"Yes, I saw by vision and revelation this [Logan] Temple in the hands of the wicked. I saw our city [Salt Lake City] in the hands of the wicked. I saw every temple in these valleys in the hands of the wicked. I saw great destruction among the people" (Wilford Woodruff, "Discourses of Wilford Woodruff," Deseret Book Company).
September 25, 1890, was a day some Latter-day Saints felt their faith shaken to its core.
It wasn't because of the intense scrutiny the Church was under or the recent Edmunds-Tucker Act threatening seizure of Church property, or even the fact that many LDS members were in hiding or imprisoned.
It was because it was the day polygamy ended.
Prior to what became known as the Manifesto, (the official Church statement officially ending polygamy), the religious practice of plural marriage was given to the Saints as a commandment more than 50 years before.
In 1843, a revelation that is now recognized as section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants was recorded. The revelation, given to Joseph Smith as early as 1831, was the very revelation concerning eternal marriage and the principle of plural marriage.
But this revelation concerning plural marriage wasn't immediately accepted by all the Saints, including the prophet. In fact, Joseph Smith told Lorenzo Snow he struggled with "overcoming the repugnance of his feelings" about introducing the practice but "knew the voice of God—he knew the commandment of the Almighty to him was to go forward—to set the example, and establish Celestial plural marriage" (Eliza Snow, "Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow").
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner recalled that Joseph Smith told her that an angel appeared to him three times, urging him to institute the practice. "Joseph told me that he was afraid when the angel appeared to him and told him to take other wives," she recalled. "He hesitated, and the angel appeared to him the third time with a drawn sword in his hand and threatened his life if he did not fulfill the commandment" (Brian C. Hales, Mormon Historical Studies 11, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 69–70).
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Brigham Young also hesitated to accept plural marriage, noting, "it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave" and "when I saw a funeral I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin," (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teaching Manual, Lesson 140: Doctrine and Covenants 132:1–2, 34–66).
Lucy Walker, one of Joseph Smith's plural wives, said, "Every feeling of my soul revolted against it," and it wasn't until she received a personal revelation about the matter and her "soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew" that she agreed to the marriage, according to lds.org.
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Gradually, plural marriage was practiced by the Saints. In April 1841, Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman were the first in Nauvoo to enter into a plural marriage. Roughly three years later when Joseph Smith was martyred in June 1844, about 29 men and 50 women had entered into plural marriage. And when the Saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, approximately 196 men and 521 women had entered into the practice. By 1870, about 25–30 percent of those living in Utah lived in polygamous households, according to lds.org
Initially, those who entered into plural marriage were charged to keep it confidential. However, partially because of the false doctrine of "spiritual wifery" initiated by John C. Bennett, who was later excommunicated, rumors spread.
And as the Church's practice of plural marriage became public, persecutions increased. Polygamy was even one of the planks of the Republican Party at the time, along with slavery, and both were deemed "twin relics of barbarism."
In 1862, the U.S. government enacted the Morrill Act, making bigamy illegal and punishable by a fine and five years in prison. When the constitutionality of such a law and the freedom of religion came into question, the Supreme Court upheld the law in 1879 with the Reynolds V. United States case, distinguishing plural marriage as a religious practice and not a belief.
Though it was now punishable by law to practice plural marriage, many Saints continued to do so. While some Saints settled in Mexico and Canada where they continued the practice of plural marriage without the fear of legal retaliation, many stayed in the U.S.
In 1882, the U.S. passed another antipolygamy law, the Edmunds Act, making bigamous cohabitation a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine and six months in prison. Under this law, more than 1,300 Saints were imprisoned in the 1880s and many men with plural wifes went into hiding.
Despite the persecution and threat of imprisonment, many Saint were firm in their practice of plural marriage. By the time the Edmunds Act was passed, plural marriage had been practiced for nearly 40 years and was viewed as a way to "raise up" a righteous prosperity unto the Lord.
But in 1887, a third law prohibiting plural marriage was passed, the Edmunds-Tucker Act. Under this law, the U.S. government would have the right to seize Church property valued at $50,000 or more if the practice of plural marriage persisted and dissolve both the Church and Perpetual Education Fund.
