Brief Overview of the Mormon Decision to Suspend Polygamy

After Joseph Smith "received a revelation from God about polygamy," the Mormon Church practiced "the Principle" (as polygamy was called) underground for a number of years. Finally, after Brigham Young established the Church in Utah, he made the practice public.

As one might expect, the population of the Untied States was horrified by polygamy. It was considered a "twin evil" with slavery in the Republican Party platform of that day. For forty years, the United States government attempted to force the Mormon Church to give up the practice. President James Buchanan garrisoned troops in Utah in 1857 and prepared for war with Mormonism.

Eventually the Church gave up the practice—more or less! Basically the so-called Manifesto of 1890 simply stated that President Wilford Woodruff was not going to conduct any more plural marriages—because they were against the law in the United Sates. But mainly because if they did not suspend the practice, the US government would take their property and disenfranchise all the members of the Church. He also said he was going to use his influence to see that no other members of his church conducted polygamous marriages. What is obviously missing in such a declaration is any statement that Mormonism had reversed its position on "the new and everlasting covenant.

So, polygamy was suspended because it was illegal. It was not done away with, repented of, or changed. In Mexico, one would assume, it was still in full practice. And, of course, it was. As a matter of fact, polygamous marriages were conducted in Utah for years following the Manifesto. In 1903, President Joseph F. Smith testifying in Washington, DC in the Reed Smoot case admitted that his five wives had presented him with eleven children since the 1890 Manifesto and four of the Apostles had entered into polygamous marriages since then. Polygamy was still rampant within the Church.

Today, polygamy is practiced by some 50,000 people in the western United States, almost all of them claiming to be true Mormons.