Polygamy II: The Good, the Bad, and the Dilemma

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With so many
emails on my
article on Polygamy
, I thought it would be worthwhile to tell
more of the story of polygamy. Polygamy seems to have been involved
in almost all societies and cultures: Africa, Asia, China, the American
Indians, the Middle East, the Hebrews, and even Europe in its early
days before monogamy took over from the Romans. Go back a few thousand
years and we learn polygamy was universal. Usually only a wealthy
man could have more than one wife as he had to provide her with
her own home and wealth. Today a study of 565 of the world's societies
found that over 75% favored polygamy. With the American Indians
in warfare the victors would kill all the men and carry off the
women as secondary wives, the prize of war was females as polygamist

Joseph Smith,
the founder of the Mormon Church, was concerned about all the polygamy
in the Bible and he said he received a revelation explaining the
ways of polygamy in Old Testament times, including a commandment
to the people today, saying that if a man "espouses a virgin"
and his wife consents he may marry her and there is no adultery,
D&C 132:61. It says a man can have 10 virgins and it is not
adultery, but she cannot have another man that is adultery on her
part. It is obvious with the revelation directed in part to Emma,
Joseph Smith's wife, she was not in favor of it, claiming he never
had any other wives but her, and started the Reorganized LDS Church
with her son as the head, repudiating polygamy. It is today a good
size church still maintaining that polygamy was Brigham Young's

On the other
side the main Church led by Brigham Young left the city of Nauvoo,
Illinois, in 1846 and headed for Mexican Territory only to learn
it became US Territory two years later, consequence of the US v.
Mexican War. Word of the practice of polygamy became known and in
1867 polygamy was prohibited in the territories. It was a dead letter
until the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. U. S. (1879) refused to apply
religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to religious
polygamy. That was the 19th century. In the 21st
century things might be different.

With Moslems
almost a billion strong believing in the religious practice of having
4 wives, the case for religious practice of polygamy has new strength.
There are many hundreds of thousands maybe a million Moslems living
in western societies believing in polygamy as a religious right.
Mohammed placed only one condition that the man deal justly with
his wives. Having invited the Moslems in our society by the hundreds
of thousands we are going to find it impossible to not respect their
religious practices on marriage.

The Edmunds
Act (1882) and Tucker Act (1887), and then the federal government
cracked down on the Mormon Church, dissolving its charter in The
Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
(1893). The Church had no choice other than to abandon polygamy,
or be destroyed with all its vast property confiscated. They adopted
a Manifesto in 1890 stating that polygamy was no longer being sanctioned
in the Territory. This was said to be full of loopholes and a second
manifesto came out in 1910 making abandonment unequivocal.

It is estimated
in May of 2008 by a Utah newspaper The Daily Herald, there
are 60,000 practicing polygamy in Utah and Arizona. The leading
Democratic Senator, Harry Reid, wants the federal government to
get involved and stamp out polygamy. The Attorneys General for Utah
and for Arizona think he is unwise (actually, stupid), knowing nothing
about the problem. They
crack down when children are involved and other laws, often the
punishments are brutal, far more severe than in other states, but
not consenting adults. A man named Warren Jeffs was given a life
sentence for promoting child marriages. I noted that the assault
on the Arizona group in Short Creek in 1953 was not successful.
The governor of Arizona was behind it. At the next election he was
kicked out of office.

Two Great Grandmothers

Alan Andersen,
a lawyer in Salt Lake City, recently read my polygamist article
and told me the sad story of his great grandmother, said to be in
love with a man her age, but ordered by a Mormon Apostle or President
to marry an older man with wives. Her story contrast with the account
of my great grandmother I had written about who bucked Church leaders
and said No to polygamy. They both were converted in England and
came to America and Salt Lake City very young. That is where their
stories differ. This woman did as ordered and was put up in a cabin
in Nevada by the Utah border avoiding prosecution for plural marriage.
Her husband died while she was young, and she could have remarried
but for the Mormon polygamist doctrine that married you for time
and eternity so she would belong to her older husband in this and
the next life. Any children she had by a new husband would belong
to the older dead husband. Who would want that? She lived an unhappy
long life with a small family by the older man, mostly alone. His
first wife was bitterly jealous and did not approve of the marriage
to the younger wife.

In another
account, a man brought home his new 2nd wife and the
first wife seemed to tolerate things until she heard his boots hit
the floor in the bedroom above her then she broke down and cried.
For many women it was a painful ordeal. It is obvious from the D&C
132, Joseph Smith's wife Emma didn't like it. Then there is the
Lion House where Brigham Young provided little one room cubbyhole
for each of his wives now on display in Salt Lake City. It looks
like an unpleasant arrangement for his 27 wives. One of them fled
and wrote a book about her life as one of his wives, not very complimentary.

A woman's view in favor of polygamy

There have
been women in favor of polygamy in the 19th century as
well as now. The women of the 19th century liked plural
marriage because it protected them from too many pregnancies. Women
often died in childbirth and with a lot of wives to service a woman
would have fewer births and better health. Instead of 14 children
she might have 4 children (Brigham Young's wives averaged only 2
children). Limited childbirth was one of the advantages, wrote a
19th century polygamist wife.

Today one woman
told me in polygamy a woman has freedom from domination by a man.
Men are too controlling when they have only one woman to boss around.
Polygamy offers protection from male domination.

It was good
for the children. I met a polygamist wife in a restaurant in southern
Utah, one of 4 wives. While she was working the children were in
their own home being looked after by a co-wife. They were not hauled
off to a day care center.

The Churches

polygamy was adopted it was said to be God's doing, his commandment,
but when the government cracked down on polygamy, revoked the Church's
charter and would have destroyed the Church, the 1890 Manifesto
makes it clear this was the main reason to end polygamy. The law
says no, polygamy is against the law and the government means to
end it at all costs, even if it means destroying the Church. So
the Church had no choice in the matter. Now however, the law looks
the other way; we as a society will tolerate all kinds of sexual
adult behavior. No longer is oral sex between a married couple punished,
or gays punished with long and even life sentences. A man can have
another mate, a mistress, known as a concubine in ancient times.
That is not the government's business. Just keep it among adults.
This means that the Church can once again authorize plural marriages
as long as it is among consenting adults. It is easy to avoid bigamy
laws calling one a mistress. Some call these arrangements spiritual
wives. It looks as if the Fundamentalist are on solid ground after
struggling for over a hundred years avoiding the bigamy and "cohab"
laws, short for cohabitation, and avoiding the Church's assault
on those who believe in polygamy as its early religious teachings.

the US Supreme Court ruling that the government has no business
in matters of sex between consenting adults, the many State old
anti-plural marriage laws, anti-gay laws, anti-mistress, adultery
and cohabitation laws, etc., will not and cannot be enforced. Now
that plural marriage is no longer prosecuted it would seem the Church
could revive its older teachings, but don't count on it. The Church
has spent over a century trying to get rid of its cult label, and
to be part of mainstream Christianity. Reviving plural marriage
would send it back to a wacky religious cult status. Thus things
have gone full circle. A hundred years ago the Church battled hard
to get its plural marriage practice protected by the First Amendment
that protects religion from government interference. It lost in
the end by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v United States, a poorly
researched and written opinion, almost absurd. Now things are reversed
with a government saying you can have your religious marital practices
with consenting adults. And we now have the Moslems joining the
fray. But now the Church does not want to go back to its old polygamist
ways. Such are the mysterious ways of history.

10, 2008

Charles Adams (send him mail)
the author of When
in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession
and Those
Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America

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