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The new and everlasting order of marriage : the introduction and implementation of Mormon polygamy : 1830-1856

  • Author(s): Smith, Merina
  • et al.
Abstract

When Joseph Smith quietly introduced polygamy to a few chosen followers in Nauvoo, Illinois in April 1841, the innovation was not welcomed by most adherents to Mormonism. How, then, did polygamy become the favored form of marriage in 19th century Mormon culture? The answer is that it happened through a complicated and contingent process that took many years. Early adherents expected the advent of the millennium, perhaps in their lifetime, and were thus primed to accept unusual doctrine, but their acceptance of polygamy nevertheless depended on the development of a supporting theological narrative that they found convincing. Since polygamy was introduced slowly and secretly through key members of the community, people were able to gradually become accustomed to the concept before they were formally asked to accept it. Polygamy, in turn, influenced the development of a family- centered theology of salvation and exaltation within Mormonism. It also caused considerable strife and dissension in the church and ultimately led to the 1844 arrest and murder of Joseph Smith. After his death, it played a significant role in the succession crisis that followed and in the decision to move to the American west where Mormons could establish their own society and marry as they chose. During the journey west and in early Utah, social norms and mores developed in a trial-and-error manner as individuals attempted to implement the new marriage patterns. Brigham Young and the hardy Mormons who trekked west with him eventually succeeded in institutionalizing polygamy, both in the theological narrative and in practice, to the degree that it became an important force in Mormon self-understanding and in community organization and cohesion. Mormons succeeded in institutionalizing polygamy so well that, just as they had resisted polygamy at the outset, many Mormons had a hard time giving it up after the church officially repudiated it in 1890. Sources include diaries, memoirs letters, pamphlets, minutes of meetings, sermons, newspaper accounts and a contemporary history of Mormonism compiled as events occurred

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