Second Manifesto

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The Second Manifesto was issued by Joseph F. Smith in 1904.

Before the Second Manifesto

The Manifesto of 1890 was a declaration that revelation had been received, which served to also declare to the U.S. government and to the members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the Church intended to “submit” to the laws enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages. President Wilford Woodruff said that he would “use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”[1]

This Manifesto of 1890 came after President Woodruff sought to know God’s will concerning the practice of plural marriage and the hardships the Church encountered with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which included losing the ability to perform the ordinances of salvation and exaltation in the temple. On September 3, 1840, Woodruff received revelation to cease the practice. He said, in part, “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice.”[2] The beginning and end of the practice were directed by revelation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates on revelation from God.

After the Second Manifesto

When the initial command to practice plural marriage came through Joseph Smith, it took years to accept and implement it. Likewise, when the practice was ceased, all plural marriages were not dissolved, wives and children were not abandoned, and many people continued to live it. However, on their own initiative, some couples separated or divorced as a result of the Manifesto; other husbands stopped cohabiting with all but one of their wives but continued to provide financial and emotional support to all dependents.[3] Members of the Church who lived in plural marriages and were settled in Canada and Mexico in 1885 and 1886 continued the practice, as those governments allowed them.

The precise number of new plural marriages performed during these years, inside and outside the United States, is unknown. Sealing records kept during this period typically did not indicate whether a sealing was monogamous or plural, making an exhaustive calculation difficult. A rough sense of scale, however, can be seen in a chronological ledger of marriages and sealings kept by Church scribes. Between the late 1880s and the early 1900s, during a time when temples were few and travel to them was long and arduous, Latter-day Saint couples who lived far away from temples were permitted to be sealed in marriage outside them.
The ledger of “marriages and sealings performed outside the temple,” which is not comprehensive, lists 315 marriages performed between October 17, 1890, and September 8, 1903. Of the 315 marriages recorded in the ledger, research indicates that 25 (7.9%) were plural marriages and 290 were monogamous marriages (92.1%). Almost all the monogamous marriages recorded were performed in Arizona or Mexico. Of the 25 plural marriages, 18 took place in Mexico, 3 in Arizona, 2 in Utah, and 1 each in Colorado and on a boat on the Pacific Ocean. Overall, the record shows that plural marriage was a declining practice and that Church leaders were acting in good conscience to abide by the terms of the Manifesto as they understood them.[4]

In the ensuing fourteen years, and leading up to the 1904 Second Manifesto, the practice was not taught, but plural marriages were maintained and some were begun.

The exact process by which these marriages were approved remains unclear. For a time, post-Manifesto plural marriages required the approval of a member of the First Presidency. There is no definitive evidence, however, that the decisions were made by the First Presidency as a whole; President Woodruff, for example, typically referred requests to allow new plural marriages to President Cannon for his personal consideration. By the late 1890s, at least some of the men who had authority to perform sealings apparently considered themselves free to either accept or reject requests at their own discretion, independent of the First Presidency. Apostle Heber J. Grant, for example, reported that while visiting Mormon settlements in Mexico in 1900, he received 10 applications in a single day requesting plural marriages. He declined them all. “I confess,” he told a friend, “that it has always gone against my grain to have any violations of documents [i.e., the Manifesto] of this kind.”[5]

Complications after Statehood

In 1896, Utah Territory was given statehood, and in 1898, B.H. Roberts was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives but was not allowed to take his seat because he had three wives, one of whom he married after the Manifesto. The prolonged battle to keep his seat was not successful.

In 1903, Reed Smoot, who did not practice plural marriage, was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1904, a Senate committee began an investigation of his eligibility to serve, known as the Reed Smoot hearings, which continued until February 1907. The two-thirds majority required to expel Smoot failed. The hearings expanded to include questioning the teachings, doctrines, and history of the Church of Jesus Christ. Smoot was concurrently serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Joseph F. Smith, now serving as president of the Church, was called upon to testify before the Senate in March 1904.

When asked, he defended his family relationships, telling the committee that he had cohabited with his wives and fathered children with them since 1890. He said it would be dishonorable of him to break the sacred covenants he had made with his wives and with God. When questioned about new plural marriages performed since 1890, President Smith carefully distinguished between actions sanctioned by the Church and ratified in Church councils and conferences, and the actions undertaken by individual members of the Church. “There never has been a plural marriage by the consent or sanction or knowledge or approval of the church since the manifesto,” he testified.
In this legal setting, President Smith sought to protect the Church while stating the truth. His testimony conveyed a distinction Church leaders had long understood: the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.

A Return to Monogamy

The time was right for a change in this understanding. A majority of Mormon marriages had always been monogamous, and a shift toward monogamy as the only approved form had long been underway. In 1889, a lifelong monogamist was called to the Quorum of the Twelve; after 1897, every new Apostle called into the Twelve, with one exception, was a monogamist at the time of his appointment. Beginning in the 1890s, as Church leaders urged members to remain in their native lands and “build Zion” in those places rather than immigrate to Utah as in previous years, it became important for them to abide the laws mandating monogamy.[6]

During his Senate testimony, President Smith promised to clarify the Church’s position about plural marriage and at the April 1904 general conference, he issued a statement that came to be known as the Second Manifesto. “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.” This statement had been approved by the leading councils of the Church and was unanimously sustained at the conference as authoritative and binding on the Church. He sent a letter to each member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles advising them that the Second Manifesto would be strictly enforced.

Contrary to direction, two Apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley, continued to perform and encourage new plural marriages after the Second Manifesto. They were eventually dropped from the quorum. Taylor was later excommunicated from the Church after he insisted on his right to continue to perform plural marriages. Cowley was restricted from using his priesthood and later admitted that he had been “wholly in error.”[7]
Some couples who entered into plural marriage between 1890 and 1904 separated after the Second Manifesto, but many others quietly cohabited into the 1930s and beyond. Church members who rejected the Second Manifesto and continued to publicly advocate plural marriage or undertake new plural marriages were summoned to Church disciplinary councils. Some who were excommunicated coalesced into independent movements and are sometimes called fundamentalists (see, for example, FLDS. These groups are not affiliated with or supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since the administration of Joseph F. Smith, Church Presidents have repeatedly emphasized that the Church and its members are no longer authorized to enter into plural marriage and have underscored the sincerity of their words by urging local leaders to bring noncompliant members before Church disciplinary councils.

The Manifesto marked the beginning of the return to monogamy, which the Second Manifesto reinforced. Monogamy is the standard of the Church of Jesus Christ today.

In 1933, during the administration of President Heber J. Grant, a final 16-page manifesto was read in each ward, which sought to distance the Church from polygamy and the practice of it by fundamentalists.