Mormonism and polygamy/19th century statements from Church leaders regarding the practice of plural marriage

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19th century statements from Church leaders regarding the practice of plural marriage

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Question: Did some Church leaders teach that plural marriage was a practice that would persist forever?

Heber C. Kimball's remarks make it clear that plural marriage will remain a true principle, but in the same breath he anticipates a time when it will not be required

Jerald and Sandra Tanner wrote that "Brigham Young" said that polygamy would never go away in Deseret News of 7 November 1855. However, the remarks were made by Heber C. Kimball, not Brigham Young. Kimball's remarks make it clear that plural marriage will remain a true principle, but in the same breath he anticipates a time when it will not be required or in force for all those who are saved—which is exactly the opposite impression which the critics wish to create.

The issue of the Deseret News cited has a talk from Heber C. Kimball that addresses polygamy, but not Brigham Young. [1]

The text reads, in part:

The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away, although some sisters have had revelations that, when this time passes away and they go through the veil, every woman will have a husband to herself.

Heber clearly teaches that the principle "will never be done away," but then readily admits that some of the sisters (who are obviously not fond of the practice) have been reassured that the requirement that they practice it has been revealed to them to be necessary only for this life.


Question: Was Heber C. Kimball concerned that missionaries would "take all the best" convert women as plural wives before they returned to Salt Lake City?

Heber C. Kimball warns the missionaries simply that they are on the Lord's errand, and should allow the Lord to choose his sheep

Two quotes from Heber C. Kimball are used to demonstrate that nineteenth century Church leaders worried that missionaries would "take all the best" convert women as plural wives before they got to Salt Lake.

For example, Jerald and Sandra Tanner use a quote from Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:256. to assert that "Mormon leaders were evidently worried that the missionaries would take the best women" [2]:

Let truth and righteousness be your motto; and do not go into the world for anything else but to preach the Gospel, build up the kingdom of God, and gather the sheep into the fold. You are sent out as shepherds to gather the sheep together; and remember that they are not your sheep: they belong to Him that sends you. Then do not make a choice of any of those sheep; do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold. You understand that. Amen.

The second quote is attributed to Heber C. Kimball in Stanley P. Hirshson's book The Lion of the Lord.

Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake.

The quote from the Journal of Discourses says nothing about choosing women. Heber C. Kimball warns the missionaries simply that they are on the Lord's errand, and should allow the Lord to choose his sheep. They are not to decide who is worthy of the gospel, they are merely to bring home those whom the Lord (as master shepherd) chooses.

The quote from Hirshson gives no indication regarding who heard Kimball state this.

Heber C. Kimball in the Journal of Discourses: "do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold"

Heber C. Kimball said,

Let truth and righteousness be your motto; and do not go into the world for anything else but to preach the Gospel, build up the kingdom of God, and gather the sheep into the fold. You are sent out as shepherds to gather the sheep together; and remember that they are not your sheep: they belong to Him that sends you. Then do not make a choice of any of those sheep; do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold. You understand that. Amen. [3]

Elsewhere in The Changing World of Mormonism, the Tanners quote Heber C. Kimball from the Deseret News:

The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away, although some sisters have had revelations that, when this time passes away and they go through the veil, every woman will have a husband to herself (Deseret News, November 7, 1855). [4]

The Tanners do not, however, include the very next sentence in Heber's speech, which calls their interpretation of his remarks from the Journal of Discourses above into question:

The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away, although some sisters have had revelations that, when this time passes away and they go through the veil, every woman will have a husband to herself. I wish more of our young men would take to themselves wives of the daughters of Zion, and not wait for us old men to take them all; go-ahead upon the right principle, young gentlemen, and God bless you for ever and ever and make you fruitful, that we may fill the mountains and then the earth with righteous inhabitants. That is my prayer, and that is my blessing upon all the saints and upon your posterity after you, for ever: Amen." [5]

"Remarks by Heber C. Kimball, directly after the sermon by President B. Young, printed in no. 34: Bowery, Oct. 6, 1855," Deseret News Vol. V, No. 35 (7 November 1855): 274

Clearly, Heber is here not worried about having missionaries "save" more wives for him. It seems, then, that his concern was in missionaries should be focused, during their missions, on bringing people to Christ and baptism. They were not to have other goals or priorities (including, but not limited to, marriage).

Yet, when they were home, Kimball encouraged younger men to enter plural marriage, and joked that he was tired of not having their support in this endeavor. The critics' reading, then, is questionable.

Alleged to be Heber C. Kimball by Stanley P. Hirshson: "The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves"

The provenance of this alleged Kimball quote is less certain. The most commonly cited source for this quote is Stanley P. Hirshson, The Lion of the Lord, pp. 129-130:

Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake.[65]

Hirshson's endnote [65] references The New York Tribune, May 15, 1860 and The New York Times, April 17, 1860. Here's the relevant paragraph from the newspaper article:

Some time ago HEBER KIMBALL was lecturing some missionaries who were preparing to start out on foreign missions, in the Tabernacle, and said to them: "Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother Missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake." The old reprobate then had at least a score of women whom he called wives. [6]

No indication is given regarding who heard Kimball state this. The byline on the article is simply "From Our Own Correspondents." The New York Times article is clearly antagonistic toward the Church. Here is a sampling of phrases from the same article:

In all polygamic countries women are treated as though they were animals not to be trusted, and are watched with most jealous care. Utah is rather an aggravation than an exception to this general rule.

Caliph OMAR never kept a stricter watch over his youngest wife than BRIGHAM and his lecherous satellites do over their concubines.

We have a large army in Utah -- Does it not prevent the recurrence of such outrages? I answer, It does not; simply because it is chained down to a little military reservation of a few thousand acres, and is prohibited from operating outside of that; and outside of that BRIGHAM's power is absolute, and the degradation of the people as complete as it ever has been.

Notes

  1. "Remarks by Heber C. Kimball, directly after the sermon by President B. Young, printed in no. 34: Bowery, Oct. 6, 1855," Deseret News Vol. V, No. 35 (7 November 1855): 274 (2nd page of this number). off-site
  2. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 225
  3. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:256.
  4. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 263.
  5. "Remarks by Heber C. Kimball, directly after the sermon by President B. Young, printed in no. 34: Bowery, Oct. 6, 1855," Deseret News Vol. V, No. 35 (7 November 1855): 274 (2nd page of this number). off-site
  6. FROM UTAH.; "Polygamy and its Fruits--The Missionaries--The Pony Express--More Pugnacious Preaching--Death of a Prominent Physician--The Season.", The New York Times, May 15, 1860.