The historical record shows that Joseph Smith and other Nauvoo Church members were very skeptical and were in no hurry to practice plural marriage. Had it not been taught to them as a commandment, it is probable that few would have ever entered into its practice. In the Book of Mormon the Lord explains that he might command polygamy in order to “raise up seed” to Him (Jacob 2:30). Apparently, He wanted to expand the size of LDS families faster than monogamy would have allowed, but Church members were not excited about it.
Universal Reaction of Church Members to Plural Marriage: Revulsion
The near universal reaction of early Church members to the introduction of plural marriage was negative. Brigham related, “My brethren know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin.” He later commented, “I never should have embraced it had it not been a command from the Almighty.”
John Taylor, who married his first plural wife in 1843, similarly recalled, “[At] the time when men were commanded to take more wives. It made us all pull pretty long faces sometimes. It was not so easy as one might think. When it was revealed to us it looked like the last end of Mormonism. For a man to ask another woman to marry him required more self-confidence than we had.” Also he commented that polygamy “was a very heavy thing for us to meet, for we generally professed to be and were pure men.” Additionally, he remembered his first feelings: “When Joseph Smith first made known the revelation concerning plural marriage and of having more wives than one, it made my flesh crawl.”
The reaction to the commandment among LDS women was similar—great dislike, or worse. Bathsheba B. Smith remembered, “We discussed it [polygamy] . . . that is, us young girls did, for I was a young girl then, and we talked a good deal about it, and some of us did not like it much.” Recalling an even stronger aversion, Mary Isabella Hales Horne reminisced that at one point: “The brethren and sisters were so averse to polygamy that it could hardly be mentioned.” Eliza R. Snow remembered that, “The subject was very repugnant to my feelings.”
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