pp 264-5) At this point the Church was literally on the brink of extinction. The Receiver, Marshall Dyer, began the judicial process of taking over all of the properties and all of the money of the church in excess of $50,000. It was under these extreme circumstances that President Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto. And it had the desired effect.
Results of the 1890 Manifesto
Despite ongoing cries of FOUL! from the editorials of the Salt Lake Tribune, the results of the Manifesto were both dramatic and relatively rapid. Persecution dropped off -- the Gentiles had won. The atmosphere of antagonism against the Saints changed to one of understanding and cooperation. Prison sentences which had already been initiated were not terminated, but Saints who were brought up before the courts on charges of Polygamy or unlawful cohabitation were asked if they accepted the Manifesto and considered it valid. In one case, Judge James C. Miner upon receiving a “yes” answer dismissed the case with a fine of six cents. (James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, p 416).
There was a lot of question about the honesty of the Church leaders in honoring the Manifesto as a sincere termination of plural marriage in the Church. President Woodruff appeared and gave testimony before the Master in Chancery on October 19 1891. He was followed on the 20th by George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, Lorenzo Snow and Anton H. Lund. This testimony seemed to allay the governmental fears of dishonesty by the leaders of the Church. Charles S. Varian, who was the lead attorney for the U.S. government was not particularly happy about the manner in which the results were achieved. The record says that Mr. Varian shouted, his voice reaching an almost angry tone:
They are not obeying the law of the land at all, but the counsel of the head of the church. The law of the land, with all its mighty power, and all the terrible pressure it was enabled to bring with its iron heel upon this people crushing them to powder, was unable to bring about what this man did in an hour in the assembled conference of this people. They were willing to go to prison; I doubt not some of them were willing to go to the gallows, to the tomb of the martyr, before they would have yielded one single iota. (Deseret News Weekly, Oct 31, 1891, p 19.)
In December of 1891 the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve petitioned the President of the United States for amnesty with respect to polygamy or celestial marriage, but the wheels of government turn slowly. During this time the confiscation of church property was continuing through the courts. In July of 1892 the Utah Supreme court ordered the Receiver to turn over all confiscated property to the Federal Government. This included the Tithing House property, the Church farm, Church coal lands, the Historian’s office and the Gardo House.
It was Jan 5, 1893 before President Harrison granted the First Presidency’s petition for amnesty to all those who had been in compliance with the law since 1890, and in October 1893 a bill passed the House of Representatives for the restoration of Church property. Then, in 1894 President Grover Cleveland issued a more general amnesty and eventually most of the Church property and funds were restored. Some properties, however, such as the Beehive House, had already been sold at public auction. In order to apply again for statehood the Church had disbanded the People’s Party and two years later the Liberal Party disbanded, but it was 1896 before, on their seventh application, Utah was finally granted statehood. And more importantly, the Church still lived.
There were some, however, who felt that the animosity directed toward the Saints should have never been redirected from a belief in divine revelation to a belief in plural marriage. During the Reed Smoot hearings Mr. Tayler stated:
[Mr. Tayler] Several hundred thousand sincere men and women have believed and now believe, as they believe in their own existence, that Joseph [3:594] Smith, jr., received revelations direct from God, and if anyone ever believed that, we must assume that Senator Smoot believes it.
Now, a Senator of the United States might believe anything else in the world but that and not be ineligible to a seat in the body to which he belongs. He might believe in polygamy; he might believe that murder was commendable; he might deny the propriety as a rule of life of all the ten commandments; he might believe in the sacrifice of human life; he might believe in no God or in a thousand gods; he might be Jew or Gentile, Mohammedan or Buddhist, atheist or pantheist; he might believe that the world began last year and would end next year, but to believe with the kind of conviction that Reed Smoot possesses that God speaks to him or may speak to him is to admit by the inevitable logic of his conviction that there is a superior authority with whom here and now he may converse, and whose command he can no more refuse to obey than he can will himself not to think. (Reed Smoot Hearings, 3:593-594)
What If ?
