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Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, was the first Mormon prophet to practice polygamy.

The wives of the prophets
Joseph F. Smith Joseph F. Smith's family
Six wives & 48 children
The first seven Mormon prophets had at least 135 wives.
Mormon prophet Number of wives
Joseph Smith 48
Brigham Young 55
John Taylor 7
Wilford Woodruff 5
Lorenzo Snow 11
Joseph F. Smith 6
Heber J. Grant 3

Summary of Events

  • From 1830 to 1876, LDS scripture was consistent in prohibited polygamy: Book of Mormon: Jacob, chapter 2; Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101 (removed in 1876).
    • During this time the church publicly taught against polygamy and denied practicing it, while church authorities were privately taking plural wives.
  • In 1852 Brigham Young, the second Mormon prophet, publicly admitted the practice of polygamy.
  • In 1876, Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which allows polygamy, was added to the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 101 which condemns it was removed. Section 132 remains part of the LDS canon today.
  • Under pressure from the federal government to end polygamy, which passed law to disincorporate the church and seize its assets, Wilford Woodruff, the fourth Mormon prophet, announced he had received a "revelation" to officially end the practice. This announcement is knows as the 1890 Manifesto or Official Declaration—1.
  • 14 years later, congressional hearings uncover church authorities still taking plural wives in secret, in disregard to the 1890 revelation. In response, Joseph F. Smith, the sixth Mormon prophet, issued what is known as the "Second Manifesto" condemning polygamy.
  • As late as 1943 it was uncovered that Mormon apostle Richard Lyman was secretly practicing polygamy.

1827 Joseph Smith marries Emma Hale
1830 Book of Mormon published: condemns polygamy
Book of Mormon But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord... Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.
Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:23-24,27
1833 Joseph Smith marries Fanny Alger
August, 1835 Official LDS publication denies polygamy charges.
Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband.
1835-1876 Doctrines and Covenants published with Section 101 condemning polygamy.
Doctrine and Covenants ON MARRIAGE.

Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband...

We have given the above rule of marriage as the only one practiced in this church...

We the undersigned members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants...

We the undersigned members of the ladies' relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practiced in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants...
April, 1837 General Authorities issue statement condemning polygamy.
1st-That we will have no fellowship whatever with any Elder belonging to the quorums of the Seventies who is guilty of polygamy or any offense of the kind, and who does not in all things conform to the laws of the church contained in the Bible and in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

Quorum of Seventies Resolution #1
Messenger and Advocate 3:511
1838 Joseph Smith marries Lucinda Harris, who was at the time married to George Harris.
January, 1838 Oliver Cowdery confronts Joseph Smith about his polygamy.
Oliver Cowdery When he [Joseph Smith] was there we had some conversation in which in every instance I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger's was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.

Oliver Cowdery - Assistant President and Book of Mormon witness
Letter recorded by his brother Warren Cowdery.
Photograph available in The Mormon Kingdom, vol. 1, p.27
April, 1838 Oliver Cowdery is excommunicated.
July, 1838 Joseph Smith denies polygamy.
Joseph Smith Question 7th. Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one?

Answer. No, not at the same time.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
Elder's Journal, p.43
December, 1838 Joseph Smith denies polygamy.
Joseph Smith We have heard that it is reported by some, that some of us should have said, that we not only dedicated our property, but our families also to the Lord; and Satan, taking advantage of this, has perverted it into licentiousness, such as a community of wives, which is an abomination in the sight of God.
April, 1841 Joseph Smith marries Louise Beaman
October, 1841 Joseph Smith marries Zina Jacobs, who at the time was married to Henry Jacobs.
December, 1841 Joseph Smith marries Presendia Buell
  • Joseph Smith marries Sally Fuller and Sarah Bapson.
January 6, 1842 Joseph Smith marries Agnes Coolbrith, who was the widow of Don Carlos (Joseph's brother).
January 17, 1842 Joseph Smith marries Mary Lightner, who at the time was married to Adam Lightner.
February, 1842 Joseph Smith marries Sylvia Lyon, who at the time was married to Windsor Lyon. Joseph would also marry Sylvia's mother Patty the next month.
March 1, 1842 12th Article of Faith
Joseph Smith pens the 12th Article of Faith. Polygamy was a violation of the law.
Joseph Smith We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
Wentworth Letter
March 9, 1842 Joseph Smith marries Patty Sessions, who at the time was married to David Sessions. Joseph married Patty's daughter Sylvia the previous month.
April, 1842 Joseph Smith marries Marinda Hyde, who at the time was married to Orson Hyde.
June, 1842
  • Joseph Smith marries Sarah Cleveland, Eliza Snow, and Elizabeth Durfee, who at the time was married to Jabez Durfee.
July, 1842
  • Joseph Smith marries Delcena Sherman and Sarah Whitney.
August, 1842 Official LDS church publication denies polygamy.
But, for the information of those who might be assailed by those foolish tales about two wives, we would say that no such principle ever existed among the Latter-Day Saints, and ever will; this is well known to all who are acquainted with our books and actions.
  • Joseph Smith marries Martha McBride.
September, 1842 Official LDS publication denies polygamy.
Inasmuch as the public mind has been unjustly abused... we make an extract on the subject of marriage, showing the rule of the church on this important matter. The extract is from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and is the only rule allowed by the church.

