“There is never but one on the earth at a time”

Polygamy was one of the most divisive and explosive policies that Joseph Smith ever embraced.  In many ways, it was what led to Joseph Smith’s death.  He knew that it would be a cause of contention, both within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and with those who were not members, and he made some efforts to both conceal the practice and to set up rules to keep it controlled.  Key among the latter was the idea of only one individual serving as the gatekeeper to entering plural marriages.  Yet, polygamy was a confusing and messy practice to early church members from the very start and it was difficult to stick to those rules.  As Amasa Lyman once said about the early attempts to practice plural marriage, “We obeyed the best we knew how, and, no doubt, made many crooked paths in our ignorance.”[1]

Joseph Smith’s Presidency

During the 1840s, a series of difficult situations may have led Joseph Smith to centralize the authority to perform plural marriages and eternal marriages to the office of church president. First, Benjamin Johnson recalled that in Kirtland, Ohio in the early 1840s, some church members followed a man who “claimed he had revealed to them the celestial law of marriage.” This led to “men and women of previous respectability” engaging “in free love.”[2]  More significantly, the assistant president of the LDS Church and mayor of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett, seduced women in Nauvoo by claiming that Joseph Smith had authorized extramarital sexuality if it was kept secret.  Joseph Smith—furious at Bennett’s infractions—removed him from office and had him excommunicated in May 1842.  Afterwards, Bennett and Smith engaged in a public war of accusations towards each other.  Thus, in at least two circumstances, the idea of plural marriage had been used as a license for adultery.

Even when individuals performed marriages to implement polygamy, Joseph Smith was cautious about how they were authorized.  A little over a year after the Bennett excommunication, Hyrum Smith sealed Parley P. Pratt to both Mary Ann Frost and Elizabeth Brotherton in Joseph Smith’s absence.  Later, Joseph Smith rebuked Hyrum for performing the marriage sealings without his authorization.  According to Brigham Young, Joseph told his brother that if Hyrum did not stop performing sealings without his authorization, “he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.”[3]  Soon after that incident, Joseph Smith recorded his revelation on plural marriage, which declared that relationships “that are not made and entered into and Sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise of him who is anointed . . . are of no effect efficacy, virtue or force in and after the resurrection from the dead,” and that “there is never but one on the earth at a time, on whom this power and the Keys of this priesthood is conferred” (who, at that time, was “my Servant Joseph”).[4]  This set up a clear line of authorization, though it would prove difficult to decide who inherited that right when Joseph Smith died.

Apostolic Interregnum

After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Brigham Young tried to follow the pattern of only “one on the earth at a time” having authority by keeping control of plural marriages centralized in his own hands.  The Quorum of the Twelve collectively assumed leadership of much of the LDS Church in August 1844, with Brigham Young as the quorum president.  Yet, within their ranks, there were disagreements over whether they functioned as that “one on the earth” as a group or whether it was the president of the quorum who held the power.   Some felt that it was the right of the president of the Quorum of the Twelve.  For example, in the fall of 1844, Wilford Woodruff noted in a letter that he believed the sealing authority “is a right exclusively belonging to the quorum of the Twelve on the president of the Quorum.”[5]  In 1845, Brigham Young affirmed in a letter that he believed that “the sealing power is always vested in one man . . . [and] all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the Church.”[6]  Again, in 1846, the Quorum of the Twelve asserted that “no man has a right to Attend to the ordinance of sealing except the President of the Church or those who are directed by him so to do.”[7]  In each of these cases, the president of the church was the one man who held the right to the sealing authority.  As the president of the quorum that led the church, Brigham Young assumed that he functioned as the president of the church in this regard.

While President Young made that assumption, not everyone in the quorum felt the same way.  In the early years of his leadership, Brigham Young faced several challenges to his assumed right to be the one man to control sealing ordinances.  Most significant among these was a disagreement with William Smith that focused on the sealing authority.  In October 1844, just months after the death of Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff reported in a letter that there were significant divisions in the LDS Church in the eastern United States. According to his report, William Smith—another member of the Quorum of the Twelve and the younger brother of Joseph Smith—had been stirring up trouble in that area along with George J. Adams and Samuel Brannan.  Central to the developing difficulty with Smith was control over the sealing power.  Woodruff heard reports that Brannan had performed a sealing and when he brought it up to William Smith, they had a disagreement.  Woodruff felt that Brannan’s “administrations are not legal” because “it is a right exclusively belonging to the quorum of the Twelve on the president of the Quorum [and] not legal with those who are not Endowed.”  Smith, however, believed that Brannan’s sealings were valid, for “any Elder can do it that has power to marry at all” and the quorum’s exclusive authority referred only “to exclusive privleges, & [does] not <refferance> to sealing a man to his wife for Eternity.”[8]  From this, it becomes apparent that Elder Smith and his associates had fundamental disagreements over whether the sealing power was centralized or democratized.