Now what are we to suppose would have happened if the Lord had not commanded Joseph Smith to introduce plural marriage in the Church in Nauvoo? Would we in any way be justified to imagine that persecutions of the Church would have diminished and eventually ceased? Historical evidence demonstrates that persecutions in New York, Kirtland, Missouri and Nauvoo commenced small, but inevitably increased to the point that the Saints were driven from their homes and property. This persecution always grew, and in every case was caused by the peculiar belief of the Latter-day Saints that the heavens were open and the Mormons claimed direct revelation from God.
One must assume that similar persecution would have eventually accosted the Saints in Utah to the extent that they would have been backed into the same corner and faced with the same prospect of annihilation unless they were willing to give up their contentious belief. But belief in direct revelation from God is a belief that the Saints could not give up! It is the basis of the entire Church.
The Lord knowing full well back in the 1840s that the Church would eventually be faced with this dilemma, commanded Joseph Smith to instigate the principle of plural marriage in the Church, and then slowly diverted the animosity against the Saints away from that of direct communication with God and towards that of polygamy so that when faced with annihilation in 1890, the Church would have something that it could give up!
[I would like to thank my close friend Alma Allred for pointing out this possibility to me several years ago.]
The 1890 Manifesto
The Manifesto was written on September 24th 1890, was sustained by President Woodruff’s counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a private meeting on September 25th 1890, and on that same day was published in the Editorial section of the Deseret Evening News, and a copy was also sent by telegram to Washington D.C. The Manifesto was ratified by the Church on October 8, 1890, by being presented to and sustained by the Saints assembled in general conference. B. H. Roberts in his Comprehensive History of the Church says that the vote to sustain the Manifesto was “nearly” unanimous (6:222), giving as his source “See minutes of Conference in Deseret News, weekly, of Oct. 11th 1890, p. 526.” However, the conference minutes to which he refers, as published in the Deseret News, records “the vote to sustain the foregoing was unanimous” (Deseret News Weekly 41:526, October 11, 1890, p 24.)
Samuel Bateman went to that conference specifically to vote against the manifesto, should it be presented, but his daughter relates what happened:
There may have been a few in that audience who did not vote, and a few may have remained away in order that they might not commit themselves. But Father and Mother were at that conference and they voted to sustain the Manifesto. True, in its wording it does not claim to be a command from God, but “advice” from President Woodruff. But any advice from the president of the church was regarded by most church members as inspired by God.
Later in his discourses President Woodruff declared to the people that the Lord had prompted him to do this thing. He had been shown in a vision what would take place if the people did not cease the practice of polygamy. But it was no concession to their enemies, the Manifesto had been issued for the sake of the Church and the work that was to be done.
More than once I heard Father say before other members of the family that when he went to that Conference he and some of his friends who had suffered exile and imprisonment had determined to vote against the Manifesto. “But,” said Father, “some power not my own raised my arm, and I voted to sustain President Woodruff in this matter, As soon as I had done it a sense of peace and contentment came over me.” (Juliette Bateman Jensen, Little Gold Pieces, pp 129-130)
There are some false claims made about the Manifesto which should be corrected briefly. It has been claimed by some that President Woodruff did not author the 1890 manifesto himself, also that it was not a revelation. These claims are untenable in light of available documentation. Wilford Woodruff stated that he wrote it himself, and that he wrote what the Lord told him to write:
. . . I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write. . . .(Doctrine and Covenants, “Excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the Manifesto,” located between Official Declaration 1 and Official Declaration 2.)
George Q. Cannon’s son, Frank Cannon, who worked in the church offices at the time, denies that he (Frank) wrote it and ascribes the authorship to President Wilford Woodruff.
Here, shaking in the hand of age, was a sheet of paper by which the future of a half million people was to be directed; and that simple old man was to speak through it, to them, with the awful authority of the voice of God.
He told me he had written it himself, and it certainly appeared to me to be in his handwriting. Its authorship has since been variously attributed. Some of the present-day polygamists say that it was I who wrote it. Chas. W. Penrose and George Reynolds have claimed that they edited it. I presume that as Mormons, "in good standing," believing in the inspiration of the Prophet, they appreciate the blasphemy of their claim ! (Frank J. Cannon and Harvey J. O'Higgins, Under the Prophet in Utah, The National Menace of a Political Priestcraft, p 100.)