The Church contested the constitutionality of the law with The Late Corporation of the Mormon Church V. United States, but the Supreme Court upheld the law in 1890.
Faced with not only imprisonment and fines but with the loss of funds property, and even temples, President Wilford Woodruff prayed fervently to know how the Lord would have the Saints move forward with plural marriage.
His answer was a vision, a glimpse of what life would be like for the Saints should they choose to continue practicing plural marriage:
"The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for. . . any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice" (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.).
President Woodruff knew the decision he as the prophet, had to make. And so on September 25, 1890, he delivered the Manifesto, officially ending plural marriage among the Saints, which is now included in the Doctrine and Covenants as the Official Declaration 1.
"To Whom It May Concern:
"Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year, also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygam—
"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, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
"One case has been reported, in which the parties allege that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, in Salt Lake City, in the Spring of 1889, but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony; whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge. In consequence of this alleged occurrence the Endowment House was, by my instructions, taken down without delay.
"Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
"There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land."
President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
By this time, the Saints were very invested in polygamy. Some had gone to prison for it or suffered great persecution for it. To end a commandment given by the first prophet of the Church was difficult for some to endure.
General Relief Society president Zina D.H. Young captured the feeling of some Latter-day Saints about the Manifesto when she wrote in her journal, "Today the hearts of all were tried but looked to God and submitted."
Much like accepting polygamy, ending polygamy did not happen in a day. It was a process, and there was a little confusion about how to end plural marriage at first.
Lorena Eugenia Washburn Larsen was initially at odds with the decision to end polygamy. "As I thought about it, it seemed impossible that the Lord would go back on a principal [sic] which had caused so much sacrifice, heartache, and trial before one could conquer one’s carnal self, and live on that higher plane, and love one’s neighbor as one’s self" (Review, Mormon Studies (2015) "Mormon Studies Review Volume 2," Mormon Studies Review: Vol. 2 : No. 1 , Article 24).
Some leaders of the Church, including members of the Quorum of the Twelve, even had differing thoughts on the Manifesto at first. While Francis M. Lyman readily accepted the Manifesto, John W. Taylor said he did “not yet feel quite right about it” initially and John Henry Smith said he was “somewhat at sea” about it, according to lds.org. However, the Manifesto was later sustained by all 12 apostles, and many, including Larsen, later accepted the end of plural marriage.
On October 6, at general conference, the Manifesto was formally presented to the Church and received a unanimous vote from those present.
While some took the Manifesto as an excuse to leave their plural wives and children, President Woodruff condemned such men, saying at a meeting with local leaders and the First Presidency, “I did not, could not and would not promise that you would desert your wives and children."
Though most LDS men continued to cohabitate with the plural wives they had already married, the looming threat of imprisonment, fines, and seizure of Church property was no longer an issue. With the Manifesto prohibiting any new plural marriages, the Saints enjoyed a new phase in their relationship with the U.S. government.
However, a few members continued to enter into plural marriage despite the Manifesto and without the permission of the First Presidency between 1890 and 1904.
This put a strain on the Church's relationship with the government and was a factor in Sen. Reed Smoot's three years of congressional hearings to expel him from the Senate.
To reinforce the Church's stance on plural marriage and discourage any new plural marriages, President Joseph F. Smith presented the Second Manifesto, which allowed Church leaders to excommunicate those who still entered into the practice.
The second Manifesto was read by President Joseph F. Smith during the April 1904 general conference, noting, "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" (President Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pg. 75). It was unanimously sustained.
Some still resisted both Manifestos and continued to quietly enter into plural marriages both inside and outside the U.S. Others who openly opposed the Manifestos and were excommunicated from the Church, some of which formed independent movements and became known as fundamentalists.
Plural marriage was a difficult practice to accept, and it was difficult to leave behind. It was a process to institute and a process to dissolve and led some to leave the Church when it was instituted and some to leave when it was dissolved.
Plural marriage was a trial for many then and is still a complex topic in the Church today. As President George Q. Cannon explained to the First Presidency about the Manifesto:
“All that we can do,” he said, “is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him."