William Smith continued to challenge the authority of Brigham Young.  William Clayton, on the day before William was ordained as the patriarch, commented in his diary: “Wm. Smith is coming out in opposition to the Twelve. . . . William says he has sealed some women to men and he considers he is not accountable to Brigham nor the Twelve nor any one else.”[9]  In the following months, William indicated that as the closest adult male blood relative to Joseph Smith, the patriarch, and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve (with nominally equal authority to Brigham Young), this added up to greater authority than Brigham Young and as such, he should be president of the church.[10]  Sealing authority was central to his claims.  As patriarch, he claimed to “hold the sealing blessings of my church, even the holy spirit of promise, whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption,” as had been promised to Hyrum Smith when he was called to be patriarch in an 1841 revelation (D&C 124).[11]  Responding to these claims in a letter to William, Brigham Young stated that “the sealing power is always vested in one man . . . and that man is the president of the Church,” while the patriarch of the Church only had sealing power to the extent that the president of the church delegated it to him.[12]  William continued to battle for the “Smith family rights”—both for his own position and for Joseph Smith III to become the president of the church when he was old enough.  His course of action, bad history, and volatile personality alienated church members, and William Smith was excommunicated from the church on Sunday, October 19, 1845 by unanimous vote.[13]

While the William Smith incident was the most significant disagreement after the death of Joseph Smith, different understandings of church structure after the death of Joseph Smith continued to cause confusion over the authority to perform plural marriages.  Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor performed plural marriages for each other in Winter Quarters while the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve were on the way to Utah in 1847.  At the time, the church was governed collectively by the Quorum of the Twelve rather than a First Presidency.  As such, Pratt believed that “one of them [the Twelve] by reason of age is the President of the Quorum and of the church . . . [but] all the 12 are alike in keys power might majesty & dominion.”[14]  Thus, as an apostle, he believed he could perform polygamous marriages without the express permission of the president because he had equal authority to the president.  Brigham Young disagreed—he accused Pratt and Taylor of adultery and declared that they had “committed an insult on the Holy Priesthood.”[15]  Their unauthorized sealings so incensed Young that after Pratt had been murdered while serving a mission in Arkansas ten years later, he stated that when “Bro. Parley’s blood was spilt, I was glad for it for he paid the debt he owed, for he whored.”[16]

President Young feared that men would continue to abuse the idea of plural marriage and continued to push for recognition of his authority in controlling plural marriages.  Speaking in 1847, he claimed that one reason for centralization of authority was to reduce occurrences of Mormon men going

to some woman that does not understand which is right or wrong and tell her that she cannot be saved without a man and he has almighty power and can exalt and save her and likely tell her that there is no harm for them to sleep together before they are sealed, then go to some clod head of an elder and get him to say their ceremony, all done without the knowledge or counsel of the authority of this church.

“This,” Brigham stated, “is not right and will not be suffered.”[17]  In one example of not suffering it, William W. Phelps was excommunicated on December 5, 1847 for being married to three women by H. B. Jacobs without the proper authorization.  Young stated that the marriages weren’t valid and that Phelps had committed adultery.[18]  Likewise, William McCary had been excommunicated and expelled from Winter Quarters earlier in 1847 for performing his own highly sexualized version of polygamous sealings without proper authority.[19]  Brigham Young worked to make it so that his understanding of his authority would be observed in the future when the First Presidency was reorganized soon afterwards.

