Post manifesto sanctioned Mormon polygamy

Post manifesto sanctioned Mormon polygamy

The following brief discussion is a modified message from a private email list. It is presented here as a brief introduction to Quinn’s essay. For the full essay, including footnotes, see Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1985 or this CD-ROM.

This essay is one of the best pieces of Mormon literature we have. Mike went to Gordon Hinckley before he ever published this essay and showed him what he had. He then told Gordon Hinckley that if he did not want it published then Mike would not publish it. Gordon Hinckley told Mike that he needed to do what he felt best, so Mike published it, because he felt it dealt with a very sensitive issue that needed to be addressed. For the complete story on this episode see Mike’s essay in Faithful History edited by George Smith. It is a long peice at over a hundred pages.

Mike has supposedly said that Carmon’s book is the book he wanted to write. Mike’s and Carmon’s work are different in that Mike’s is pretty much religious history and Carmon’s is social history. Mike saw/sees himself as an apologist for the church, so his work is what I call faithful history. I think both of their works are a must to have and to read.

LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890 – 1904

by D. Michael Quinn


On 24 September 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued his famous Manifesto which stated in part, “. . . and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during the period [since June 1889] been solemnized in our temples or in any other place in the Territory,” and concluded, “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.” The Church-owned Deseret Evening News editorialized on 30 September: “Anyone who calls the language of President Woodruff’s declaration ‘indefinite’ must be either exceedingly dense or determined to find fault. It is so definite that its meaning cannot be mistaken by any one who understands simple English.” On 3 October it added, “Nothing could he more direct and unambiguous than the language of President Woodruff, nor could anything be more authoritative.” A few days after this last editorial, the Church authorities presented this ‘unambiguous’ document for a sustaining vote of the general conference. Yet during the next thirteen and a half years, members of the First Presidency individually or as a unit published twenty-four denials that any new plural marriages were being performed. The climax of that series of little manifestoes was the “Second Manifesto” on plural marriage sustained by a vote of a general conference. President Joseph F. Smith’s statement of 6 April 1904, read in part:

Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff, of September 24, 1890, commonly called the Manifesto . . . I, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Several questions would quite naturally occur to the most casual reader of this cloud of public denials and clarifications of an “unambiguous” document. The complexity of the Manifesto of 1890 is indicated by the diversity of answers published since 1904.

What was the 1890 Manifesto? After the document’s acceptance by the October general conference, the Salt Lake Herald (of which Apostle Heber J. Grant was publisher) editorialized that the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune “pretends the declaration is a revelation . . . although no one to day has heard anyone except the lying sheet say it was a revelation.” The majority report of a U.S. Senate Committee declared in bold heading in 1906, “THE MANIFESTO IS A DECEPTION.” The Manifesto was “a COVENANT WITH DEATH and an AGREEMENT WITH HELL,” according to Lorin C. Woolley and his polygamist followers among the Latter-day Saints from the 1930s onward. The Manifesto was “merely a tactical maneuver,” according to historian Klaus J. Hansen, but to historians James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard it “was not simply a political document.” And bringing the discussion full circle to the sectarian newspaper battles of 1890, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith did not specifically identify the Manifesto as a revelation in 1922, but affirmed that “the word of the Lord came to him [Wilford Woodruff] in a revelation suspending the practice of plural marriage,” Apostle John A. Widtsoe wrote in 1940 that the Manifesto “was the product of revelation,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie�s Mormon Doctrine has asserted since 1958 that the Manifesto “is a revelation in the sense that the Lord both commanded President Woodruff to write it and told him what to write,” President Spencer W. Kimball said in 1974 that the Manifesto was a “revelation,” and historians Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton described it as “a divine revelation” in 1979.

Who wrote the Manifesto? For most writers and commentators about the Manifesto, the answer to that question is so obvious that they find it unnecessary to go beyond identifying the document as Wilford Woodruff�s Manifesto. However, when asked about it at the witness stand, a secretary in the First Presidency�s office, George Reynolds, testified in 1904, “I assisted to write it,” in collaboration with Charles W. Penrose and John R. Winder who “transcribed the notes and changed the language slightly to adapt it for publication.” Moving far beyond that statement, John W. Woolley told his polygamist followers in the 1920s that “Judge Zane [a non- Mormon] had as much to do with it [the Manifesto] as Wilford Woodruff except to sign it,” and Lorin C. Woolley told Mormon Fundamentalists that Wilford Woodruff was not the author of the Manifesto but that it was actually written by Charles W. Penrose, Frank J. Cannon, and “John H. White, the butcher,” revised by non-Mormon federal officials, and that Woodruff merely signed it. Moreover, Woolley and his Fundamentalist followers have accused George Q. Cannon of pressuring Presidents Taylor and Woodruff to write a manifesto abandoning plural marriage, and at least one Fundamentalist called him “The Great Mormon Judas.”

Part 2