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Mormonism and polygamy/John Taylor
John Taylor's statements regarding polygamy
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- Question: Did John Taylor receive a revelation on September 27, 1886 that promised that polygamy would never be abandoned by the Church?
- Question: Is there any evidence for important meetings on September 27, 1886, when President John Taylor reportedly received a revelation and gave men priesthood power to continue polygamy outside of the Church?
Question: Did John Taylor receive a revelation on September 27, 1886 that promised that polygamy would never be abandoned by the Church?
The revelation does not say that the practice of plural marriage will never be abandoned, but that the law of the new and everlasting covenant (which includes monogamous and polygamous marriage) would not be altered or revoked
Note: Some sources consider this revelation to be fraudulent and not from John Taylor at all. If this is the case, then any quote therefrom is moot. This article will presume, for the sake of argument, that the document is from John Taylor, third president of the Church.
The revelation does not say that the practice of plural marriage will never be abandoned: It says that the law of the new and everlasting covenant (which includes monogamous and polygamous marriage) would not be altered or revoked. It enjoins obedience to commandments already received—including the command to practice plural marriage, which had not been rescinded in 1886.
A document that is apparently in John Taylor's handwriting was found among his papers after his death
A document that is apparently in John Taylor's handwriting was found among his papers after his death. It appears to be in his handwriting, and it is probably genuine, though some past Church officials have been skeptical. The text reads:
You have asked me concerning the new and everlasting covenant and how far it is binding upon my people.
Thus saith the Lord—All commandments that I have given must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name, unless they are revoked by me, or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant? For I, the Lord, am everlasting, and My everlasting covenant cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.
Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments? Yet I have borne with them these many years, and this because of their weakness, because of the perilous times.
And, furthermore, it is now pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters; nevertheless I, the Lord, do not change, and my word, and my law, and my covenants do not.
And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law and have I not commanded men, that if they were Abraham's seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham? I have not revoked this law nor will I, for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof.
Even so Amen.
John Taylor, so far as is known, did not discuss this revelation with anyone, and it was never canonized as binding upon the Church
John Taylor, so far as is known, did not discuss this revelation with anyone. It was also never canonized as binding upon the Church.
The critics—and "Mormon fundamentalists" who use this document as justification for the continued practice of plural marriage—argue that this document claims that polygamy will never be abandoned by the Church.
The document concerns the new and everlasting covenant, not the practice of plural marriage
However, this is not what the text says. It declares, rather, that "You have asked me concerning the new and everlasting covenant....My everlasting covenant cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever."
It is common for critics to insist that "the new and everlasting covenant" can only refer to plural marriage. But, this is not consistent with LDS scripture:
- the Old Testament frequently referred to the "everlasting covenant" which God had established with Noah (), and Israel ().
- Hebrews asserts that Christ's sacrifice is the basis of the "everlasting covenant": Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant... (Hebrews 13:20).
- in 1830, the Lord declared of baptism into the restored Church: "this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning" (D&C 22:1).
None of these covenants had anything necessarily to do with plural marriage; they certainly did not exclusively refer to plural marriage.
The Doctrine and Covenants frequently refers to the covenant, and it is clear that the reference is generally to the Gospel covenant, not to plural marriage
The Doctrine and Covenants frequently refers to the covenant, and it is clear that the reference is generally to the gospel covenant, not to plural marriage (emphasis added in all cases):
- D&C 45 (March 17, 1831)
- I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life. And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me (DC 45:8-9).
- D&C 49 (March-May 1831)
- Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of. Wherefore, I say unto you that I have sent unto you mine everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning (DC 49:8-9).
- D&C 66 (October 25, 1831)
- Verily I say unto you, blessed are you for receiving mine everlasting covenant, even the fulness of my gospel....(DC 66:2).
- D&C 76 (February 16, 1832)
- [Telestial kingdom is those who] received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant....(DC 76:101).
- D&C 88 (December 27, 1832)
- [In the school of the prophets] Let him offer himself in prayer upon his knees before God, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant....[and say] I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship...through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever.(DC 88:131-133).