Brigham Young’s Presidency

During the first decade in Utah, Brigham Young exercised centralized control over approving plural marriages. As non-Mormon observer John Williams Gunnison wrote in 1852: “The Seer alone has the power, which he can use by delegation, of granting the privilege of increasing the number of wives: the rule of primitive ages is applied in the case, and the suitor must first have the consent of the parents, then consult the lady, and the Seer.”[20]  Likewise, in late 1853, Parley P. Pratt wrote to Brigham Young for approval to marry Keziah Downes and stated that: “It requires only you[r] sanction, the Lady’s Consent,—and the Seal of God to complete the appointment.”[21]  Orson Pratt also wrote in 1853 that:

No man in Utah, who already has a wife, and who may desire to obtain another, has any right to make any propositions of marriage to a lady, until he has consulted the President over the whole church, and through him, obtains a revelation from God, as to whether it would be pleasing in His sight. If he is forbidden by revelation, that ends the matter: if, by revelation, the privilege is granted, he still has no right to consult the feelings of the young lady, until he has obtained the approbation of her parents, provided they are living in Utah; if their consent cannot be obtained, this also ends the matter. But if the parents or guardians freely give their consent, then he may make propositions of marriage to the young lady; if she refuse these propositions, this also ends the matter; but if she accept, a day is generally set apart by the parties for the marriage ceremony to be celebrated.[22]

This was reiterated in 1857 by a general authority of the church, Albert P. Rockwood, who taught a group of men in Provo that: “If you whant a wife, you first ask Brigham, then the Perants & next the female.”[23]  In all these cases, only four people needed to approve the sealing—the parents of the woman, the perspective wife, and Brigham Young.

If approval was given, the president of the church would perform the marriage and sealing ordinance or delegate it to another man who had priesthood authority.  English explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton observed in 1860 that: “The marriage ceremony is performed . . . by the Prophet, who can, however, depute any follower, as Mr. Heber Kimball, a simple apostle, or even an elder, to act for him.”[24]

Even though the LDS Church president had the final say in the matter, eventually it became necessary to use local church leaders as gatekeepers to approval. As indicated in the Gunnison and Pratt sources above, prior to 1857, men only needed the approval of the church president, the woman, and perhaps her parents to enter plural marriage.  Accounts from the 1860s indicated that Brigham Young expected men to receive approval from their stake president and bishop as well as by himself.  For example, Charles R. Bailey mentioned that when he wanted to marry two girls in 1863, he first went “over to President Peter Maughan [the stake president] And took the girls with me And asked him for A Recomend to go to the Endowment house And take these two girls for wifes.”[25]  Charles L. Walker recorded that at a St. George social in 1864: “I asked Bro. Brigham if I could take another wife. He said I have no objection if it is all right with your Bishop and President.”[26]  President Heber J. Grant confirmed that this was the case later in Utah when he recalled that:

During the time that we were preaching and practicing plural marriage . . . no individual was permitted to take a plural wife without the written recommendation of the bishop of the ward in which he resided, vouching for his character. Not only that, the president of the stake had to vouch for his character as well.  And before he could go into the temple to marry a plural wife the President of the Church had to give him a recommend.[27]

In these accounts from the 1860s and later, local approval from bishops and stake presidents were expected prior to approval from the president of the church.

The tipping point that made additional layers of bureaucracy necessary seems to be the Mormon Reformation of 1856–1857.  This reformation was an attempt by church leaders to rekindle faith and testimony throughout the LDS Church, though it led to excesses.  Brigham Young encouraged leaders to “figuratively, . . . have it rain pitchforks, tines downwards, from this pulpit,”[28] and one of the subjects leaders pushed for more conformity on was plural marriage.  Pressure to marry became so intense that Ellen Spencer Clawson noted that in early 1857, leaders were insisting that “the brethren here . . . take more wives, whether they want to or not . . . Indeed this is the greatest time for marrying I ever knew.”[29]  Statistics indicate that the number of plural marriages in relation to the population was 65 percent higher in 1856–57 than in any other two-year period in Utah history.[30]  Because of this rapid increase in marriages, Brigham Young’s office became swamped with requests.  Erastus Snow noted that: “This people are makeing a great rush to Presidents Youngs office to get wives sealed to them. On sunday night Presidet Young sealed men & women till it was time for the prayer circle to meet. Then He had to turn a room full out of Doors to wait another time.”[31]  To deal with the issue, in January 1857, President Young delegated the responsibility, telling a subordinate to say “yes” to everyone recommended by their bishop.[32]  Using local ecclesiastical officers as gatekeepers seems to have become standard policy after the Mormon Reformation.