The claim that Charles W. Penrose and George Reynolds claimed to have edited the Manifesto after it was written by Wilford Woodruff is explained by George Reynolds testimony in the Reed Smoot Hearings.
Mr. WORTHINGTON. You said something about helping to write the manifesto. Will you explain that?
Mr. REYNOLDS. President Woodruff wrote it in his own hand—and he was a very poor writer, worse, I believe, than Horace Greeley—and he gave it into the hands of three of the elders to prepare it. for the press I was one of those three.
Mr. WORTHINGTON Who were the three
Mr. REYNOLDS. C. W. Penrose, John R Winder, and myself.
Mr. WORTHINGTON. What did you do? You said you helped to write the manifesto, and I want to have an understanding of what you mean by that.
Mr. REYNOLDS. The answer came from the fact of the question coming to me whether I had read it and understood it, and I answered that I had assisted in writing it.
Mr. WORTHINGTON. Did you three, then, transcribe these notes of President Woodruff, or did you rewrite it, or what?
Mr. REYNOLDS We transcribed the notes and changed the language slightly to adapt it for publication.
Mr. WORTHINGTON. It contained the substance?
Mr. REYNOLDS Yes, it contained the substance.
Senator MCCOMAS. Did you, in transcribing the utterance of President Woodruff, make such change of phraseology as would make it ambiguous, so .that it might apply to marriages subsequent and not to living with wives who had been married prior?
Mr. REYNOLDS. No, sir.
. . . . .
The CHAIRMAN. After you had revised it, did you submit it to the president of the church?
Mr. REYNOLDS. Yes, sir; and he accepted it as his.
( Reed Smoot Hearings 2:53-54)
There is an inaccurate account recorded by Mr. Thomas J. Rosser in 1956 referring to a missionary conference which he attended in 1907-1908 (recorded 48 years after the event) in which he claims to have heard Charles W. Penrose say that President Wilford Woodruff did not write the manifesto, because he (C. W. Penrose) wrote it himself and President Woodruff signed it “to beat the devil at his own game.” (See Most Holy Principle 4:73-75) Mr. Rosser has likely confused two different manifestos. There was another manifesto published Dec 12, 1889 which is sometimes called “The Manifesto of the Apostles” (See Thomas G. Alexander, Things in Heaven and Earth p 257) and it was this manifesto which was penned by Charles W. Penrose and was then signed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. The subject matter was that of Mormons being denied naturalization because of their belief in polygamy, and can be found complete in James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 3:184-187.
A Fundamentalist Claim
A common but incorrect teaching among Mormon Fundamentalists is that the Lord wanted plural marriage to continue in the Church, but that President Wilford Woodruff was not valiant in his calling and issued the manifesto in opposition to the Lord’s desires. The Lord therefore found it necessary to negate the authority of President Woodruff and take the authority to perform plural marriages outside of the Church. There is a quotation from President Woodruff which is used by Fundamentalists to demonstrate that Wilford Woodruff lost the keys of the priesthood because he issued the Manifesto. For example, Joseph W. Musser cites Wilford Woodruff in the following context:
President Woodruff himself stated, among other things, in the Weber Stake Conference held at Ogden, October 18, 1896, six years after the Manifesto:
“Now I will give you a little of my experience in this line (of receiving revelation). Joseph Smith visited me a great deal after his death, and taught me many important principles. The first time he visited me was while I was in a storm at sea. I was going on my last mission to preside in England (about 1845). * * * We had been traveling three days and nights in a heavy gale, and were being driven backwards. This was before steamships were employed.) Finally I asked my companions to come into the cabin with me, and I told them to pray that the Lord would change the wind. I had no fears of being lost, but I did not like the idea of being driven back to New York as I wanted to go on my journey. We all offered the same prayer, both men and women and when we got through we stepped on to the deck and in less than a minute it was as though a man had taken a sword and cut that gale through and you might have thrown a muslin handkerchief out and it would not have moved it. The night following this Joseph and Hyrum visited me, and the Prophet laid before me a great many things. * * *
“Joseph Smith CONTINUED VISITING myself and others UP TO A CERTAIN TIME, and then IT STOPPED. * * * --Deseret News, 10-19, 1896.(688) CD 5:237; MS 67:637 (689)See Also JofD 21:317, 318, Oct. 10, 1880”
Presumably these visits stopped after the revelation of 1889 mentioned above was ignored, and the Manifesto of 1890 issued. Joseph Smith, being the head of the dispensation in which Wilford Woodruff officiated, would be the one through whom official communications should properly come.
