Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy

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

Merina Smith
Copyright Date: 2013
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    Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-918-0
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    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...

  5. 1 Mormon Millenarian Expectations: The Restoration of All Things and the Resacralization of Marriage, 1830–1841
    (pp. 17-55)

    On October 10, 1883, Olive Amanda Smith Fullmer wrote a letter to her namesake, Olive Amanda Fullmer Bulkley, informing her that “we have this day consigned to Mother Earth the mortal remains of your father.” In a curiously impersonal letter that, with one exception, used only pronouns for her husband after the initial “your father,” Olive described to her daughter how her husband, John Solomon Fullmer, suffered during his last hours on earth. She was called next door when the first and favored wife, Mary Ann (or Mamie), perceived that their mutual husband was in distress. Olive reported that John,...

  6. 2 Nauvoo Secrets and the Rise of a Mormon Salvation Narrative, 1841–1842
    (pp. 58-101)

    In the early 1840s, Nauvoo polygamy was integrated into community life in three stages, as part of the theological and social innovations in the church. During the first phase, beginning in April 1841, polygamy was quietly introduced to the most faithful followers in a manner that, judging from reports of the persuasions used to induce young women to enter into this practice, initially depended on their faith in Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission. Though some women were reported to have accepted his proposals, the secret introduction of polygamy also resulted in outraged refusal from some women, and it sent shock waves...

  7. 3 Scandal and Resistance, 1842
    (pp. 102-131)

    Though the innovations of 1842 eventually helped implement polygamy into the belief system of Mormonism, this was not necessarily obvious to most people. The innovations could have also been part of the narrative in a monogamous community. In truth, making theological and theoretical changes was a far less onerous undertaking than effecting a monumental social change in what the population at large regarded as the institution of marriage. Since the very mention of polygamy raised a public outcry, Joseph Smith was faced with the problem of convincing people that polygamy was right without admitting publicly that he supported it.¹ He...

  8. 4 Integration, 1843
    (pp. 134-168)

    Despite John C. Bennett’s book and the ongoing scandals in Nauvoo at the end of 1842, polygamy nevertheless expanded and became more firmly embedded in the church in 1843, when Joseph Smith was able to further the cause of polygamy in three ways. First, he was able to integrate theology and the practice of polygamy by expanding the number of people who were given the endowment and by introducing new ordinances, particularly sealing and the second anointing. Though he could not preach publicly about polygamy, he could preach about ordinances, embed them in the theological narrative from the pulpit, and...

  9. 5 A Perfect Storm, 1844
    (pp. 169-183)

    Several situations converged in 1844 that precipitated the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27. First, in January Joseph launched a run for the presidency of the United States, and in March he started a new quorum, the Council of Fifty, dedicated to promoting the growth of a political Kingdom of God on earth.¹ These developments, one public and one secret (but part of the rumor mill), exacerbated the fears of Nauvoo’s neighboring communities in Hancock County; fears that had already been stretched to the breaking point by the controversy over the Mormons’ political power.²...

  10. 6 Polygamy and the Succession Crisis, 1844–1846
    (pp. 184-207)

    When Joseph Smith was killed, church members were stunned and confused. How could the prophet who was to establish the Kingdom of God on earth be murdered by a mob? How would they continue without him? Joseph Smith’s death precipitated a crisis that required church adherents to determine in what direction the church should go and who could best lead them in the desired way. Polygamy was integral to the crisis, but still hidden. By the time Joseph Smith died, some leaders and elite members were firmly committed to it as a central link in the Mormon theological narrative, but...

  11. 7 Living Openly in Polygamy: Customs and Mores Develop, 1846 and Beyond
    (pp. 210-245)

    After the Saints left Nauvoo, they were able to relax their vigilance regarding polygamy, because they no longer lived among suspicious outsiders who scrutinized their every move.¹ Lorenzo Snow wrote, “We felt as tho’ we could breathe more freely and speak with one another upon those things wherein God had made us free with less carefulness than we had hitherto done.”² On the trail west, plural marriage consequently became an open secret among church members. Mormons then began to face the problems that polygamy engendered, but they lacked experience and tradition to guide them in their new social relations. They...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 246-254)

    Joseph Smith’s efforts to introduce polygamy gradually, in tandem with a theological narrative that placed it at the center of the highest level of salvation and exaltation, largely succeeded, but not during his lifetime. Claudia Bushman has observed that Joseph Smith was a man of great religious intelligence and imagination, but one who generally left the implementation of his ideas to others.¹ Smith wove American and biblical history into a synthesis that made sense to his adherents as they gradually came to accept his family-centered ideal of salvation and exaltation, but Brigham Young and the faithful men and women who...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-267)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 268-268)