The transition to requiring local ecclesiastical officers’ approval was sometimes messy.  When Rockwood taught that “you first ask Brigham, then the Perants & next the female,”[33] in 1857, he did so two months after President Young directed that local leaders should approve the marriages before people approached the president of the church.  An interesting case from this time involved Zerah Pulsipher, who was one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy, like Rockwood.  He also seems to have missed the shift in policy and paid a price for it.  In 1862, Pulsipher became the highest-ranking church leader to face a disciplinary council for abuse of the sealing authority before the 1890 manifesto.

Zerah Pulsipher’s abuse of the sealing authority poses an interesting case.  He was considered a general authority, yet, on April 12, 1862, Zerah was the subject of a church trial for “sealing women to men without authority.”  As a result, “he was required to be rebaptized & had the privilege of Being ordained into the High Priest Quorum.”[34]  In addition, Zerah was released from his position in the presidency, which his son-in-law called “a very hard loss in his old age.”[35]  Some years previous to the trial, a friend of Pulsipher by the name of Wm Bailey had asked Pulsipher to perform two polygamous marriages for him—one to Hannah Hughes in 1856 (which ended in divorce) and one to Harriet P. in 1861.  By February 1862, President Brigham Young had been alerted to problems with the way the marriages had been authorized and requested information from Pulsipher and Bailey’s bishop, Frederick Kesler.  The bishop reported the circumstances of the marriages and complained that “all this marrying has been done over Jordan under the jurisdiction of the 16th ward with out my approbation or concent in the least.”[36]

The second of the two marriages seems to have been more problematic in the eyes of church officials. Kesler stated that, “Wm Bailey asked me for a recommend to you [Brigham Young] fer to get another wife. I told him to call again, which he did accompanied with the girl which he intended to marry (a Harriet Pareter) they were on their way to your office. I did not feel justified in giving him a recommend & referred him to you in person. He accordingly saw you & returned home[,] took the girl[,] called on Zera Pulsipher & he married them on the 28th day of Nov. 1861.”[37]  According to Zerah’s son-in-law, John Alger, “Old man baly came to father [Zerah] Puslipher some time a go and told him that President Young told him to go to him father Pulsipher and that the he should marry a cirtain girl to him[,] Baly[,] which father Pulsipher done.”  Alger called this an “over sight” on Zerah’s part.[38]

The lines of authority were somewhat confusing in this situation. Whether or not President Young approved, Bailey circumvented a final approval from his bishop by approaching Zerah Pulsipher to perform the marriage.  Pulsipher technically outranked the bishop in the LDS Church hierarchy but didn’t have jurisdiction over local issues.  Alger referred to the unauthorized marriages as an oversight and it seems that Zerah’s two main oversights were not approving the sealings with the bishop and not checking with President Young to make sure that he had authorized the marriages, only relying on Bailey’s word.  It is entirely possible that Young had authorized the marriage, pending Kesler’s approval, but Zerah missed out on a change in policy and assumed that the church president’s approval was all that was necessary to perform a sealing, hence Kesler’s complaint that it was done “with out my approbation or concent in the least.”[39]

After Brigham Young

After Brigham Young’s death, while pressure from the U.S. government ratcheted up, the authorization system became more dilute.  At first, authorization during the post-Brigham Young apostolic interim and John Taylor’s presidency seems to have continued using bureaucracy to approve plural marriages. Heber J. Grant’s recollections of requiring a recommend approved by a bishop, stake president, and the church president to enter a plural marriage was rooted from his time as a stake president during John Taylor’s presidency. As increased pressure was placed on Latter-day Saints to abandon polygamy, however, church leaders began to pursue a public image of reforming the church while maintaining a private belief that polygamy should continue.

To help create plausible deniability, marriages were often authorized without receiving direct approval from the church president.  During an 1884 trial, John Taylor, the president of the church, was brought as a witness to testify whether or not a polygamous marriage had been performed.  When asked, “When this authority is conferred upon any one by you, is it an authority limited to some particular case, or a general authority?”  President Taylor responded that: “It would be a general authority until rescinded.”  When asked: “Who in this city is authorized to celebrate plural marriages?” he stated that: “A great many have been appointed—hundreds.”  Further indicating a dilution in centralized control over sealings to plural wives, Taylor stated that: “There is no specific place appointed in which marriages occur” and that that he recalled many marriages begin performed “outside of any one of the Endowment Houses within the past three years.”  Finally, when asked if he knew whether the defendant “has taken a plural wife or not,” President Taylor stated that he didn’t know and he did not know that he had any means to find out.[40]  If this is taken as an honest statement, it indicates that the president of the church was not aware of the marriage that had been performed, likely because it had been approved and performed by church leaders at a local level who, as Taylor indicated, had been given general authority to do so.

