Brigham Young, Plural Marriage and the Manifesto of 1890

By his own account Brigham Young was aghast when he heard of the Mormon doctrine of multiple wives.  “It was the first time in my life that I desired the grave.”  However, he got over his initial apprehensions.  By the time of his death he had wedded 55 women.  Of these brides, 21 had never been married before; 16 were widows; six were divorced; and six had living husbands, with the remaining wives having marital histories that are unknown to us.  Some of the marriages were apparently non-conjugal, and some of the marriages were temporary in nature.  He had 54 children, 46 of whom survived into adulthood, a fairly high percentage for nineteenth century America.

The exact number of the descendants of Brigham Young has never been calculated, but apparently there are well over 5,000.  There is a Brigham Young Family Association which holds family reunions, which must be a sight to behold.

Young had been a skilled head of his church, carving the Mormon Zion out of the wilderness in Utah, and placing the Mormon on the path of growth and prosperity.  However, the church was never going to be tolerated by non-Mormon Americans as long as the institution of plural marriage existed, which was simply anathema to almost all non-Mormons.  It was left to the fourth president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, himself a pluralist, to issue the famous Manifesto of 1890.  A small number of plural marriages were celebrated by the church after the Manifesto, but most Mormons readily turned their back on an institution that was manifestly more trouble to them than it was worth, especially since most Mormons had been content with one spouse.  With the Manifesto the Mormons achieved their long-term goal of statehood for Utah, and the beginning of their entry into the American mainstream.  The text of the Manifesto:

To Whom It May Concern:

“Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year, also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygamy—
“I, therefore, as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
“One case has been reported, in which the parties allege that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, in Salt Lake City, in the Spring of 1889, but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony; whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge. In consequence of this alleged occurrence the Endowment House was, by my instructions, taken down without delay.
“Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I heareby declare my intention to submit to those laws, to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
“There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
“President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Published in: on December 29, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Brigham Young, Plural Marriage and the Manifesto of 1890  
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