More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910

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University of Illinois Press, 2001 - Religion - 305 pages
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When Joseph Smith announced his revelation that plural marriage was essential to attaining the highest level of eternal salvation, he introduced what became the most notorious aspect of Mormon culture. More Wives Than One offers the first in-depth look at the long-term interaction between belief and the practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, among the Latter-day Saints.

Focusing on the small community of Manti, Utah, Kathryn M. Daynes shows that plural marriage encompassed several forms of marriage endorsed by the church, each with its own rights and responsibilities. She gives a clear picture of the factors shaping the practice, who was likely to enter into a plural marriage, and how the practice dovetailed with Mormon convictions about the crucial role of families in solving social problems. She also explicates the web of beliefs about God-centered marriages and familial responsibility that underlay how plural marriage was experienced.

During the frontier period, territorial laws in Utah allowed the Saints sufficient autonomy to develop their distinctive marriage patterns. As settlement progressed, however, the federal government -- prodded by late nineteenth-century family reformers -- took an increasingly aggressive role in squelching anomalous practices of both marriage and divorce, eroding the ability of plural wives and children to inherit and ultimately disfranchising women and polygamists.

Cogent and impeccably documented, More Wives Than One will enlighten both scholars and general readers on an intriguing and much-misunderstood chapter of Mormon history.


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I find it hard to believe that seventeen households in Manti were enumerated in the 1880 United States Census, whether they had plural wives or not, since Utah was not admitted as a state until 1896. I hardly think the population of Manti qualifed as a statistical area in 1880. It hardly qualifies as a statistical area today. What on earth was the source for that reference?
As to the introduction of polygamy, it is nowhere evident in any canonical document ever presented to the General Conference of Latter-day Saints that Joseph Smith introduced revelation about plural marriage, or introduced it as "essential to attaining the highest level of eternal salvation", or that such a thing was ever sustained by the membership of the church since the very canon that Joseph Smith is credited with having translated in 1830 condemns the practice, as does the Manifesto of 1890, which was, in fact, unanimously sustained at the General Conference of the church, and which clearly registered a zero tolerance for polygamy.
Latter-day Saints (Mormons) as a general population can not be accurately described as having endorsed polygamy, as having convictions generally disposing them to enter into polygamy, or as collectively having diverged from the "companionate ideal of marriage". Any number of books in university libraries describe how many women and men in the history of the church were opposed to and disaffected by proselyting efforts toward polygamy, chattelry, and harem common to the east, as well as other forms of adultery and fornication whether of the dispossesive "lain lightly" versions of polyandry and polygamy, or more patrilinear king's right possesive and objectifying perversions of chastity and moral purity. These were certainly not impositions that western Christianity, particularly 19th century western Christianity, welcomed or embraced, nor should it. Tyrrany was something the United States was seeking to escape.
A reading of the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon itself condemns the practice in that there is no instance of polygamy (which is reasonably translated as adulteration of the marriage vow) that is not attended by harm, destruction, misfortune and sorrow. Illustrative are the prominent figures of Cain, Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, Rachel, Leah, Hannah, and later, or earlier as the case may be in circa 600 BCE, Jacob of the Book of Mormon. The stories of biblical figures such as these, and others such as Joseph and Pophitar's wife, provide evidence enough of the double standard and the damaging effects of polygamy that were a grief of heart and mind to those who adhered to the standard of moral purity that rises even slightly above the farm model. They strongly suggest that those involved would have done well to escape all forms of adultery, polygamy included, and probably formed some basis for tort law.
Since neither the cult of Dionysis, the practices of the Philistines, nor the Abrahamic covenant are central to Christianity, the Saints' marriage patterns have traditionally been wholly monogamous for life, if not eternal and celestial by extrapolation, where the Saints received the sacrament of marriage and were not celibate; the celibates perhaps recalling that the first three letters of marriage are mar-, meaning to damage, and that there is nothing so capable of damage as intimacy in the wrong context or against one's free will and choice, as in the case of Hagar, or Joseph, or Sarah and Abimilec, or Sodom and Gomorrah, or Tamar, or David and the list goes on to include Joseph and Emma Smith, and Warren Jeffs and various twelve to sixteen year olds.
The Saints' pattern of marriage has traditionally been taken from the marriage of Adam and Eve characterized by the "forsaking of all others...and cleaving unto none else", which seems to be the pattern of marriage proponents of Old Testament and farm-model justifications for polygamy cite least often, and remember not very well


A cknowledgm en ts ix
Plural Marriage under Mormon Control
NineteenthCentury Marriage Law in Utah
Women Who Became Plural Wives
g Civil and Ecclesiastical Divorce
Incidence of Divorce and Remarriage
10 The Decline of Plural Marriage
The NineteenthCentury Mormon Marriage System
Description of Demographic Data
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2001)

Kathryn M. Daynes, an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University, is a contributor to Nauvoo in Mormon History and Fulfilling the Founding: A Reader for American Heritage.

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