This seems to have remained the case during the era between the 1890 Manifesto and the 1904 Second Manifesto.  For example, a Latter-day Saint named Elva Richardson Shumway recalled that in Mexico in early 1904, Anthony Ivins, the stake president in Colonia Juárez, told the Saints that plural marriages had to happen soon because “he still had the sealing power, but it was going to be taken.”  According to her recollection: “President Ivins had the sealing power and he had been commissioned to perform those marriages.  He had the right and authority to do so which he had been doing for years.  But after the Church clamped down on it, he no longer had the power.  It was taken from everyone at this time.”[41]  Ivins wasn’t punished for doing this marriage at that late date—in fact, he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1907 and the First Presidency in 1921.  Yet, there was also a shift coming due to the Reed Smoot Hearings, which led to the LDS Church truly abandoning plural marriages and to restricting the sealing authority.

Today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, plural marriages during this life are forbidden and the sealing authority for monogamous marriages is restricted to being performed in the temples by authorized sealers, as delegated by the president of the church.  After receiving a recommend for living ordinances from the local bishop and stake president (or equivalent officers), “a temple marriage or sealing is usually performed by a sealer who is assigned to the temple where the couple will be married or sealed.”[42]  Functionally, this is similar to the situation at the turn of the 20th century, where specific people were authorized to perform sealings without having to receive authorization from the president of the church in each case.  The key difference here is that the church’s policy on plural marriages is now “that all such marriages are prohibited, and 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.”[43]


Updated 2021-11-26


[1] Amasa Lyman, “Marriage: Its Benefits,” April 5, 1866, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–86): 11:207.

[2] Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Independence, Missouri: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1947), 84.

[3] , Brigham Young to William Smith, August 10, 1845, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church History Library (CHL) https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2021/09/13/brigham-young-to-william-smith-10-august-1845/.

[4] Joseph Smith, “Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132],” online typescript (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-12-july-1843-dc-132/1), 1.

[5] Wilford Woodruff to Brigham Young, October 9–14, 1844, Brigham Young Collection, CHL.

[6] Young to Smith, August 10, 1845, Brigham Young Collection, CHL.

[7] Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal: 1833-1898, ed. Scott G. Kenney, 9 vols. (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983), 3:62 (July 24, 1846).

[8] Woodruff to Young, October 9–14, 1844, Brigham Young Collection, CHL.

[9] William Clayton Diary, May 23, 1845.  Cited in Irene M. Bates and E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 82.

[10] See Bates and Smith, Lost Legacy, 59–95.

[11] Joseph Smith, “Revelation, 19 January 1841 [D&C 124],” online typescript (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-19-january-1841-dc-124/11), 13.

[12] Brigham Young to William Smith, August 10, 1845, Brigham Young Collection, CHL.

[13] Bates and Smith Lost Legacy, 93.

[14] Parley P. Pratt Discourse, May 23, 1847, General Church Minutes, CHL.

[15] “Minutes of Councils, Meetings, & Journey,” November 16, 1847.  Cited in Gary James Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 58.

[16] Historian’s Office general Church minutes, 1839-1877; 1861-1877; 1865 May-September; Salt Lake City, 1865 May 1; Church History Library.  Cited in John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge, Mass and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 271.

[17] John D. Lee, Journals of John D. Lee, ed. Charles Kelley (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 80 (Feb. 16, 1847).

[18] Hosea Stout, On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout 18441861, ed. Juanita Brooks, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1964), 1:289–290 (Nov. 30, 1847).

[19] See Newell G. Bringhurst, “Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism,” in Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church, ed. Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1984), 135–136. See also Nelson Whipple, Autobiography and Journal, CHL.

[20] John Williams Gunnison, The Mormons, or, Latter-Day Saints, in the Valley of The Great Salt Lake (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Granbo & Co., 1852), 70.

[21] Parley P. Pratt to Brigham Young, December 21, 1853, Parley P. Pratt Letters, Mormon File, Huntington Library.

