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Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy

The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830–1853

By Merina Smith

Publication Year: 2013

In Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy, historian Merina Smith explores the introduction of polygamy in Nauvoo, a development that unfolded amid scandal and resistance. Smith considers the ideological, historical, and even psychological elements of the process and captures the emotional and cultural detail of this exciting and volatile period in Mormon history. She illuminates the mystery of early adherents' acceptance of such a radical form of marriage in light of their dedication to the accepted monogamous marriage patterns of their day.

When Joseph Smith began to reveal and teach the doctrine of plural marriage in 1841, even stalwart members like Brigham Young were shocked and confused. In this thoughtful study, Smith argues that the secret introduction of plural marriage among the leadership coincided with an evolving public theology that provided a contextualizing religious narrative that persuaded believers to accept the principle.

This fresh interpretation draws on diaries, letters, newspapers, and other primary sources and is especially effective in its use of family narratives. It will be of great interest not only to scholars and the general public interested in Mormon history but in American history, religion, gender and sexuality, and the history of marriage and families.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-11

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pp. 1-16

...Most people who recalled Smith approaching them about plural marriage between 1841 and 1844 shared Brigham’s initial reaction to polygamy. Young remembered one council “where Joseph undertook to teach the brethren and sisters.” William Law, Smith’s counselor in the First Presidency of the church, declared, “If an angel...

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1. Mormon Millenarian Expectations: The Restoration of All Things and the Resacralization of Marriage, 1830–1841

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pp. 17-57

On October 10, 1883, Olive Amanda Smith Fullmer wrote a letter to her namesake, Olive Amanda Fullmer Bulkley, informing her that “we have this day consigned to Mother Earth the mortal remains of your father.” In a curiously impersonal letter that, with one exception, used only pronouns for her husband after the initial “your father,” Olive described to her daughter how her husband, ...

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2. Nauvoo Secrets and the Rise of a Mormon Salvation Narrative, 1841–1842

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pp. 58-101

In the early 1840s, Nauvoo polygamy was integrated into community life in three stages, as part of the theological and social innovations in the church. During the first phase, beginning in April 1841, polygamy was quietly intro-duced to the most faithful followers in a manner that, judging from reports of the persuasions used to induce young women to enter into this practice, ...

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3. Scandal and Resistance, 1842

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pp. 102-133

Though the innovations of 1842 eventually helped implement polyg-amy into the belief system of Mormonism, this was not necessarily obvious to most people. The innovations could have also been part of the narrative in a monogamous community. In truth, making theological and theoretical changes was a far less onerous undertaking than effecting a monumental social ...

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4. Integration, 1843

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pp. 134-168

Despite John C. Bennett’s book and the ongoing scandals in Nauvoo at the end of 1842, polygamy nevertheless expanded and became more firmly embedded in the church in 1843, when Joseph Smith was able to further the cause of polygamy in three ways. First, he was able to integrate theology and the practice of polygamy by expanding the number of people who were given ...

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5. A Perfect Storm, 1844

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pp. 169-183

Several situations converged in 1844 that precipitated the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27. First, in January Joseph launched a run for the presidency of the United States, and in March he started a new quorum, the Council of Fifty, dedicated to promoting the growth of a political Kingdom of God on earth.1 These developments, one public and one ...

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6. Polygamy and the Succession Crisis, 1844–1846

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pp. 184-209

When Joseph Smith was killed, church members were stunned and con-fused. How could the prophet who was to establish the Kingdom of God on earth be murdered by a mob? How would they continue without him? Joseph Smith’s death precipitated a crisis that required church adherents to determine in what direction the church should go and who could best lead them in the ...

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7. Living Openly in Polygamy: Customs and Mores Develop, 1846 and Beyond

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pp. 210-245

After the Saints left Nauvoo, they were able to relax their vigilance regarding polygamy, because they no longer lived among suspicious outsiders who scrutinized their every move.1 Lorenzo Snow wrote, “We felt as tho’ we could breathe more freely and speak with one another upon those things wherein God had made us free with less carefulness than we had hitherto done.”2 On ...

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pp. 246-254

Joseph Smith’s efforts to introduce polygamy gradually, in tandem with a theological narrative that placed it at the center of the highest level of salvation and exaltation, largely succeeded, but not during his lifetime. Claudia Bushman has observed that Joseph Smith was a man of great religious intelligence and imagination, but one who generally left the implementation of his ideas to ...


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pp. 255-262


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pp. 263-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780874219180
E-ISBN-10: 0874219183
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874219173
Print-ISBN-10: 0874219175

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 848918415
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Polygamy -- Religious aspects -- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- History -- 19th century.
  • Polygamy -- Religious aspects -- Mormon Church -- History -- 19th century.
  • Polygamy -- Illinois -- Nauvoo -- History -- 19th century.
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- Doctrines.
  • Mormon Church -- Doctrines.
  • Smith, Joseph, Jr., 1805-1844.
  • Nauvoo (Ill.) -- Church history -- 19th century.
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