This argument sounds promising until the facts are known. In General conference of the Church, on October 10th 1880, (which was almost exactly 10 years before the Manifesto) Wilford Woodruff said. “I have had many interviews with Brother Joseph until the last 15 or 20 years of my life; I have not seen him for that length of time.” (JD 21:317-318) This means that the above mentioned visitations from the prophet Joseph Smith to Wilford Woodruff and others stopped some 25 or 30 years before the issuance of the Manifesto, which therefore could not have been the cause of the cessation.
The question that believers in such arguments must ask themselves is how President Woodruff, or anyone else could deceive an all-knowing and all-powerful God into doing something that God did not want done. A more appropriate question to consider is why an all-knowing and all-powerful God would want to stop plural marriages within the Church, because that is what has happened, and what has happened must be what an all-knowing and all-powerful God wanted to happen.
Ultimately all questions about plural marriage resolve to the single question, “Who holds the keys of the sealing power?” The Lord informs us that there is only one man on the earth at a time with whom the fullness of these keys reside (D&C 132:7). Parley P. Pratt further informs us that the sealing power is the last key of the priesthood, and is the most sacred of all and that it pertains exclusively to the first presidency of the Church (MS 5:151). In a letter to William Smith, Brigham Young told William:
Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was and never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the keys of the sealing power in the church that all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the church.
Hyrum held the patriarchal office legitimately, so do you. Hyrum was counselor, so are you, but the sealing power was not in Hyrum legitimately, neither did he act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph. In every case this was proven for Hyrum did in one case undertake to seal without counsel and Joseph told him if he did not stop it he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.(BY to Wm. Smith, August 10, 1845)
President Joseph F. Smith concurs: “In their fullness, the keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church.” (Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 4:394, March 1901, see also Gospel Doctrine p 136.) John A. Widtsoe informs us that “The Church and priesthood are interwoven; when the Church is upon the earth neither can exist independently.” (Improvement Era 39:533, September 1936,) He also says that “The claim by excommunicated persons that they retain their Priesthood is also false and invalid. (Ibid) And in 1896, 5½ years after the Manifesto, President George Q. Cannon said that President Wilford Woodruff was the one man on the earth who held the keys at that time. (February 16, 1896, Collected Discourses 5:80). That Wilford Woodruff continued to hold the keys after the Manifesto is further verified by an appearance of Benjamin Franklin to President Woodruff. Benjamin Franklin received his baptism and endowment vicariously in the St. George temple in 1877 (WWJ 7:367, 369). In March of 1894 Benjamin Franklin appeared in a dream and requested that further ordinances be performed for him. The person to whom he appeared with this request was President Wilford Woodruff, because President Woodruff was the one man who held the fullness of the keys; and this was four years after the Manifesto. (WWJ 9:293, March 19, 1894)
The Lord has given us a key of knowledge whereby we may always know who holds the sealing keys of the Priesthood. A scriptural reference for this principle is found in Mosiah in the Book of Mormon:
Now it is not common that the voice of he people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law – to do your business by the voice of the people. And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he hath hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29:26-27)
Brigham Young commented on the significance of the vote of the saints assembled in conference at a special conference of the Church held September 15, 1850:
Pres't Young said, "you can read in the Doctrine and Covenants, when members of this Church are tried, they can appeal from one Court to another, until they attain the highest Court, which is the Conference, and that is the end of all controversy; for it is impossible to get any thing that is wrong passed through any Conference; so long as the majority of the people are righteous, and that is a principle, that will stand for ever and ever; there is nothing that is sanctioned by the people, but what God will own. (Deseret News Weekly 1:114)
And Joseph Smith promised that the priesthood would never be removed from this church:
You may therefore know, from this time forward, that if any man comes to you professing to be ordained by an angel, he is either a liar or has been imposed upon in consequence of transgression by an angel of the devil, for this priesthood shall never be taken away from this church. (MS 9:139)
From the fact that the Manifesto was sustained in general conference by a vote of the Saints, it should be clear that President Woodruff did not do anything that the Lord did not want him to do; he did not lose any authority; and the sealing power was not and could not be removed from the Church. Why did the Lord want plural marriages stopped within the Church? Because the purposes for which it was instituted were all fulfilled with the issuing of the Manifesto and the resultant cessation of major persecutions against the Church. There is no longer any requirement for the Saints of God to live plural marriage while in mortality. This mirrors the case in the Nephite dispensation when Lehi was commanded “that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none. . .” (See Jacob 3:5)
The Continuation of Plural Marriages
So why did plural marriages continue both within and without the Church? First of all, there have never been any legitimate plural marriages performed outside of the Church, because the holy priesthood with all of its keys and powers exists only within the Church. It should be obvious to everyone that anyone who has been excommunicated from the Church is outside the Church. Any marriages, plural or otherwise, which have been performed outside the Church are not sealed by the power of the priesthood and will terminate with the death of the participants, despite any claims to the contrary.
Incidentally, a celestial marriage is by definition any marriage that will be recognized as legitimate in the celestial kingdom of God in the eternities. If a Baptist minister were to perform a plural marriage by marrying a woman to a male member of his congregation who was already married, that marriage would not be recognized by God in the hereafter, and would obviously not be a celestial marriage. Not all plural marriages are celestial marriages. Verse 19 of D&C 132 describes a monogamous marriage “... if a man marry a wife ...” (i.e. one man and one woman) and if all of the other requirements are met, then that marriage
shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. (D&C 132:19)
Therefore all monogamous marriages which are performed by the authority of the one holding the keys of the priesthood, and which are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, are celestial marriages. The terms “celestial marriage” and “plural marriage” are not synonyms. Whenever the two terms are used synonymously, the speaker or author is speaking of plural marriages which have both been authorized by the one man holding the keys of the priesthood and have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
The reason that plural marriages continued within the church for a while after the issuance of the 1890 Manifesto is because there are those who refused to accept the word of the Lord as delivered by his acknowledged prophet. There were some members of the church who plead special circumstances and pressed the prophet for permission to enter into plural marriages after the manifesto. A few of these requests were granted. Far more plural marriages were performed by individuals who felt themselves justified, but who had neither authorization nor approval from the President of the Church. These individuals were eventually sought out and excommunicated for their actions. Others, believing that the Manifesto was only written to comply with the laws of the land, pressed the prophet for permission to enter into plural marriages outside the boundaries of the United States and hence beyond the jurisdiction of those laws which had been enacted against polygamy. A number of these petitions were also granted by President Woodruff, but again more plural marriages were performed than he authorized or even knew of.
Dr. B. Carmon Hardy has done an amazing job of documenting instances of post-manifesto plural marriages. In his book Solemn Covenant, he documents over 250 instances of plural marriages which were solemnized during the 20 year period from the issuance of President Woodruff’s manifesto up to 1910. None of these marriages were performed by the president of the church himself, but they all claim to have been performed with the authorization and approval of the Church president. It should be pointed out that Dr. Hardy is prone to accept any evidence that a marriage was authorized by the president of the Church. Even statements made by the participants themselves that their marriage had proper authorization, are accepted as proof. Personally I can’t imagine any couple saying that their marriage was not properly authorized, and hence admitting that they were actually just living in adultery. Statements by the participants in a plural marriage, that their marriage was properly authorized should not be accepted as an evidence of fact.
For example, at the death of President Wilford Woodruff, the priesthood keys passed in regular succession to the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Lorenzo Snow, who became the next president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Plural marriages continued to be performed during the administration of President Snow. B. Carmon Hardy documents 58 instances of plural marriages performed while Lorenzo Snow was president of the church. But President Snow issued a public statement that no authorized plural marriages had been performed during his administration, nor would there be.
In answer to your inquiries I declare most solemnly and emphatically that the statements which are being published to the effect that the Mormon church is encouraging and teaching polygamy are utterly untrue. Ever since the issuance of the manifesto on this subject by President Wilford Woodruff, my predecessor in office, polygamous or plural marriages have entirely ceased in Utah. Since my accession to the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have repeatedly asserted my intention to stand by that manifesto, and my determination not to permit any marriage to take place under the sanction of the Church which is contrary to the law of the State, and I now re-affirm that statement. Holding the keys of this authority in the Church over which I am called to preside, no such ceremony can be performed and recognized without my consent. I wish this to be clearly understood. I make this declaration unequivocally and without any mental reservation. Polygamous marriages in the Mormon Church have entirely ceased. (Millennial Star, 61:33-34, January 29, 1899)
It has been stated that this was only President Snow’s public statement, made to appease the government and calm the public mind, but privately his views and encouragement were directly opposite. Fortunately we have a private statement of President Snow which shows this false claim to be totally irresponsible. In March 1901, Brigham Young Jr., at that time president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met with President Snow privately. He apparently came to President Snow with the intent of making a request on behalf of a couple desiring to enter into plural marriage. President Snow’s response was both private and firm. Brigham Young Jr. records:
In city, talked with Pres. Snow on plural marriages. He said there cannot be a plural marriage solemnized in this Church without my consent and I have never given consent for this to be done since President of the Church. God has removed this privilege from the people and until He restores it. I shall not consent to any man taking a plural wife. It is just as fair for one as it is for all to go without. The business is taken out from our hands and we cannot fight the U.S. It is them and God to settle this question. We are not in it. There is no such thing as men taking plural wives and keeping it secret. It cannot be done. Has any one of the apostles a right to seal plural wives to men by reason of former concessions made to them by the Presidency? No, Sir, such right must come from me and no man shall be authorized by me to break the law of the land. (Diary of Brigham Young, Jr., March 13, 1901. Copy in the Brigham Young University Library, Provo, Utah, as quoted in Talbot, Acts of the Modern Apostles p 197).
In President Snow’s public statement he seems to restrict his denial to those plural marriages performed “in Utah,” and “contrary to the laws of the state.” But in his private statement he extends it to “in this Church,” and thus makes his intent perfectly clear. So, Dr. B. Carmon Hardy has painstakingly documented 58 plural marriages performed during the administration of President Lorenzo Snow which marriages were without proper authorization and who were therefore merely couples living in adultery.
Joseph F. Smith succeeded to the presidency of the Church in October 1901. Apparently he was somewhat more lenient than President Snow, initially allowing some plural marriages to be performed outside the borders of the United States, both in Mexico and in Canada. Then, however, in October of 1904 President Joseph F. Smith issued a proclamation which is sometimes called the “second manifesto” which stated that there would be no more authorized plural marriages performed either inside or outside of the United States. From that time forward the effects of President Woodruff’s manifesto were to be recognized world wide. The following October, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley, were dropped from the Quorum and later excommunicated for performing plural marriages, but even that did not stop the surreptitious plural marriages which were being performed without authority, which illegal marriages continue even today.
The Fullness of the Gospel
Another fraudulent claim has been circulating among Fundamentalists for years. It is a statement falsely attributed to Brigham Young, and appears in the following form:
Hear it ye Elders of Israel, and mark it down in your log-books, the fullness of the Gospel is the united order and the order of plural marriage, and I fear that when I am gone, this people will give up these two principles which we prize so highly, and if they do, this Church cannot advance as God wishes for it to advance. (Extract from sermon of Brigham Young, at dedication of St. George Temple.)