[22] Orson Pratt, “Celestial Marriage,” The Seer, Feb. 1853, 31–32, https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2021/10/17/excerpt-from-celestial-marriage-by-orson-pratt/.

[23] Albert P. Rockwood, “Record of the mass Quorum held in Provo City,” 13 March 1857, Elias Blackburn Papers, Vault MSS 785, Harold B. Lee Library.  Cited in Turner, Brigham Young, 240.

[24] Richard F. Burton, City of the Saints, and Across the Rocky Mountains to California (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1862), 427.

[25] Autobiography of Charles R. Bailey, cited in Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 159–160.

[26] Charles Walker, Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, ed. A. Karl Larson and Katharine Mile Larson, 2 vols. (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 1:250.

[27] Heber J. Grant, One Hundredth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 185.

[28] Brigham Young, “The Necessity of the Saints Living Up to the Light Which Has Been Given Them,” March 2, 1856, Journal of Discourses, 3:222.

[29] Ellen Spencer Clawson to Ellen Pratt McGary, February 15, 1857.  Cited in Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 119–120.

[30] Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Western Humanities Review, 10, no. 3 (Summer 1956): 231.

[31] Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 5:14 (Feb. 2, 1857).

[32] Minutes of the President’s Office, January 14 and 22, 1857, series 9, box 14, fd. 2, Leonard J. Arrington Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Milton R. Merrill Library, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, 1–2.

[33] Albert P. Rockwood, “Record of the mass Quorum held in Provo City,” March 13, 1857, Elias Blackburn Papers, Vault MSS 785, Harold B. Lee Library, cited in Turner, Brigham Young, 240.

[34] Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:39 (Apr. 12, 1862).

[35] John Alger letter, Apr. 13, 1862, in Zerah Pulsipher Papers, circa 1848–1874, MS 753 fd 2, CHL, https://zerahpulsipherplace.wordpress.com/2023/02/05/john-alger-letter-1862/.

[36] Frederick Kesler to Brigham Young, Feb. 7, 1862, Brigham Young office files, CHL, https://zerahpulsipherplace.wordpress.com/2023/02/05/frederick-kesler-to-brigham-young-feb-7-1862/.

[37] Kesler to Young, Feb. 7, 1862.

[38] Alger, Apr. 13, 1862.

[39] Kesler to Young, Feb 7, 1862.

[40] “The Polygamy Trial,” Deseret Evening News, Oct. 18, 1884.

[41] Elva Richardson Shumway, interviewed by Leonard R. Grover, April 25, 1980, Mesa Arizona, 7–9, LDS Polygamy Oral History Project, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.  Cited in Hardy, Doing the Works, 368–369.

[42] General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, version 7/21 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2021),, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/27-temple-ordinances-for-the-living?lang=eng.

[43] Joseph F. Smith, “Official Statement,” Seventy-Fourth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1904), 75, https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2021/10/31/the-second-manifesto/.

9 comments for ““There is never but one on the earth at a time”

  1. An excellent essay, Chad — calm, rational,dispassionate, as well as accurate and thorough. There are so many points where you could have sensationalized the telling, but you stuck to “just the facts, ma’am.” Thanks for this.

  2. You just needed to go a bit more in explaining that sealers still have the authority to seal men to multiple women if given permission from their leaders and the first presidency. That is not the same as plural marriage in practice, but it has not been clarified if it is the same as plural marriage in theology. We know, for instance, that some of our leaders (President Nelson and President Oaks) look forward to having multiple women sealed to them in the hearafter. And, at this point, it only goes one way for sealing men to women today.

  3. What really strikes me when reading this article is how many males are mentioned by name (at least a dozen) vs how many females (one, and only in passing). Polygamy disproportionately affected women – mathematically, it would have to – but the only stories we remember and tell are about men.

  4. Pete, I think that was more dependant on the relationship the first wife had with her husband than policy. Even when you read Section 132 closely, the whole first wife consent is more about whether she will accept polygamy or whether she will reject it and be destroyed, but license is given for the husband to marry more wives either way.

    Joni, that’s a good point and I’m sorry that I wasn’t more inclusive of women’s experience here. In this case, a lot of the policy decisions were made by men, which was the focus of this article, though I’m sure I could have found more ways to include women’s voices.

  5. Joni, I went through and added women’s names to the post where I could to help undo the erasing of their memory. Thank you for pointing it out.

Comments are closed.