- D&C 101 (December 16, 1833)
- When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men....(DC 101:39).
Thus, the "everlasting covenant" or "new and everlasting covenant" may refer to the gospel message and its restoration. This phrase is also used, however, in the revelation on plural marriage—we will label this "the new and everlasting covenant of marriage" (compare DC 131:).
The new and everlasting covenant of marriage
The revelation on plural marriage (DC 132:) describes a similar idea:
4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.(DC 132:4-6)
This "new and everlasting covenant" has a "law" and "conditions thereof," and one must "abide the law." What is the law and conditions?
And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead (DC 132:7).
The law and conditions of the "new and everlasting covenant of marriage" are that such relationships must be sealed by priesthood authority (vested in one many only, the President of the Church) and the Holy Spirit of promise. This law encompasses both monogamous and polygamous marriage.
It was common for nineteenth century members of the Church to focus on the plural marriage aspect of this covenant
It was common, of course, for nineteenth century members of the Church to focus on the plural marriage aspect of this covenant, since that is what they were commanded to do. Yet, even John Taylor's other revelations were clear that polygamy was not the only aspect of the "new and everlasting covenant."
- So far as it [Celestial Marriage] is made known unto men, it is made known unto them as the Gospel is made known unto them and is part of the New and Everlasting Covenant; And it is only those who receive the Gospel that are able to, or capable of, entering into this Covenant.
Thus, "celestial marriage" (used in this document as a synonym for plural marriage) is "part of the New and Everlasting Covenant," but it is not the sum total. As the Church discontinued the practice of plural marriage, leaders began to emphasize this doctrine more extensively. Some have argued that this was a completely novel interpretation, virtually forced upon the Church once it decided to abandon plural marriage.
But, Taylor's 1882 account above clearly disproves this theory—"celestial marriage" is only part of what is referred to as the "new and everlasting covenant." And, this "new and everlasting covenant" cannot be simply "the gospel," since the text indicates that only those who accept the Gospel can accept this covenant: if the covenant and the gospel are the same thing, in this text, the expression is nonsensical.
Applying the analysis to the 1886 document
With this background, we are prepared to better understand the 1886 document.
- "You have asked me concerning the new and everlasting covenant and how far it is binding upon my people
- To what degree, then, must the Saints keep the new and everlasting covenant? Was monogamy sufficient to fulfill the covenant? (Recall that the covenant includes both monogamous and polygamous marriages sealed by priesthood authority, in both D&C 132 and John Taylor's earlier unpublished revelation.)
- "Thus saith the Lord—All commandments that I have given must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name, unless they are revoked by me, or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant? For I, the Lord, am everlasting, and My everlasting covenant cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever"
- All commandments must be obeyed—and the members of the Church had been commanded to practice plural marriage. Furthermore, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (which includes, but does not exclusively consist of plural marriage) will not be taken from the Church.
- "Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments?"
- The "law," as we have seen, is that all marriage contracts must be sealed by those with authority, or they are not binding after death. In addition to the law, there was also a commandment to practice plural marriage, which was not embraced by some who could have complied.
- Yet I have borne with them these many years, and this because of their weakness, because of the perilous times
- The hostility against the Church in general and polygamy in particular made keeping the commandment to practice polygamy difficult.
- "And, furthermore, it is now pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters; nevertheless I, the Lord, do not change, and my word, and my law, and my covenants do not."
- We again recall that "the law" is that all marriages must be sealed to last beyond the grave. His "word" or commandments had also been given.
- "And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law and have I not commanded men, that if they were Abraham's seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham?"
- Abraham's works were to be sealed, to keep all the commandments, and make all the sacrifices which God asked of him—including but not limited to plural marriage (see Works of Abraham).
- "I have not revoked this law nor will I, for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof."
- Again, we recall that the law is that marriages must be sealed, and obedience to all God's commandments must be observed.
