Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853

Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853

Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853

Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853

Synopsis

In Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy historian Merina Smith explores the introduction of polygamy in Nauvoo, a development that unfolded amid scandal and resistance. Smith considers the ideological, historical, and even psychological elements of the process and captures the emotional and cultural detail of this exciting and volatile period in Mormon history. She illuminates the mystery of early adherents' acceptance of such a radical form of marriage in light of their dedication to the accepted monogamous marriage patterns of their day.
When Joseph Smith began to reveal and teach the doctrine of plural marriage in 1841, even stalwart members like Brigham Young were shocked and confused. In this thoughtful study, Smith argues that the secret introduction of plural marriage among the leadership coincided with an evolving public theology that provided a contextualizing religious narrative that persuaded believers to accept the principle.

This fresh interpretation draws from diaries, letters, newspapers, and other primary sources and is especially effective in its use of family narratives. It will be of great interest not only to scholars and the general public interested in Mormon history but in American history, religion, gender and sexuality, and the history of marriage and families.

Excerpt

Brigham young, famously acknowledged as the most married man of the nineteenth century, stated that he was not enthused about entering into polygamy when the principle was first introduced to him in 1841 by Joseph Smith Jr. Young later remembered:

Some of my brethren know what my feelings were at the time Joseph
revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking f[rom] any duty, nor
of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time
in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a
long time and when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation,
and to regret that I was not in the coffin … and I have had to examine
myself from that day to this, and watch my faith, and carefully mediate
lest I should be found desiring the grave more than I ought to.

Most people who recalled Smith approaching them about plural marriage between 1841 and 1844 shared Brigham’s initial reaction to polygamy. Young remembered one council “where Joseph undertook to teach the brethren and sisters.” William Law, Smith’s counselor in the First Presidency of the church, declared, “If an angel from heaven was to reveal to me that a man should have more than one wife, and if it were in my power I would kill him.” As Young noted, “That was pretty hard, but Joseph had to submit for it. the brethren were not prepared to receive the doctrine.”

Women, predictably, were even more reluctant to embrace polygamy than men. Rachel Emma Woolley Simmons was a young child in Nauvoo when polygamy was first broached to her parents, Edwin and Mary Woolley. She recalled that afterward, “we saw very little of Mother … There would be days together that she would not leave her room. Often I have gone there and found her crying as though her heart would break.” Mary’s crying did no good, however, because Edwin soon married two other women. Before Mary died in 1859,

1 Brigham Young, July 14, 1855, in Brigham Young et al., Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: lds Booksellers Depot, 1855–1866), 3:266.

2 Brigham Young, “A Few Words of Doctrine,” October 8, 1861, Brigham Young Papers, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter lds Archives).

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