The St. George Temple was dedicated on January 1, 1877, a few days less than 9 months prior to Brigham Young’s death. He was in such poor health that he had to be carried from room to room during the dedicatory services, and he only gave one sermon at the temple dedication. This sermon was published complete in the Deseret News and was reprinted in JD 18:303-305. There is no such statement as the one quoted above, or anything similar to it, anywhere in the sermon. There is no indication that such a statement was made by Brigham Young or anyone else in any of the official records of the St. George temple dedication, nor in any of the published diaries or journals of any of the participants or attendees of the temple dedication.
I have also checked the records for November 9, 1871 when the grounds upon which the temple was to be built were dedicated by George A. Smith, as well as the records for April 1, 1874 when some records were deposited in the temple wall and another dedicatory prayer was offered. Also checked were the records for August 11, 1875 when the baptismal font was dedicated. There is nothing even similar to the supposed statement cited above.
As an afterthought I also checked the dedicatory services for both the Manti temple and the Logan temple, although both of those temples were dedicated after Brigham Young’s demise. In addition I have collected and checked over 1500 sermons and synopses of sermons of Brigham Young without finding anything similar to the alleged quote. For example, nowhere, in any of his talks, does Brigham ever use the phrase “log books,” it was simply not an expression he used in his vocabulary.
The above statement attributed to Brigham Young is simply bogus. It is, however a favorite quote of many Fundamentalist LDS authors, most of whom quote each other, but no one ever gives a legitimate source. The earliest reference I have found is from a pamphlet by Joseph Leslie Broadbent entitled “Celestial Marriage?” and apparently first published in 1929, which is the source of the paragraph I cited above. Joseph Musser and B. Harvey Allred quote from Broadbent’s pamphlet, and most other fundamentalists quote from one or the other of them.
Summary and Conclusions
Amongst some more commonly understood reasons, the Lord had Joseph Smith institute the practice of plural marriage in Nauvoo in preparation for the confrontation which he knew would eventually be devised to destroy the Church. During the 50 intervening years, the Lord gradually diverted the animosity being directed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from that of members of the Church having direct communication and revelation from God to that of the Saints practicing plural marriage. He did this in order that when the confrontation came and the Church was in imminent peril of destruction, the Church would have something that it could give up, thus allowing its adversaries to win their crusade and back off their persecution. Being in direct communication with God was a principle that could not be given up because on that principle the entire structure of the Church rests. Plural marriage, on the other hand, could be given up, since it was for that very purpose that it was instigated. It is presumed that none of the prophets from Joseph Smith to Wilford Woodruff were aware of this hidden purpose of the Lord, since it would have severely weakened the position the Church had taken.
When the time was critical, the Lord had Wilford Woodruff issue the Manifesto giving up the practice (not principle) of plural marriage, effecting the salvation of the Church and insuring it’s continued growth and prosperity. Issuance of the manifesto fulfilled the purpose for instituting the practice of plural marriage in the Church, and it was the intent of the Lord that the practice then be stopped.
It should be noted that both the principle and the practice of plural marriage still exist within the Church. For example, on April 26, 1898, Joseph Fielding Smith and Louie Shurtliff were married. Louie died on March 30, 1908, and on November 2, 1908 he and Ethel Georgina Reynolds were married. Ethel died on August 26, 1937, and President Smith married Jessie Evans on April 12, 1938. Jessie Evans Smith died in August of 1971, just 11 months before President Smith’s own death. When President Smith died, he met three wives beyond the veil. It is not plural marriage itself that the Lord has terminated within the Church, but only the practice of having more than one living wife at the same time.
Overzealous individuals, shooting beyond the mark, refuse to acknowledge the hand of the Lord in the cessation of concurrent plural marriages, eventually giving rise to numerous bodies of splinter groups seceding from the Church, thus depriving themselves of the blessings of the priesthood which is available only in the Church under the direction of the one man on the earth possessing a fulness of the keys. Today, (2008) that one man is Thomas S. Monson, President of the High Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is by his authority only that celestial marriages may be entered into. All other marriages terminate with the death of either spouse. Anyone taking a plural wife today must do so without President Monson’s approval, thereby guaranteeing the severance of the Holy Spirit of Promise from that or any previous sealing which may have existed.