There is, as Brian Hales has noted, no scriptural mention of "the law of plural marriage," nor did Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or John Taylor ever use this term. (In fact, references to "the law" of plural marriage tend to crop up far more frequently in "fundamentalist" writings.) It may be significant that this revelation repeatedly refers to both "the law" and covenants (which will not change) and "commandments" by which one is bound by the covenant (which may change or vary from person to person and time to time).
Question: Is there any evidence for important meetings on September 27, 1886, when President John Taylor reportedly received a revelation and gave men priesthood power to continue polygamy outside of the Church?
There is no contemporaneous evidence for such meetings
Journal entries from the three of the men listed as being in attendance, Samuel Bateman, George Q. Cannon, and L. John Nuttall (scribing for President Taylor), have been published and none mention important meetings being held that day or the days before or after. 
The meetings were not mentioned by anyone until thirty-five years later in the early 1920s
Thirty-five years later in the early 1920s, Lorin Woolley first mentioned the meetings. Keeping the meeting secret was not required so these decades of silence are puzzling.
In the 1920s Lorin C. Woolley recalled an eight-hour meeting attended by thirteen people where the 1886 revelation was purportedly received followed by a five hour meeting where special priesthood ordinations were performed. According to Woolley, five men along with John Taylor, and a resurrected Joseph Smith attended the second meeting.
In 1929, Daniel Bateman remembered the eight-hour meeting, but never explained why he had never mentioned it before. He plainly stated he was not present for the second meeting and saw no ordinations.
Only Lorin Woolley left a record concerning the ordinations in the second meeting
Only Lorin Woolley left a record concerning the ordinations. The other eleven men and women reportedly in attendance at the first meeting and the five other men listed as being at the second meeting left no records at that time or anytime thereafter. Woolley’s voice is the only voice standing as a witness of these ordinations.
According to Woolley, the revelation was recorded in the first meeting
Lorin Woolley’s 1929 account reports that after writing the original, John Taylor had five additional copies made:
After the meeting referred to, President Taylor had L. John Nuttall write five copies of the revelation. He called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and myself. . . . He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation. 
None of the five copies referred to have ever been found
None of the five copies referred to have ever been found. If there were no meetings that day, then when and how was the revelation found? Apostle John W. Taylor testified that he found the revelation on his father’s desk after his death, the following year. John W. Taylor mentioned no special meetings in connection with the revelation. Who were the thirteen people Woolley listed as attending?
Lorin Woolley recalled:
President Taylor, George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttall, John W. Woolley, Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, Charles Birrell, Daniel R. Bateman, Bishop Samuel Sedden, George Earl, my mother, Julia E. Woolley, my sister, Amy Woolley, and myself.
Woolley recalled that during the meeting, John Taylor “put each person under covenant that he or she would defend the principle of Celestial or Plural Marriage"
Woolley recalled that during the meeting, John Taylor “put each person under covenant that he or she would defend the principle of Celestial or Plural Marriage, and that they would consecrate their lives, liberty and property to this end, and that they personally would sustain and uphold that principle.” 
The five men who reportedly received a priesthood ordination were reportedly put under an additional covenant to "see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage"
According to the account:
He [John Taylor] called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and my self. He then set us apart  and place us under covenant that while we lived we would see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage. We were given authority to ordain others if necessary to carry this work on, they in turn to be given authority to ordain others when necessary, under the direction of the worthy senior (by ordination), so that there should be no cessation in the work. He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation.
