Jump to content

Interesting Time Capsule From 1878


Sethbag

Recommended Posts

The now-suspended Fubeca referred to a US Supreme Court decision from 1878 (he mistakenly said it was from 1879) called Reynolds vs. United States. I was curious what the case was about, what issues were ruled on, what was decided, etc. I checked it out via a resource that unfortunately isn't available to the public, Westlaw, and found it.

The appeal was primarily about legal issues having to do with the legality of the indictment, challenges to some witnesses, the introduction of testimony from the alleged 2nd wife from a deposition from a previous trial of the defendant on the same charges, and, finally, whether it was a proper defense to claim that the alleged criminal act was justified because the defendant believed it was proper in light of his religious beliefs.

As part of the history of the case, I found the following nugget. I thought I'd toss it out here for our perusal. I'm making no claims about this establishing official doctrine or anything like that. Rather, this is just a snapshot of how this was viewed back in 1879. It's interesting to me that a rather different view of polygamy seems to have obtained during that time, than the one many LDS today commonly recite. Again, this doesn't prove anything. It's just an interesting tidbit. I will be adding some italics or perhaps some bolding to some words within this quote.

5. As to the defence of religious belief or duty.

On the trial, the plaintiff in error, the accused, proved that at the time of his alleged second marriage he was, and for many years before had been, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, and a believer in its doctrines; that it was an accepted doctrine of that church 'that it was the duty of male members of said church, circumstances permitting, to practise polygamy; . . . that this duty was enjoined by different books which the members of said church believed to be of divine origin, and among others the Holy Bible, and also that the members of the church believed that the practice of polygamy was directly enjoined upon the male members thereof by the Almighty God, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of said church; that the failing or refusing to practise polygamy by such male members of said church, when circumstances would admit, would be punished, and that the penalty for such failure and refusal would be damnation in the life to come.' He also proved 'that he had received permission from the recognized authorities in said church to enter into polygamous marriage; . . . that Daniel H. Wells, one having authority in said church to perform the marriage ceremony, married the said defendant on or about the time the crime is alleged to have been committed, to some woman by the name of Schofield, and that such marriage ceremony was performed under and pursuant to the doctrines of said church.'

This quote seems to be taking for granted a view of polygamy that is somewhat different than what we commonly hear today. That, far from being considered optional, or exceptional, it was regarded as an obligation that must, upon penalty of damnation, be undertaken when circumstances would admit.

What would be the mean of "when circumstances would admit"? Would circumstances admit if the man were wealthy and could afford it? Would circumstances only be seen to admit if Brigham Young or some other GA were to call on the man and command or permit it? Would circumstances admit if the man wasn't wealthy, but was healthy and had some living such as a farm or whatever that could arguably support another wife and family? I'm really curious how this was viewed back then. I think today we all have filters over our view of the past, and we impose upon the past views conditions and requirements of our own invention. I'm sure the critics do this as well as the TBMs, which is why this passage caught my eye, as it was a glimpse from back then reflecting on how it was seen back then.

Anyhow, anyone have any comments?

Link to comment

You find it interesting that people who refuse to live God's law are under condemnation? od's commands are not suggestions. When plural marriage was the standing command, then a person who refused to live it would be under condemnation. That didn't mean, and as far as I know, has never been taken to mean that during the times when plural marriage was not God's divine instruction that everyone is condemned because they aren't practicing plural marriage.

During early days in the Church, a person could be a member in good standing if he/she smoked and drank. Then the Word of Wisdom became a standing command. Now, those who smoke or drink may not attend the temple, officiate in priesthood ordinances, etc.

We don't sacrifice animals. We are not condemned because we don't, even though this was a command in another time.

We are judged by the law we are required to live. Not by laws given to others in other times.

Link to comment

The now-suspended Fubeca referred to a US Supreme Court decision from 1878 (he mistakenly said it was from 1879) called Reynolds vs. United States. I was curious what the case was about, what issues were ruled on, what was decided, etc. I checked it out via a resource that unfortunately isn't available to the public, Westlaw, and found it.

The appeal was primarily about legal issues having to do with the legality of the indictment, challenges to some witnesses, the introduction of testimony from the alleged 2nd wife from a deposition from a previous trial of the defendant on the same charges, and, finally, whether it was a proper defense to claim that the alleged criminal act was justified because the defendant believed it was proper in light of his religious beliefs.

