Today we continue our series about polygamy in LDS history, addressing the following question from a JI reader:
I’ve read that some marriage sealings were performed outside of temples. Where were these ceremonies performed and by whom?
After the main body of Latter-day Saints abandoned Nauvoo and its temple in 1846, for decades both monogamous and polygamous marriage sealings were performed outside of temples. Members of the First Presidency performed sealings in the Council House, the Endowment House, or on the second floor of President Brigham Young’s office, all built in Salt Lake City in the 1850s. With the dedication of Utah’s first temples at St. George (1877), Logan (1884), and Manti (1888), sealings began again to be performed in temples.
In March 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, a move that profoundly impacted the church and its practices. This legislation empowered federal authorities to punish the institutional church, in addition to any of its polygamous members, on the grounds that it fostered polygamy. Among its myriad effects, the act dissolved the church corporation and enabled the government to take possession of church property valued at more than fifty thousand dollars—including the three temples.
Two years later, Wilford Woodruff became the church’s fourth president. Woodruff directed that no plural marriages be performed in the temples under threat of the federal government shutting them down entirely. Monogamous marriage sealings, the endowment, and other religious rites continued to be permitted in the temples. By September 1889 Woodruff also told church leaders that he did not think it proper for plural marriages to be performed anywhere in “the [Utah] territory at the present time,” recorded his first counselor in the First Presidency, George Q. Cannon. Woodruff intimated, however, that such marriages might be solemnized outside the United States. Church leaders hoped the removal of large numbers of pluralists or would-be pluralists to Anglo Mormon “colonies” in Mexico would free polygamous families from prosecution while absolving federal objections to Utah’s obtaining statehood.
Several apostles performed plural marriages outside of temples after the 1890 Manifesto, including George Teasdale, Brigham Young Jr., Matthias F. Cowley, John W. Taylor, and Abraham O. Woodruff. Anthony W. Ivins (who became an apostle in 1907) and Alexander F. Macdonald were local leaders in Mexico who were also authorized by members of the First Presidency to continue to perform monogamous and polygamous marriages after the Manifesto. Ivins was president of the Colonia Juarez stake in Chihuahua, Mexico. Macdonald, who had been a sealer in the temple at St. George, Utah, served as a counselor to apostle George Teasdale in the Mexican Mission presidency, which had jurisdiction over the Mormon colonies. These men performed sealings in their own homes or in the family homes of the couples they sealed. Typically, plural brides who had not yet received their temple endowment then traveled to a Utah temple to receive the endowment rite.
Initially, couples who wished to contract a post-Manifesto plural marriage had to obtain permission from a member of the First Presidency. In granting consent, the First Presidency member—typically Cannon—gave the petitioner a brief form letter addressed to an authorized sealer. Eventually, some apostles and Juarez Stake president Anthony Ivins approved or rejected requests at their own discretion. As a result of the Reed Smoot hearings, in which Congress investigated the church’s continued practice of polygamy, in 1904 church president Joseph F. Smith issued what came to be known as the “Second Manifesto.” The Second Manifesto essentially ended the authorization of polygamous sealings for the living. A small number of “mainstream” Latter-day Saints continued to be sealed in polygamous marriages, though it is not certain whether these sealings were authorized by church authorities.
Bibliography of secondary sources used:
Alexander, Thomas G. Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991.
Brown, Barbara Jones. “Manifestos, Mixed Messages, and Mexico: The Demise of ‘Mainstream’ Mormon Polygamy” in Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present, vol. III (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, forthcoming 2015.
Brown, Barbara Jones. “The Rise and Demise of Mormon Polygamy in Mexico,” in Jason Dormady and Jared Tamez, eds., Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming 2015.
Daynes, Kathryn. More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008.
Godfrey, Kenneth B. “The Coming of the Manifesto,” Dialogue 5.3, (Autumn 1970).
Hardy, B. Carmon. Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
Hartley, William G., and Alder, Lorna Call. Anson Bowen Call: The Bishop of Colonia Dublan. Provo, UT: Lorna Call Alder, 2007.
Quinn, D. Michael. “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904,” Dialogue 18.1 (Spring 1985).
For additional bibliographic sources, readers may also refer to “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” at lds.org.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
- Embodiment and Sexuality by Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook
- Questions on the Theology of D&C 132 by WVS
- Answers to First 3 Questions About Polygamy from JI’s Readers
- Miscellaneous Questions, Part Deux
- The Stairs–A Nauvoo Rumor Featuring Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Plural Marriage
- Emma Smith’s Awareness of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriage Practices and William Law Rumors