"All legal contracts of marriage made before a person is baptized into this church, should be held sacred and fulfilled. Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman."
October, 1842 Office LDS publication reprints D&C 101 prohibiting polygamy.
... Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband ...
  • Joseph marries Hanna Ells and 14 year old Nancy Winchester.
February, 1843 Joseph Smith marries Ruth Sayers.
March, 1843 Joseph Smith marries Emily Partridge.
April, 1843 Joseph Smith marries Almera Johnson.
May, 1843
  • Joseph Smith marries Lucy Walker, 14 year old Helen Kimball, and sisters Sarah and Maria Lawrence.
Spring, 1843 Joseph Smith marries 16 year old Flora Woodworth.
June, 1843
  • Joseph Smith marries Elvira Holmes and Rhoda Richards.
July, 1843 "Revelation" on Plurality of Wives (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132)
  • Joseph Smith dictates a "revelation" requiring the practice of polygamy to obtain exaltation: becoming gods (v.1-6, 20).
  • This revelation would not be canonized until 1876 as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It remains part of the LDS canon today.
  • Up until now Joseph hid his marital trysts from his first wife Emma.
  • Joseph's brother Hyrum attempted to present this "divine revelation" to win Emma's approval of her husband's behavior. Emma rejected it.
  • The revelation specifically states that if Emma rejects it she would be destroyed (v.54,64). That did not happen. However it was Joseph who died within a year from now. Emma, who was 39 years at this time lived to be 75.
  • Note that additional wives were to be virgins (v.61-62). By taking wives who were already married Joseph did not even follow his own revelation.
  • For additional information see: History of the Church 5:501-508
January, 1844 Despite the July revelation requiring polygamy, the Mormon church continued to deny it:
Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe, that one man should have but one wife, and one woman but one husband... We wish these doctrines to be taught by all that are in the ministry, that the people may know our faith respecting them, and also to correct the public mind in respect to the church.
February, 1844 Joseph Smith denies polygamy.
Joseph Smith As we have lately been credibly informed, that an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints, by the name of Hyram Brown, has been preaching polygamy, and other false and corrupt doctrines, in the county of Lapeer, state of Michigan. This is to notify him and the Church in general, that he has been cut off from the church, for his iniquity.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
Times and Seasons 5:423
April, 1844 Joseph Smith denies polygamy.
Joseph Smith We very frequently receive letters from elders and individuals abroad, inquiring of us whether certain statements that they hear, and have written to them, are true: some pertaining to John C. Bennet's spiritual wife system; others in regard to immoral conduct, practiced by individuals, and sanctioned by the church; and as it is impossible for us to answer all of them, we take this opportunity of answering them all, once for all.

In the first place, we cannot but express our surprise that any elder or priest who has been in Nauvoo, and has had an opportunity of hearing the principles of truth advanced, should for one moment give credence to the idea that anything like iniquity is practiced, much less taught or sanctioned, by the authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

If any man writes to you, or preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an imposter.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
Times and Seasons, Vol.5, No.7, p.491
March, 1844 Under the direction of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith officiated a polygamous wedding for Mormon apostle Erastus Snow.

Testimony of Erastus Snow - Mormon apostle
The Historical Record 6:232
March 15, 1844 Joseph's brother Hyrum denies polygamy.
Hyrum Smith Whereas brother Richard Hewitt has called on me to-day, to know my views concerning some doctrines that are preached in your place, and states to me that some of your elders say, that a man having a certain priesthood, may have as many wives as he pleases, and that doctrine is taught here: I say unto you that that man teaches false doctrine, for there is no such doctrine taught here. And any man that is found teaching privately or publicly any such doctrine, is culpable, and will stand a chance to be brought before the High Council, and loose his license and membership also: therefore he had better beware what he is about.

