excerpt – The Essential James E. Talmage
“Items on Polygamy—Omitted from the Published Book,”
Undated, Written for Inclusion but Not Published in The Articles of Faith, First Edition
(from James E. Talmage Papers, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah)
Polygamy,—An Ancient Practice—As made known in the revelation (Doc.& Cov. 132) concerning the eternity of the marriage covenant, the order of celestial marriage may include a plurality of wives. While the practice of polygamous (Note) marriage has been condemned by christian sects in general, it was doubtless the system under which (by most of) the patriarchs of old: and in view of this fact, it is known in the Church today as the system of patriarchal marriage. The custom has survived the lapse of time, and is still a traditional and common practice amongst a large proportion of the human family.
The Jewish scriptures conclusively prove that polygamy was not merely tolerated by the Lord, but positively approved by the Lord in olden times. Abraham was a polygamist, yet the Lord treated him with spiritual favor, established with him a covenant for all time (Gen. 17: 1-4), and moreover bestowed upon his polygamous child a special blessing (Gen. 17:20). Jacob, whose God-given name-title Israel is still the honored designation of the chosen people, was the husband of four living wives; yet unto him the Lord confirmed the covenant made with his grandfather Abraham (Gen. 28:13), and granted special blessings to his polygamous wife Rachel (Gen. 30:22-23), and also to Leah the first wife for having given another woman to her husband (Gen. 30:17-18). Moses also possessed a plurality of wives (Exo. 2:21; Numb. 12:1; Judges 4:11), yet he was made the mouthpiece of God unto Israel, and through him the laws of the people were established, but in no instance do we find the polygamous relationship denounced; on the contrary special provision was made for the treatment of polygamous children (Deut. 21:15-17).
Through another enactment, polygamy was made compulsory among the Israelites under certain conditions, and the penalty of lasting disgrace was decreed against him who refused to meet the requirement. The law was to the effect, that if a married man died without children, it should be the duty of the brother of the deceased to take the widow to wife, in order that he might have a posterity in his dead brother’s name; no distinction was made as to the single or married state of the surviving brother; and compliance with the law might necessitate a polygamous relationship (Deut. 25:5-10). Samuel, a favored prophet of God (I Sam. 3:19-21) was the offspring of plural marriage (I Sam. 1:1-2, 19-20). David, Israel’s mighty king, specially chosen of God, had many wives and concubines (I Sam. 25:42-43; II Sam. 5:13; 12:7-8); yet of him we read that he “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (I Kings 15:5). The exception here noted in David’s righteous life was a grevious sin; for he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of another; and moreover planned the death of her husband. The child resulting from this sinful association was smitten with death in spite of David’s earnest supplications (II Sam. 12:15-23): yet another child, Solomon, which Bathsheba, as David’s polygamous wife bore to him, was loved of the Lord (II Sam. 12:24), became the recipient of unprecedented blessings (I Kings 3:5-15; 4:29-34) and succeeded his father on the throne of undivided Israel (I Kings 1:13). Moreover, he was honored in being permitted to build a temple to the Lord (I Kings 5:5) a privilege denied to his father David (I Chron. 22; 28:3), and on the completion of the sacred structure, the Lord made known his acceptance of this work of a polygamous son, by miraculous manifestations (I Kings 8:10-11; 9:1-3; II Chron. 7:1-3, 12). Solomon also was a polygamist (I Kings 11:1-3); for this he was not accounted a sinner, but for having married women of idolatrous nations, and in sanctioning their god-less practices (Verses 4-13).
The instances cited may suffice to show that the seal of divine approval as set upon the polygamous system, which characterized the history of ancient Israel, and while illegitimate children were stigmatized as objects of shame (Deut. 23:2), the issue of polygamous marriage were in many instances the recipients of special honors as has been shown. As a crowning example, let it be remembered that according to New Testament authority, Christ himself was born in polygamous lineage, among his earthly progenitors there were many polygamists, and children of such, including even Solomon, the son of Bathsheba (Matt. 1).
Plurality of wives in this dispensation. The Latter-day Saints do not base their defense of the doctrine of polygamy as it was taught and practiced for a time within the Church upon the scriptural justification of the system which existed of old; nor upon arguments as to the propriety and expediency of the practice, some of which have been urged by those who would make it appear that plural marriage best subserves the interests of society. The sole and sufficient reason which led the church to promulgate the doctrine was that the Lord had by revelation taught it and had commanded its acceptance in the present dispensation. The revelation here referred to was given to Joseph Smith in 1831; but for several years after that time it was made known to a few of the leading officials of the Church only; and not until 1841 did the prophet allow its practice or introduce it by his own example. The written revelation was published to the Church under date of July 12, 1843 (Doc.& Cov. 132). In this declaration of the divine will, the Lord justified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and other holy men of old in their marriage relations, declaring that they had all received their wives, by command of God, and under the conditions of the celestial covenant, and that in this thing they sinned not, except as some of them, David and Solomon for example, took wives not given of God. The command to re-establish the sacred ordinance of celestial marriage, including plurality of wives was definite and binding on the Church. The people received it as a divine requirement, and entered upon its practice with the sentiment of the Christian world and their own traditional conceptions of propriety in full opposition.
The story of their fidelity to this principle in the face of sectarian persecution of the bitterest kind, under the harrassments of hostile, and as the people truly believed, unconstitutional legislation, is more a matter of history. The first anti-polygamy enactment by the Congress of the United States became a law July 1, 1862; for twenty years however the statute was practically a dead letter; it was held by eminent legal authority to be unconstitutional and therefore void, and little effort was made to enforce its provisions. In 1882, and again in 1887, additional laws were framed against the practice of plural marriage, and when the Supreme Court finally decided that the laws were valid, the people could but submit (See page—[no reference indicated]). The discontinuance of plural marriages was decreed by the Church, through a manifesto issued by the presiding authority and adopted by the people October 6th 1890. Note [no reference indicated].