As part of the history of the case, I found the following nugget. I thought I'd toss it out here for our perusal. I'm making no claims about this establishing official doctrine or anything like that. Rather, this is just a snapshot of how this was viewed back in 1879. It's interesting to me that a rather different view of polygamy seems to have obtained during that time, than the one many LDS today commonly recite. Again, this doesn't prove anything. It's just an interesting tidbit. I will be adding some italics or perhaps some bolding to some words within this quote.

5. As to the defence of religious belief or duty.

On the trial, the plaintiff in error, the accused, proved that at the time of his alleged second marriage he was, and for many years before had been, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, and a believer in its doctrines; that it was an accepted doctrine of that church 'that it was the duty of male members of said church, circumstances permitting, to practise polygamy; . . . that this duty was enjoined by different books which the members of said church believed to be of divine origin, and among others the Holy Bible, and also that the members of the church believed that the practice of polygamy was directly enjoined upon the male members thereof by the Almighty God, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of said church; that the failing or refusing to practise polygamy by such male members of said church, when circumstances would admit, would be punished, and that the penalty for such failure and refusal would be damnation in the life to come.' He also proved 'that he had received permission from the recognized authorities in said church to enter into polygamous marriage; . . . that Daniel H. Wells, one having authority in said church to perform the marriage ceremony, married the said defendant on or about the time the crime is alleged to have been committed, to some woman by the name of Schofield, and that such marriage ceremony was performed under and pursuant to the doctrines of said church.'

This quote seems to be taking for granted a view of polygamy that is somewhat different than what we commonly hear today. That, far from being considered optional, or exceptional, it was regarded as an obligation that must, upon penalty of damnation, be undertaken when circumstances would admit.

What would be the mean of "when circumstances would admit"? Would circumstances admit if the man were wealthy and could afford it? Would circumstances only be seen to admit if Brigham Young or some other GA were to call on the man and command or permit it? Would circumstances admit if the man wasn't wealthy, but was healthy and had some living such as a farm or whatever that could arguably support another wife and family? I'm really curious how this was viewed back then. I think today we all have filters over our view of the past, and we impose upon the past views conditions and requirements of our own invention. I'm sure the critics do this as well as the TBMs, which is why this passage caught my eye, as it was a glimpse from back then reflecting on how it was seen back then.

Anyhow, anyone have any comments?

I just used this on another board to explain why our members were practicing plural marriage when according to the rest of the US it was not legal. It is an extremely interesting case to read.

Link to comment
What would be the mean of "when circumstances would admit"? Would circumstances admit if the man were wealthy and could afford it? Would circumstances only be seen to admit if Brigham Young or some other GA were to call on the man and command or permit it? Would circumstances admit if the man wasn't wealthy, but was healthy and had some living such as a farm or whatever that could arguably support another wife and family? I'm really curious how this was viewed back then.

I think I've heard that polygamy was a calling, or had to be approved by higher-ups. This remark about "when circumstances would admit" and condemnation on those who do not practice the principle of polygamy... it reminds me of current pressures on married couples to have as many children as they can afford, or pressure on young returned missionaries to get married ASAP. It is said that people should not procrastinate these life decisions because of education or selfish financial reasons. From this tidbit, it sounds to me like polygamy used to be in the same class of righteous life choices that everyone should aspire to.

Link to comment
What would be the mean of "when circumstances would admit"? Would circumstances admit if the man were wealthy and could afford it? Would circumstances only be seen to admit if Brigham Young or some other GA were to call on the man and command or permit it? Would circumstances admit if the man wasn't wealthy, but was healthy and had some living such as a farm or whatever that could arguably support another wife and family? I'm really curious how this was viewed back then.

I think I've heard that polygamy was a calling, or had to be approved by higher-ups. This remark about "when circumstances would admit" and condemnation on those who do not practice the principle of polygamy... it reminds me of current pressures on married couples to have as many children as they can afford, or pressure on young returned missionaries to get married ASAP. It is said that people should not procrastinate these life decisions because of education or selfish financial reasons. From this tidbit, it sounds to me like polygamy used to be in the same class of righteous life choices that everyone should aspire to.

These things shouldn't be procrastinated but we shouldn't also be rushing around to get married and have children and then go on welfare either. Be prepared. That's a great motto, don't you think?

Besides, there are no current pressures on married couples to have as many children as they can afford. Last I knew, the number of children was being left to the couple and the Lord period.

Link to comment

As I stated in my original post, this was not about discovering some great new doctrine, or establishing that anything in particular was the "official" doctrine of the church. This was all about comparing a snapshot of what one guy and his lawyers testified in court about his belief in polygamy and what he claimed was its requirement that a man must practice it if circumstances admit, upon pain of damnation, with what you so often hear around the church from people, which is things like "well it was practiced to take care of an over-abundance of widows", or "it was only ever a minor practice, only <some small percentage> of men ever practiced it", etc.

I think that clearly, at least as far as this little snapshot accurately reflects the common mormon view of polygamy in 1878, this common modern-day belief is just completely false.

Note: I'm not saying that the FAIR board TBMs are saying things like polygamy was about taking care of an over-abundance of widows. You guys are too smart to fall into that trap. But way too many of your fellow TBMs who didn't get the memo still say things like this. I've heard it myself many times, and I've read of other people saying it in the past (not necessarily here).

I wonder why the modern-day common explations came about?

Oh well. I promised in my OP that I was not trying to make too much out of this. I just found it to be an interesting little read as I was reading the 1878 Supreme Court case and its history and thought I'd share it with you guys.

Link to comment

As I stated in my original post, this was not about discovering some great new doctrine, or establishing that anything in particular was the "official" doctrine of the church. This was all about comparing a snapshot of what one guy and his lawyers testified in court about his belief in polygamy and what he claimed was its requirement that a man must practice it if circumstances admit, upon pain of damnation, with what you so often hear around the church from people, which is things like "well it was practiced to take care of an over-abundance of widows", or "it was only ever a minor practice, only <some small percentage> of men ever practiced it", etc.

I think that clearly, at least as far as this little snapshot accurately reflects the common mormon view of polygamy in 1878, this common modern-day belief is just completely false.

Note: I'm not saying that the FAIR board TBMs are saying things like polygamy was about taking care of an over-abundance of widows. You guys are too smart to fall into that trap. But way too many of your fellow TBMs who didn't get the memo still say things like this. I've heard it myself many times, and I've read of other people saying it in the past (not necessarily here).

I wonder why the modern-day common explations came about?

Oh well. I promised in my OP that I was not trying to make too much out of this. I just found it to be an interesting little read as I was reading the 1878 Supreme Court case and its history and thought I'd share it with you guys.

An interesting thread opener. If you look at the beginning of your paragraph you'll note it also says, "'that it was the duty of male members of said church, circumstances permitting..." So what you are wondering is what circumstances permitting?

I suggest to you the following: several circumstances since in both instances the plural is used.

In which case you would be in error if you dismissed a possible circumstance such as things like "well it was practiced to take care of an over-abundance of widows".

Would circumstances admit if the man were wealthy and could afford it? Would circumstances only be seen to admit if Brigham Young or some other GA were to call on the man and command or permit it? Would circumstances admit if the man wasn't wealthy, but was healthy and had some living such as a farm or whatever that could arguably support another wife and family?

Yes. Yes, and yes. You may want to take some time and read Kathryn Daynes' FAIR presentation, among the many circumstances that she discussed is the redistribution of wealth: "What we see is that wealthier men are the ones who tend to marry into plural marriage. Doesn't mean every wealthy man, or it doesn't mean that every man who married into plural marriage was wealthy, but overall the men who entered plural marriage were those who had the resources."

(Polygamy, 2002 FAIR Conference)

A note to the critics here, don't go off half-cocked on this one, because Daynes also notes that (and I emphasize it in bold): "Nobody had many resources in Utah in this early period. It was a sheer poverty kind of thing but what it was doing was it was redistributing those resources."

or "it was only ever a minor practice, only <some small percentage> of men ever practiced it", etc.

No matter which statistics you look at it was always a small percentage of Latter-day Saint men who entered into plural marriage; they were never the majority.

Link to comment

No matter which statistics you look at it was always a small percentage of Latter-day Saint men who entered into plural marriage; they were never the majority.

Really? What if the statistics we look is limited to General Authories. Would only a small percentages of the men serving as GA's, in let say 1870 been practicing polgyamists?

What would you guess?

Link to comment

I would guess that for the GAs, amazingly, circumstances permitted, and, not surprisingly, none of them were keen on damnation. :P

Anyhow, it just seems to me that the most common TBM explanations of polygamy try to downplay its role and importance in LDS society in the 1800s, whereas in fact I think the truth is more along the lines of what The Dude said, ie: although not necessarily practiced by all, it was certainly a practice to which all were supposed to aspire, and consider their proper role.

Link to comment

I would guess that for the GAs, amazingly, circumstances permitted, and, not surprisingly, none of them were keen on damnation. :P

Anyhow, it just seems to me that the most common TBM explanations of polygamy try to downplay its role and importance in LDS society in the 1800s, whereas in fact I think the truth is more along the lines of what The Dude said, ie: although not necessarily practiced by all, it was certainly a practice to which all were supposed to aspire, and consider their proper role.

Interesting post. Thanks.

I would like to point out the case of my Great great uncle, Tony Ivins, former member of the First Presidency of the Church. To read up on him, you can go here.

He was never a polygamist, and yet he was called to be the first Stake President of the Colonia Juarez stake, in Mexico. He was the Church's representative of all the polygamist colonies, during the time that polygamy was practiced. No condemnation there. Not only that, but later he went on from Mexico to the Quorum of the Twelve, and from there to the First Presidency. All while refusing to take additional wives. He said the spirit never told him to do it.

So I think that there was likely a position of common belief that didn't match the reality.

Link to comment

I don't know about anybody else's ancestors during those times, but here's how it all shook out for mine:

Great-Great-Grandfathers. Two were gentiles, one of which was killed in the Civil War. Two were Nauvoo Mormons, only one of which became a polygynist in Utah: the other was a Seventy who kept burying wives, and, consequently, never had multiple wives simultaneously. A Fifth joined the Church in Denmark and the dates are ambiguous on the death of his first wife and the marriage (during the troubles) to his second wife. His second wife's sister may or may not have lived with the family, and this leads some to conclude that the two sisters were sister wives. I am sceptical in the absense of documentation. The remainder were British/Danish Saints who never made it to Utah and never practiced the Principle, as far as records show.

I find the experience of the Seventy significant. He was one of the first missionaries on Oahu and Tonga while his wife went on living in Davis County. Upon his return, he and the family moved to Box Elder County, from whose early fort he and they were evacuated in 1858 (and during which evacuation his second wife and her infant twins died). He doesn't seem to have suffered any ecclesiastical or other sanction because of his failure to engage in earthly polygyny.

Great-Grandfathers. Only one was a polygynist: the bishop of the College Ward in Cache Valley and a semi-full-time worker in the Logan Temple. None of the other 3 were polygynists, and one of those was a gentile.

Grandfathers. Neither was a polygynist, but one grew up in a polygynist household.

Link to comment

.... later he went on from Mexico to the Quorum of the Twelve, and from there to the First Presidency. All while refusing to take additional wives. He said the spirit never told him to do it.

So I think that there was likely a position of common belief that didn't match the reality.

According to your link, Ivans was elevated to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1907, well after the Manifesto issued.

Not sure how this fact undermines this common belief you question.

What is your guess. What percentage of GAs in 1870 were or later became polygamists?

Link to comment

According to your link, Ivans was elevated to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1907, well after the Manifesto issued.

Not sure how this fact undermines this common belief you question.

What is your guess. What percentage of GAs in 1870 were or later became polygamists?

I'm having trouble seeing the relevance of your post. I said that he was the priesthood leader during the times of polygamy, and not only that, but the priesthood leader of a significant group of POLYGAMISTS (amoung which were all 4 sets of my Great-grandparents, BTW). Then I deliberately used the word 'later' to point out just what you have, that his callings to greater responsibility came after the change in policy.

Perhaps the tangental approach I chose looked to you like some sort of diversion or subterfuge? I hope not. Nevertheless, I think that detracts not even a little bit from his earlier position, and even points out nicely how his previous behavior did not disqualify him in any way.

So, your response really puzzles me. What is the problem? I suppose anyone with a problem with the Chuch can see undermining, but I'm failing to see the point, myself.

I would guess 100%, personally. Am I right? The point is....??

HiJolly

Link to comment

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...