Hyrum Smith - Assistant President
Times and Seasons 5:474
April, 1844 Fallout: Presidency Counselors
After Jane Law rebuffs Joseph Smith's proposal to marry him, her husband William Law, who was Joseph's Second Counselor of the First Presidency is excommunicated. Austin Cowles, the First Counselor, quits the church in protest.
May, 1844 Joseph Smith denies polygamy.
Joseph Smith I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made on proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this... What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
History of the Church 6:410-411
June 7, 1844 Excommunicated Second Counselor William Law publishes a newspaper (the Nauvoo Expositor) containing testimony condemning Joseph's polygamy. It included testimony from former First Counselor Austin Coles.
Forasmuch as the public mind hath been much agitated by a course of procedure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints... In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet... according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines... the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that "David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not save in the matter of Uriah. This revelation with other evidence, that the aforesaid heresies were taught and practiced in the Church; determined me to leave the office of first counselor to the president of the Church at Nauvoo.

Austin Cowles - former First Counselor
Nauvoo Expositor, Vol. 1, No. 1, p.2
June 10, 1844 Joseph Smith, who is also the mayor of Nauvoo, orders the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor destroyed. The Governor of Illinois has Joseph put in jail.
June 27, 1844 Joseph Smith's death
An angry mob storms Joseph's cell and murders him.
October, 1844 Sidney Rigdon admits church authorities practice polygamy.
Sidney Rigdon It is a fact, so well known, that the Twelve and their adherents have endeavored to carry this spiritual wife business in secret... and have gone to the most shameful and desperate lengths, to keep it from the public... I could bring facts which can be established in any court of justice, in relation to these vile abominations practiced under the garb of religion that would make humanity blush.

Sidney Rigdon - First Presidency Counselor
Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 1
November, 1844 Official LDS publication denies polygamy.
The law of the land and the rules of the church do not allow one man to have more than one wife alive at once.
May, 1845 Official LDS publication denies polygamy.
The Latter-day Saints are charged by their enemies, with the blackest crimes. Treason, murder, theft, polygamy, and adultery, are among the many crimes laid to their charge... As to the charge of polygamy, I will quote from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which is the subscribed faith of the church and is strictly enforced. Article Marriage, sec. 91, par. 4, says, "Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have BUT ONE WIFE, and one woman but one husband."
1850 Mormon apostle John Taylor (the third Mormon prophet) publicly denies polygamy while at the time married to 7-12 wives.
John Taylor We are accused here of polygamy, and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived. These things are too outrageous to admit of belief... I shall content myself by reading our views of chastity and marriage, from a work published by us, containing some of the articles of our Faith. "Doctrine and Covenants," [Cites D&C 101].

John Taylor - Mormon prophet
Three Nights' Public Discussion, p.8
September 14, 1852 Public Acknowledgement of Polygamy
In a special conference, the LDS church publicly acknowledges the practice of polygamy.
Deseret News Extra, September 14, 1852
February, 1854 Mormon authority encourages polyandry.
Jedediah M. Grant When the family organization was revealed from heaven - the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel. Says one brother to another, 'Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants: now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?' 'I would tell him to go to hell.' This was the spirit of many in the early days of this Church... What would a man of God say, who felt aright, when Joseph asked him for his money? He would say, "Yes, and I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom of God." Or if he came and said, "I want your wife?" "O yes," he would say, "here she is, there are plenty more"... Did the Prophet Joseph want every man's wife he asked for?... If such a man of God should come to me and say, "I want your gold and silver, or your wives," I should say, "Here they are, I wish I had more to give you, take all I have got."

Jedediah M. Grant - First Presidency Counselor
Journal of Discourses 2:13-14
July, 1857 Official LDS publication condemns polygamy before 1843.
The Latter-day Saints, from the rise of the Church in 1830, till the year 1843, had no authority to marry more than one wife each. To have done otherwise, would have been a great transgression.
1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act
United States President Abraham Lincoln signs the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act targeting the LDS church.
August, 1866 Mormon prophet Brigham Young declares polygamy a priority over obtaining statehood for Utah.
Brigham Young "Do you think that we shall ever be admitted as a State into the Union without denying the principle of polygamy?" If we are not admitted until, we shall never be admitted.

Brigham Young - Mormon prophet
Journal of Discourses 11:269
1876 Doctrine and Covenants: Section 101 removed - Section 132 inserted
After 41 years as part of the LDS canon, Section 101 condemning polygamy is removed from the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132 requiring polygamy for exaltation is canonized. Section 132 remains part of the canon today.
October, 1879 Mormon prophet John Taylor declares polygamy superior than obeying federal law.
John Taylor I was asked, “Do you believe in obeying the laws of the United States?” Yes I do, in all except one—in fact I had not broken that. “What law is that?” The law in relation to polygamy.

John Taylor - Mormon prophet
Journal of Discourses 20:317
February 19, 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act
The United States Congress passes the Edmunds-Tucker Act which permits the government to seize assets and disincorporate the LDS church for continuing to practice polygamy against the law. The bill is enacted into law March 3.
May, 1887 Andrew Jenson, assistant LDS church historian, compiles what is considered the first list of wives of Joseph Smith. He documented 28 not including Emma.
The Historical Record 6:233-234
October, 1890 The 1890 Manifesto: Official Declaration—1
Under increasing pressure from the federal government, including being disincorporated, the sitting Mormon prophet, Wilford Wilson, issued a statement denying that the Mormon church was practicing polygamy.
Wilford Woodruff The Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized... 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 any person to enter into its practice.

Wilford Woodruff - Mormon prophet
Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration—1
Note: About a year later Wilford began referring to the statement as a "revelation". It was canonized in 1908.
1892 Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow condemns the practice of polygamy before 1843.
Lorenzo Snow Up to the time of the presentation of that revelation to the church and its acceptance by the church, the law of the church on marriage was the same as you have read, and which I referred to in the 1835 edition of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Exhibit E [D&C 101]. That was the law of the church up to the time of the purported revelation and its acceptance by the church; yes, sir, that is true.

And a man that violated this law in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, until the acceptance of that revelation by the church, violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage. Yes, sir, he would have been cut off from the church. I think I should have been if I had.

Before the giving of that revelation in 1843 if a man married more wives than one who were living at the same time, he would have been cut off from the church. It would have been adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the State, too.

Lorenzo Snow - Mormon prophet
The Temple Lot Case, pp.320-322
1904 Reed Smoot Hearings
Hearings held by the United States Congress reveal that polygamy was still being practiced secretly among LDS church general authorities.
April, 1904 Second Manifesto
In response to the Reed Smoot Hearings, Mormon prophet Joseph F. Smith issued yet another statement denying polygamy.
Joseph F. Smith 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, which was issued by President Woodruff, and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriages violative of the law of the land, 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. And I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage, he will be deemed in transgression against the Church, and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.

Joseph F. Smith - Mormon prophet
Conference Report, p.97
October, 1905 In protest, two Mormon apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley resign from the Quorum of Twelve, as both continued to take plural wives.
November, 1943 Mormon apostle Richard R. Lyman is excommunicated for secretly practicing polygamy.
1958 Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie anticipates polygamy to resume.
Bruce R. McConkie Obviously the holy practice [plural marriage] will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium.

Bruce R. McConkie - Mormon apostle
Mormon Doctrine, p.578

Doctrinal Teachings on Polygamy

When polygamy was openly practiced, Mormon authorities taught that:
  • Those who reject it would be damned.
    Orson Pratt The Lord has said, that those who reject this principle reject their salvation, they shall be damned, saith the Lord; those to whom I reveal this law and they do not receive it, shall be damned. [p.224]

    I want to prophesy that all men and women who oppose the revelation which God has given in relation to polygamy will find themselves in darkness; the Spirit of God will withdraw from them from the very moment of their opposition to that principle, until they will finally go down to hell and be damned, if they do not repent. [p.225]

    Orson Pratt - Mormon apostle
    Journal of Discourses 17:224-225
    Doctrine and Covenants 1 Verily, thus saith the Lord... as touching the principle and doctrine of... having many wives and concubines
    2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
    3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
    4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
    5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
    6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.
    Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132
  • It is a requirement to obtain the highest exaltation: becoming gods.
    Brigham Young The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.

    Brigham Young - Mormon prophet
    Journal of Discourses 11:269
    Joseph F. Smith Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or nonessential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. In other words, some of the Saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the Priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false ... [p.28]

    ... it is useless to tell me that there is no blessing attached to obedience to the law, or that a man with only one wife can obtain as great a reward, glory or kingdom as he can with more than one, being equally faithful.[p.29-30]
    Joseph F. Smith - Mormon prophet
    Journal of Discourses 20:28-30
  • If polygamy is not true then neither is celestial marriage:
    Orson Pratt If plurality of marriage is not true or in other words, if a man has no divine right to marry two wives or more in this world, then marriage for eternity is not true, and your faith is all vain, and all the sealing ordinances and powers, pertaining to marriages for eternity are vain, worthless, good for nothing; for as sure as one is true the other also must be true. Amen.

    Orson Pratt - Mormon apostle
    Journal of Discourses 21:296
  • That polygamy will exist in the afterlife.
    George Teasdale I bear my solemn testimony that plural marriage is as true as any principle that has been revealed from the heavens. I bear my testimony that it is a necessity, and that the Church of Christ in its fullness never existed without it. Where you have the eternity of marriage you are bound to have plural marriage; bound to; and it is one of the marks of the Church of Jesus Christ in its sealing ordinances.

    George Teasdale - Mormon apostle
    Journal of Discourses 25:21
  • That God the Father is a polygamist.
    Brigham Young When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives with him.

    Brigham Young - Mormon prophet
    Journal of Discourses 1:50
    Brigham Young The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple, with His train; I do no know who they were, unless His wives and children...

    Brigham Young - Mormon prophet
    Journal of Discourses 13:309