The documented behavior of the thirteen individuals attending the eight hour meeting in 1886 does not seem to support that they sought to keep the two covenants Lorin Woolley described
The documented behavior of the thirteen individuals attending the eight hour meeting in 1886 does not seem to support that they sought to keep the two covenants Lorin Woolley described. Especially surprising are the actions of the five men. See the chart below:
|Thirteen individuals listed as attending an eight hour meeting on 27 Sep 1886||Death||Sep 1886–Sep 1890
New Plural Wives
|Sep 1886–Sep 1890
Children in plural marriage
|Sep 1890–Apr 1904
New Plural Wives
|Sep 1890–Apr 1904
Children in plural marriage
|After Apr 1904
New Plural Wives
|After Apr 1904
Children in plural marriage
|Left record of a 27 Sep 1886 8-hour meeting?|
|George Q. Cannon||1901||0||3||0||1||n/a||n/a||No|
|John W. Woolley||1928||1||0||0||0||0||0||No|
|Charles H. Wilkins||1914||0||0||0||0||0||0||No|
|L. John Nuttall||1905||0||1||0||0||0||0||No|
|H. Charles Barrell||1908||0||0||1||1||0||0||No|
|Daniel R. Bateman||1942||0||0||0||0||0||0||1929|
|Julia E. Woolley||1892||0||0||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||No|
This chart tabulates the men's involvement with new plural wives and plural children after the 1890 Manifesto.
In addition, Amy Woolley, Lorin’s sister, began her own journal just weeks later, but her entries do not reflect a compulsion to sustain plural marriage. In fact, when Lorin Woolley began fighting church leaders in the 1920s regarding polygamy, Amy distanced herself from her brother, staying with the church.
- For a detailed look at this document, see Brian C. Hales, "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor," mormonfundamentalism (accessed 14 January 2009).
- J. Max Anderson, The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact (1979), 63-76; D. Michael Quinn, "LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 no. 1 (Spring 1985), 29 n. 90. Cited in Brian C. Hales, "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor."
- Hales discusses Anthony W. Ivins' opinion (footnote 25), and Mark E. Petersen (footnote 2; quoting Quinn, 29 n. 90); see Brian C. Hales, "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor."
- Cited in "The Trial of Apostle John W. Taylor." Also in "Revelations in Addition to Those Found in the LDS Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants," New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, (Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates).
- Revelation to John Taylor, "Questions And Answers Concerning Celestial Marriage," (25-26 June 1882, Salt Lake City, Utah), in John Taylor Papers, Church Historians Office.
- See Hales, c.f. footnote 14. Franklin D. Richard's use in October 1885 (JD 26:243) is the sole use in the Journal of Discourses.
- See Samuel Bateman Diaries, CHL, for date; George Q. Cannon Journal, September 26, 1886, First Presidency Vault, Salt Lake City; Jedediah S. Rogers, In the President's Office: The Diaries of L. John Nuttall, 1879–1892 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 170; Anderson, Polygamy Story, 34, 45–47. See also Briney, Silencing Mormon Polygamy, 192n2.
- On 27 September 1932, Musser recorded Woolley saying: “Instructions to the Five: You will have the weight of this world upon you, and one of you will have to stand alone. Joseph S[mith] laid his hands upon the heads while J[ohn] T[aylor] set them apart or acted as mouth.” (Musser journals, CHL.)
- On 4 October 1886, John W. Woolley wed Ann Everington Roberts for time only. It seems that since this sealing occurred only one week after the reported meeting and was only for time, it was probably planned weeks or months earlier.
- Lorin Woolley’s 1912 account does not refer to an eight-hour meeting, but does mention “a meeting that afternoon [September 27th], at which a number there were present and myself.” (Lorin Woolley, “Statement of Facts,” 1912, CHL.)
- In 1892, Charles Barrell, of the Salt Lake Stake, entered into a plural marriage—not by approaching any of the five men reportedly ordained in 1886, but through mutual covenants with a woman, by whom he fathered a child. The high council excommunicated him “for desecrating one of the most sacred ordinances or rites of the Holy Priesthood, and for adultery.” Salt Lake Stake High Council Minutes, 22 March 1893, 8 June 1898; Joseph H. Dean, Diary, 16 June 1895.
- Born in 1871, George Earl did not marry until 1892 and was never a polygamist.
- Amy Woolley remained the monogamous wife of her husband Thomas Cherry after their 1893 wedding.
- Data from Hardy, B. Carmon, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), appendix (unnumbered pages after 394) and www.familysearch.com.
- See Amy Woolley diaries, 1886–1992, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah.