November 11, 2014

"Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that... Joseph Smith... took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old."

The NYT reports:
Elder Steven E. Snow, the church historian and a member of its senior leadership, said in an interview, “There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history. We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history... I believe our history is full of stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice, but these people weren’t perfect.”

The essay on “plural marriage” in the early days of the Mormon movement in Ohio and Illinois says polygamy was commanded by God, revealed to Smith and accepted by him and his followers only very reluctantly. Abraham and other Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, and Smith preached that his church was the “restoration” of the early, true Christian church....

Most of Smith’s wives were between the ages of 20 and 40, the essay says, but he married Helen Mar Kimball, a daughter of two close friends, “several months before her 15th birthday.” A footnote says that according to “careful estimates,” Smith had 30 to 40 wives. The biggest bombshell for some in the essays is that Smith married women who were already married, some to men who were Smith’s friends and followers....

151 comments:

Gahrie said...

Big deal. Write the same type of story about Mohammed and I might be impressed.

PB Reader said...

All part of the movement to normalize polyamory. After all, what's special about two?

EDH said...

Did the NYT balance the perspective by calling it a religion of peace?

tds said...

well, at least he married them. Nowadays somebody would just bang them secretly or semi-secretly, lol

Tank said...

Wow, between 29 and 39 more wives than Tank.

I'd feel like cheated, except I remember that I have Mrs. Tank and no one else does. Oh ya.

Laslo Spatula said...

I'm all about the chicks, man, but there is no way I'd want multiple wives. Multiple mistresses and a few house-cleaners hell yes, but not multiple wives.

Ann Althouse said...

"Big deal. Write the same type of story about Mohammed and I might be impressed."

Look, they were secretive about this but felt pressure because of the internet. They wanted to get a better phrased version of the truth out to stop people from losing faith. That same process can happen within Islam or any number of other religions. But your reaction, as the first comment especially, looks really knee-jerky.

Stick to the Mormons here. This isn't about Islam and the attempt to flip the topic to Islam is boring. I've seen it a thousand times. I don't like comments that say, essentially, why are you blogging this when there's something else I think is more important.

MadisonMan said...

The New York Times must think Romney is running for President again.

traditionalguy said...

The Patriarchy was really enjoying itself in those days. The religion of lust kept its social order by keeping other men's wives and daughters. To the winners go the spoils.

Tank said...

The juxtaposition between this kind of history of their founder and the generally wholesome lifestyle most Mormons seem to live is hard to reconcile. Probably says more about "leaders/founders? than the religion and its followers.

I think the comparison to Islam is appropriate - they have the same founder background, but the NYT is not writing about that. A comparison between the two situations would have fleshed out the article and made it more interesting.

Paul said...

Whoa... so they were swingers, so what?

The Mormons were just ahead of their time.

And yep, the Muslims were already there doing that centuries before.

Laslo Spatula said...

Although it would be cool to come home from a hard day at work and find all of your wives waiting for you dressed as high-school cheerleaders except without the panties. Maybe they'd even have made a special cheer especially for you. And you'd be the English teacher that they all wanted to seduce: you know it's wrong, they are, after all, just young girls, but you are flesh-and-blood and to resist is to deny thousands of years of evolutionary biology, so you try to be strong and only give them spankings. Naughty, naughty high-school cheerleaders, your English papers were late and I need to see you after class and a spanking is in order, but when you try to spank them they keep wriggling about and giggling and the skirts keep riding up over their naked buttocks and well, no one will find out, these things happen all the time, I can trust high-school cheerleaders to keep a secret.

Yep: wives like that could be OK.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here"”until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically "homely" creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, "No"”the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure"”and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."

Mark Twain in "Roughing It"

Mary Beth said...

Abraham and other Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, and Smith preached that his church was the “restoration” of the early, true Christian church

Abraham preceded Christ by a little more time than Christ precedes us. How does what he did have anything to do with the "early Christian church"?

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

And so, . . . what?

Modern Mormons guilty by association via some sort of perverse Original Sin stain?

meh

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'm guessing the internet problem is less "non-mormons' than it is the schismatic Mormons. Since the courts in Utah just decriminalized polygamy, there are probably a lot of people wondering if the schismatics have the right interpretation.

It's like the Catholic Church having a site up to contradict the claims of the Pius V society. (tagline- because Pius X is too liberal.)

furious_a said...

Mormons won't sanction one 's murder when one writes an unflattering portrayal of their faith's prophet.

Can't say that enough.

gspencer said...

Ol' Smith there was one horny guy.
I now know where Brigham Young got the phrase "This is the place."

Ralph Hyatt said...

@Mary Beth

Exactly. In fact if someone really wanted to restore the early Christian church, shouldn't they be establishing a commune without private property?

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had."

Acts 4:32

And as for multiple wifes, Paul teaching on marriage is, "don't, unless you really, really can't do the abstinence thing."

1 Corinthians Chapter 7

jacksonjay said...

Yeah Gahrie, get your mind right. More like Laslo!

surfed said...

A big fucking "so what". No pun intended.

Laslo Spatula said...

Having multiple wives seems like it would take excellent management and organization skills. Back in the day they didn't even have Excel where they could keep spreadsheets on the characteristics of each wife.

Wife Donna. Birthdate 2/9/87. Likes black cherry ice cream. Adequate crafting skills. Doesn't like Jennifer. Doesn't like anal sex.

Wife Erica. Birthdate 11/13/58. The old one. Makes home-made butter and knitted tea-cozies. Doesn't like Jennifer. Doesn't like anal sex.

Wife Jennifer. Birthdate 5/1/94. The youngest one (so far). No real skills as yet. Likes anal sex.

You get the idea.

surfed said...
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surfed said...
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surfed said...

Addendum - People got married young back in the last two centuries. Especially women. In your lifetime Althouse it was quite common for 16-18 year old girls/women to get married in the 1960's. Many, many girls got married in June right out of high school. I remember several. Probably some of your high school acquaintances if not friends were married in June of your high school graduating year. Age 14 was in no way out of the ordinary in the mid 1800's and to pretend it was is simply historical revisionism.

Tom said...

Exactly. In fact if someone really wanted to restore the early Christian church, shouldn't they be establishing a commune without private property?

--The early Mormons did try that. They couldn't make it work. It is still an ideal, but most believe it won't happen until Christ comes again.

Abraham preceded Christ by a little more time than Christ precedes us. How does what he did have anything to do with the 'early Christian church'?,

--The idea is that Abraham and all the prophets back to Adam were "Christians."

Bob Boyd said...

Joseph Smith was the crazy cat lady of frontier husbands.

Ralph Hyatt said...

seconding what surfed said.

In the mid 1800s even early 20s would have been really pushing it as far as marriageability, beyond that you are looking at widows who might remarry if they had sufficient assets (real assets such as house, land, and/or money) to attract a suitor.

chickelit said...

Althouse chides: Stick to the Mormons here. This isn't about Islam and the attempt to flip the topic to Islam is boring. I've seen it a thousand times. I don't like comments that say, essentially, why are you blogging this when there's something else I think is more important.

The NYT story can be construed as early battle space prep for a Romney resurgence. Queue the Sullivanistic fixation on "funny underwear" as the next stage.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that on November 11th, Veterans Day, Prof. Althouse has time to post six (so far) threads, none of which have anything to do with Veterans Day.

Laslo Spatula said...

Back of the cocktail-napkin math: the perfect average age of all of your wives should be 27.4.

Having a 72-year-old wife buys a lot of extra room, age-average-wise, for the young ones.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


Yes. What others are saying.

An 1800's frontier woman of age 14, was NOTHING like the 21st century's 14 year old precious little snowflake princesses.

Gabriel said...

The LDS church has changed a great deal over the last 150 years, but they are a church that claims direct revelation, and so they have a great deal of difficulty acknowledging that they have changed.

God revealed to Joseph Smith that polygamy was something he and the other church elders should do. (Joseph Smith slipped the revelation under his first wife's door, he couldn't face giving it to her in person.) God revealed to a later elder that it was something they should NOT do. This sort of volte-face on God's part is hard to put forward and not lose adherents.

Laslo Spatula said...

When you need to buy three cases of Massengill at a time Costco stores are the work of God.

JHapp said...

I think the NYT is saying something about Mia Love.

Gahrie said...

I don't like comments that say, essentially, why are you blogging this when there's something else I think is more important.

That is not the point I was making. The point I was making is that when you are writing about religion, polygamy, young wives and making judgements about the same, why would you fail to compare and contrast Mormonism and Islam? There are exteme and obvious comaprisons to be made.

JohnJEnright said...

LDS has to navigate between those who see polygyny as a divine command that the church has betrayed, and those who see it as a historical abomination that discredits the church's founders.

Mark said...
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Gahrie said...

Mark Twain in "Roughing It"

"God darnit, Mr. Twain, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore."


Say what you will about him (and by many accounts he was a bit of a bastard), the man had a way with words.

Ralph Hyatt said...

--The idea is that Abraham and all the prophets back to Adam were "Christians."

Probably based on Galatians 3:7-9

Also, check out this web page.

http://www.patriarchywebsite.com/bib-patriarchy/abraham.htm

Anglelyne said...

There's something odd about this. I'm hard put to believe that Mormons commonly don't know that Smith was a polygamist. And if you read the article closely, it doesn't actually say that - no one is quoted as actually saying that, e.g. (my emph):

Many Mormons, especially those with polygamous ancestors, say they were well aware that Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, practiced polygamy when he led the flock in Salt Lake City. But they did not know the full truth about Smith.

“Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people,” said Emily Jensen...

...Members are saying on blogs and social media, “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love,” Ms. Jensen said.


The referent of "full truth" and lovability-damaging revelations is ambiguous. Are they talking about polygamy or referring to some other unsavory points?

Also lacking is the usual MSM hostility toward Mormons. So I think PB Reader has it half-right about this being a preliminary maneuver in the new culture-war front to normalize polygamy. But it also smells like those typical articles where reporters get terribly excited about some alleged epoch-making change in the Catholic Church that they read into some business-as-usual statement from the Pope, which turns out to be nothing but an artifact of their own ignorance.

But hey, maybe lots of Mormons really don't know anything about Mormon history. Kinda hard to miss, though.

kfb said...

realwest said...
I find it interesting that on November 11th, Veterans Day, Prof. Althouse has time to post six (so far) threads, none of which have anything to do with Veterans Day.

...ooo, that's gotta leave a mark...:-)...

Ralph Hyatt said...

I think PB Reader has it half-right about this being a preliminary maneuver in the new culture-war front to normalize polygamy

I think the preliminary maneuvers were the shows Big Love, Sister Wifes, etc.

Prior to the advent of those shows polygamy was usually presented in made for TV movies as something forced on women by backwards, self-serving men who were happy to exploit women.

Laslo Spatula said...

Somewhere, a polygamist has seen the film "The Human Centipede" and now has special ideas for the family. Bad ideas.

JohnJEnright said...

Anglelyne, yes they all know that Smith was a polygamist. I think the most damaging acknowledgement was the part where he married women who were already bound in marriage to other faithful Mormons. In traditional Mormon teaching, one man could have multiple wives, but this was actually a case where it went the other way, a woman had two husbands. It may not seem like much of a difference in some ways, but I think it matters to them.

David said...

I have never understood the contemporary importance of this question, which I took as settled prior to the latest pronouncement. The Mormons were a wild and controversial sect, in a time of great religious ferment and experimentation. They were viewed with suspicion wherever they went, and polygamy was not the only source of the controversy. Smith was an erratic personality, a perfect magnet for conflict. To this must be added the private Mormon militia, which numbered several thousand at its peak and created considerable and justifiable fear.

All of this caused the more mainstream culture to be very antagonistic to the Mormons (and vice versa.) There were attempts to mount military forays against the Mormons, and in 1844 Smith was arrested. He and fellow prisoner Hyrum Smith (his brother) were killed by a mob which broke into the jail.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the trial of Smith's killers (in Illinois.)

Charges were brought against five accused leaders of the mob that had killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and they stood trial in May 1845. The defense argued that no individuals could be held responsible because the assassins were carrying out the will of the people. The jury, which included no Mormons, acquitted the defendants.

The will of the people. That's was a creative and effective defense, eh?

The United States was a wild and crazy place in Joseph Smith's day. Today's Mormons are quite tame both by current standards and in comparison to their predecessors.

Sins of the father.

acm said...

Average age at marriage was 21 in 1840. 14 was well outside the established norm at that time. Not as strange as it would be now, but still scandalous.

Patrick said...

It would be funny if it turns out that the LDS underwrote the marriage equality movement in hopes of getting some purchase for plural marriages.

Birches said...

But hey, maybe lots of Mormons really don't know anything about Mormon history. Kinda hard to miss, though

There are quite a few who don't and that's a shame. I'm not one of them. I've known about Joseph Smith's many, many wives since I was a young teenager. I'm not sure why so many were ok with Brigham Young's mass polygamy, but then start to freak out with Joseph Smith did the same.

Too many who are scandalized by this look through the modern prism to point their fingers at the past to shame them. As others have said, frontier marriages in the 19th Century happened way earlier than today for everyone, not just the Mormons. And marriage and divorce weren't so standardized as they are today.

There is a certain belief that Joseph Smith and the other Mormons who practiced polygamy were sexual libertines. I suppose it is possible. But I tend to think not, because most of these men were away from their families and sometimes out of the country for years at a time. If they were libertines, I would expect them to show up with a couple of new wives when they returned home. If you're living in Hawaii for a few years, pick up a native wife, right? But they didn't. So the Mormon practice of polygamy doesn't really fit into a nice, neat box of men behaving badly.

Birches said...

@ Patrick

The ACLU had approached the LDS Church a number of times to fight to legalize polygamy through the courts. The Church never took the bait.

Anglelyne said...

Ralph Hyatt: In the mid 1800s even early 20s would have been really pushing it as far as marriageability.

Point of pedantry: not really. Very early marriage may have been more common and accepted, but the median age of marriage for American women in the 19th century was early twenties. And that's lower than many place in Europe in earlier centuries. NW Europeans, male and female, have been "late" marriers (early to mid-twenties) for centuries, contrary to popular belief.

Anglelyne said...

Ralph Hyatt: I think the preliminary maneuvers were the shows Big Love, Sister Wifes, etc.

Good point. But I don't have tee-vee, so I'm always late for the culture wars.

AReasonableMan said...

Your cult is my religion.

Tom said...

As far as I can tell, there is no new information in the church's essay that is the subject of the NYT piece. This has all been known for years. Several books have been written on it. The novelty is that the church itself is talking about it openly. I suppose that's news, but the underlying facts are old news.

Drago said...

AReasonableMan said...
Your cult is my religion.

Every single leftist "non-religious" government is a cult.

And it only cost us 100 million dead last century!

#winning

Patrick said...

Thanks, Birches. I didn't know that. I don't mean to suggest they did, but I still think it would have been funny.

Ralph Hyatt said...

@acm

Average age at marriage was 21 in 1840.

Where did you get that data? I looked around the interwebs a bit and the earliest date I could find data on this was 1890.

mccullough said...

Surprised some of the men didn't kill him.

Paul said...

"Mormons won't sanction one 's murder when one writes an unflattering portrayal of their faith's prophet."

True enough!

acm said...

@Ralph Hyatt

http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Age.htm

It's an estimate, and does reference the Census data collected beginning in 1890 (when the average age was 22 for women) I find it hard to imagine that it would've changed hugely in that time, though.

Jupiter said...

"The biggest bombshell for some in the essays is that Smith married women who were already married, some to men who were Smith’s friends and followers."

So, how did that work?

It is a well-known fact of mammalian biology that the difference in size between males and females correlates with the number of females a single male is able to claim. In horses, for example, where a single stallion may have fifty mares, males are much larger than females. The relationship can be plotted logarithmically, and humans come out at 1.5, meaning that one woman is not enough, but two is too many. And upon that slender statistic rests a whole, vast continent of woe.

Mark O said...

Gay marriage is a nightmare for Mormons. The LDS church ended Polygamy based on the then-existing fact that it was illegal. It was not a revelation repealing the revelations on which Joseph Smith relied.

If gay marriage is the federal law of the land, there is nothing between today's Mormons and the commandment to take multiple wives.

I doubt you will find much enthusiasm for that prospect among current Mormons.

MikeR said...

"Abraham and other Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives." Nonsense. Abraham took a second wife at the instigation of his wife, because they could not have children. Isaac had only one wife. Jacob got fooled and stuck with Leah, and then had to go back and marry Rachel, the girl he had promised to marry. _Then_ he married their two maidservants at the instigations of his wives - when they could not have children.

You have to go to the less savory individuals of the time, like Esav and Lemech, to find people who took two wives on purpose. Or forward to kings like David and Solomon - but it seems like it was kind of part of their jobs to marry princesses from other kingdoms.
So polygamy was permissible, but was reserved for urgent situations.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I'd feel like cheated, except I remember that I have Mrs. Tank and no one else does. Oh ya.

Tank, that is so sweet. That made me smile on behalf of your wife. :)

Ralph Hyatt said...

OK, I found a online source for marriage records that didn't want me to submit to a 14 day free trial.

https://familysearch.org/search/collection/results?count=20&query=%2Bmarriage_year%3A1840-1850~&collection_id=1417439&offset=40

Looking randomly at around 25 records between 1840 - 1850 about 10 of them have no ages recorded, 4 have the wives ages as 17, 2 records show 18, one shows 25, another 19, 3 records show 20, one 23, and the outliers are 16 and 32.

Don't know the significance of the records that don't have ages recorded. Perhaps they didn't know their birth year? However, there was a line in the record for giving the estimated age that was not filled out either.

acm said...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002115/

Is another source, but long, asserting that the average age of first time marriage for women did dip in the early 1800s, but never went below 20.

Here is the link that led me to that.

http://classroom.synonym.com/age-marriage-us-1800s-23174.html

Ralph Hyatt said...

So it would appear that I will have to adjust my views based on new data.

Though I did know that Germans in the mid to late 1800s married in their 20s I always assumed that marriage age in the U.S. would have been lower due to the frontier.

rcocean said...

As someone stated up thread, the median age of marriage in the 19th century was quite high. However, in less settled areas marriage at 14-15 was acceptable. BTW, the median marriage age actually went down after WW II and hit its low sometime in the early 60s.

DKWalser said...

Look, they were secretive about this but felt pressure because of the internet. They wanted to get a better phrased version of the truth out to stop people from losing faith....

Don't believe everything you read in the NYT. It was not a big secret. It was taught in my church history class when I attended Brigham Young University. That this was "news" to the NYT tells us more about the Times than it does about the secretive nature of the church. What is "new" is that the church has felt the need to address the topic on the internet. The same facts were available -- from the church -- decades before the internet was invented.

rcocean said...

I find the motivation of the women more interesting. Why would anyone women wish to be Wife No. 32? After all 19th Century America wasn't Iran. Every foreign observer describes 19th American men as "pussy-whipped".

It seems a lot of women, or at least some, don't have a problem with Polygamy.

JSD said...

At the end of their long journey west, the advance scouts reported back to Joe Smith. We found this great place up ahead. There’s a big lake where we can hang out, fish and fuck all day. To which Joe replied “Well we’ll have to salt that damn lake”

rcocean said...

As for the story, its a given that any story in NYT about Christianity, will be negative, or be cheerleader article for liberalization.

FullMoon said...

Average age at marriage was 21 in 1840. 14 was well outside the established norm at that time. Not as strange as it would be now, but still scandalous.

10 marriages 28 years old plus 10 marriages 14 years old equals average age of 21 .

FullMoon said...

10 marriages 30 yrs old plus 10 marriages 12 years old equals 21 yrs old average.

Now, you try it...

acm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ralph Hyatt said...

"As someone stated up thread, the median age of marriage in the 19th century was quite high. However, in less settled areas marriage at 14-15 was acceptable. BTW, the median marriage age actually went down after WW II and hit its low sometime in the early 60s."

I think one way get a handle on this is too look at what ages women are getting married at in the literature of the time.

Looking around the interwebs some more I found this:

"Jane Austen, writing in the early 19th century had heroines married at the earliest age of 17 or 18. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, which are semi-autobiographical, her father would not allow her to marry until she was 18. Thus it can be said that the average woman was past 21 when entering her first marriage, 100 years ago."

http://www.wisegeek.org/how-has-the-average-age-at-marriage-changed-over-time.htm

Birches said...

The frontier was a lot different than the "civilized" parts of the country. I use my Mexican, non- Mormon great grandparents as an example. They were married at 15 and 13 in the early 20th century. If the priest didn't have a problem with it; I'm guessing it wasn't that big of a deal. Didn't one of the Duck Dynasty guys marry exceptionally young as well?

Ralph Hyatt said...

On the other hand, the law set the age of consent pretty low.

http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/230?section=primarysources&source=40

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jupiter said...

rcocean said...
"It seems a lot of women, or at least some, don't have a problem with Polygamy."

If we accept the feminist fish/bicycle view of relations between the sexes, what marriage provides to a woman is a few gametes. By that reckoning, being one of the multiple wives of a wealthy man would be almost as good as being a single woman living in a welfare state. Especially since women did not have a lot of job opportunities at the time in question.

Brent said...

"Look, they were secretive about this but felt pressure because of the internet. They wanted to get a better phrased version of the truth out to stop people from losing faith."

Ann, as a life-long Mormon, I can tell you this was not a secret brought to the forefront by the Internet. While it might not have been something emphasized by the Mormon church, it was readily available information to anyone reading Mormon history, including reading the Doctrine and Covenants, which is part of Mormon's cannon of scriptures and is widely studied and taught in church services.

While I am and always will be troubled by the fact that the Mormon church was founded by a man who practiced polygamy, especially with a young girl and still-married woman, this information is not new to anyone who cared to know.

surfed said...

One name - Jerry Lee Lewis

Ralph Hyatt said...

This is interesting and might give us a clue. It contains a letter to be used to refuse a proposal from a much younger man. In it the woman gives her age as 45 and the hopeful young mans age as 26 and she states she is old enough to be his mother.

45 - 26 = 19. Ergo, marriage in the 18 - 20 years old range is considered the norm.

Darleen said...

My paternal grandparents (Mormon) married in 1926 - he was 23 she was 16. Not unusual.

And polygamy for Mormons prior to statehood was not all about sex. A lot had to do with providing family support and continuity for widows and children who had no other family to help them.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Sorry, forgot to include the url.

http://ladyamcal.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/19th-century-courting-etiquette-antebellum/

Ralph Hyatt said...

However, literature usually reflects the habits and preferences of the educated and well off. The average marriage age might of been lower for the less fortunate.

Brent said...

"Exactly. In fact if someone really wanted to restore the early Christian church, shouldn't they be establishing a commune without private property?"

Smith did exactly that. It was a terrible failure and was later changed.

acm said...

Of course, your literature sample included Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was definitely not upper class or urban. Her father's rule wasn't out of step with her peers, either, if I remember those books correctly.

FullMoon said...

Ralph Hyatt said...

On the other hand, the law set the age of consent pretty low.

http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/230?section=primarysources&source=40

"The age of consent in the U.S., determined by each state, ranged from seven years, in Delaware, to an average of 10 to 12 years,...."

jr565 said...

As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives..

jr565 said...

Think about the household income of a family if you had 40 wives. Think about how much sex you could have!

rhhardin said...

Polygamy is not the weirdest thing about Joseph Smith.

surfed said...

Many States, if not the preponderance of States, considers 16 years old as the age of consent for marriage.

Brent said...

p.s., there are more interesting "essays" recently released by the Mormon church, including the one on Joseph Smith's "translation" of Egyptian papyrus, or the withholding of ordination to the priesthood from black members (although Joseph Smith himself ordained several black members).

Both of those are more likely to contain some information not known by the average Mormon member than is the polygamy essay.

Brent said...

. . . or the essay on multiple accounts of the first vision. That one would probably surprise 75% of Mormon members. But again, even that information was readily available before the Internet to anyone studying Mormon history.

Beldar said...

Okay, it's politically incorrect but here's my favorite Mormon joke, one told to me repeatedly by Mormons in fact:

As Brigham Young was leading his people across the wilderness, the scouts rode back to him with great news: "Prophet," they told him, "just 10 miles ahead, surrounded by protective mountains, we've found a vast freshwater lake, teeming with fish! Why, if we will merely make our new homes upon its shores, our men will have nothing to do all day but fish and make love to our wives!"

To which Brigham Young replied: "Salt the lake!"

madAsHell said...

Think about how much sex you could have!

Increases on the order of log(N).

Beldar said...

Brent's right, of course (above, 11/11/14, 11:12 AM), that this is not news, and certainly not new news.

The NYT has its purposes, but reporting the news is no longer on the top five items in their priority list, and in fact is oftentimes stricken from the priority list altogether.

traditionalguy said...
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traditionalguy said...

Marriage at age 14 was not that terrible if the husband was 5 to 7 years older and wanted to start a family. The Mormons terrible abuse was the older 40 to 60 crowd of thug men snapping up the available teenage girls leaving their sons with nothing...really nothing at all.

Mark Caplan said...

I always wondered why so many Americans were named Smith.

traditionalguy said...

While the historians in Salt Lake City are at it, they need to tell the rest of the story. Smith was a rural weirdo who held himself out as a practitioner of magic weather spells for sale to farmers in rural North Western New York State, near the new Erie Canal's terminus at Lockport.

As a joke on him some of his rural neighbors made up two amulets with weird rune like symbols and planted them in the woods where Smith liked to walk and would likely find them.

But Smith took the joke seriously and claimed it contained a long and very detailed revelation from a god that was brought to him by a special angel in a language that only The Prophet Smith could read, and he and dictated it to a secretary who could write. Hence The Book of Mormon.

What could this have to do with Glen Beck's discoveries?

Skeptical Voter said...

Our host writes:

"I don't like comments that say, essentially, why are you blogging this when there's something else I think is more important."

Well a rational mind might wonder whether this story was important at all--to our host, or to anyone else.

Biology plays a large part here; the Sultans and Pashas had their harems; British and French nobility exercised droit du seigneur for centuries, the Saudis are doing their bit for multiple marriages; stallions have their herd of mares etc. I suspect Vladimir Putin cuts a rather wide swath through Russia's females. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young cut a wide swath through the female stock of a rural religion in the early mid 19th Century. So what?

But just as Joseph and Brigham "made the rules" in their society, our host makes the rules on her blog. If she's interested in some factoid, we're all going to hear about it. And hey, she only needs to pitch to the league average to keep the job!

n.n said...

Today, they call polygamous men and women "open minded" and describe their relationships as "friendship with benefits". The youngest are raped, but not rape-raped, and there is always planned parenthood to relieve the social stigma and economic burden. The progressive moralists claim that they are providing a humanitarian service to liberate society and humanity.

Jason said...

THIS CALLS FOR A NICE COLD MUG OF POLYGAMY PORTER!

(Why have just one?)

Mr Wibble said...

Marriages at age 14-15 may not have been scandalous like they would be today, but they were the exception and not the norm in most places and times. Women that young often would be just starting to menstruate, so bearing children was unlikely for a few years more. Plus, they often had to support their own parents and younger siblings.

Much more likely was a woman marrying at age 17-18, to a man in his mid to late twenties.

The Cracker Emcee said...

"As a joke on him some of his rural neighbors made up two amulets with weird rune like symbols and planted them in the woods where Smith liked to walk and would likely find them.

But Smith took the joke seriously and claimed it contained a long and very detailed revelation from a god that was brought to him by a special angel in a language that only The Prophet Smith could read, and he and dictated it to a secretary who could write. Hence The Book of Mormon"

Maybe the neighbors were just the God-directed engine of revelation.

I respect the Mormon church but I certainly don't buy their story. Nevertheless, the only thing separating Joseph Smith from other, more widely regarded, prophets is his proximity in time and location.

SteveR said...

At some point the biological utility of dominant males having multiple sex partners just becomes men wanting to screw around. I realize that religion and culture filled in for thousands of years but even the modern LDS church knows that doesn't fly.

Big Mike said...

Now that's stamina!

John Lynch said...

We should save all the outrage drummed up by this for when the progressives are trying to make polygamy legal.

Anyone doubt that's going to happen?

Quaestor said...

I descend on the distaff side from a survivor of the Mountain Meadows incident. I didn't know this until I brought home a Mormon girlfriend for my sophomore year Thanksgiving. My late mother who was normally warm and ebullient with everyone, was merely polite toward my guest. My GF didn't notice, but I did. Not wanting to make a scene I called my blood bother from high school who was also home for the holiday and finagled a last-minute invite to his family's gathering. So GF and young Quaestor left his parents to eat turkey alone and inserted themselves into another family, bring a spiral-sliced ham for an offering.

As a consequence Quaestor and family were at loggerheads for many months thereafter, and uselessly too, for Girlfriend cut her ties with young Quaestor the following January because she only wanted a man who would "bring the priesthood" into her marriage. Later my suffering mother showed me the family records I had not known about.

BTW, I supported Romney in '12, and will in '16 if he gets the nod. I'll support any of the putative GOPers in 2016, but especially Walker. He's my early choice.

AReasonableMan said...

John Lynch said...
We should save all the outrage drummed up by this for when the progressives are trying to make polygamy legal.

Anyone doubt that's going to happen?


Yes. Most sentient beings.

Quaestor said...

bringing -- shit, I need a proofreader at my elbow 24/7. I am totally blind to errors until at least 10 minutes elapse.

John Lynch said...

Sure, ARM.

I'm old enough to remember liberals deriding the possibility that gay marriage could ever happen. Right wing paranoia.

We'll see.

Quaestor said...

"The biggest bombshell for some in the essays is that Smith married women who were already married, some to men who were Smith’s friends and followers."

Bullshit. The biggest bombshell is the one totally missing from the NYT story. (Why is this not surprising?) On those 40 wives how many children were begotten? One each? Two? It won't be too long before everybody will have The Profit (pun intended) in his pedigree.

traditionalguy said...

The reason Joseph Smith was ridiculed by his Christian neighbors was his fervent desires to make money from his wild stories that always seemed to make him out as the go to Magician and Prophet to get what you paid for.

In the Book of Mormon you got human pride and purpose under a thin veneer of Christianity, as revised.



DKWalser said...

I descend on the distaff side from a survivor of the Mountain Meadows incident....

My wife descends from both sides of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It can make for an interesting family reunion.

Quaestor said...

Yes. Most sentient beings.

Very glib, ARM, very facile. One can only surmise your hypocoristic was selected for it's irony value alone.

Quaestor said...

My wife descends from both sides of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Fancher or Baker?

Gabriel said...

@Mark O. The LDS church ended Polygamy based on the then-existing fact that it was illegal. It was not a revelation repealing the revelations on which Joseph Smith relied.

Yes and no. Wilford Woodruff received a revelation on Sept. 23, 1890, that the Church would be destroyed if the Church did not renounce polygamy, and he did so in his manifesto of Sept. 24.

This was not a repeal of the earlier revelations, but it was a further revelation forbidding polygamy indefinitely.

Quaestor said...

Gabriel wrote: Wilford Woodruff received a revelation on Sept. 23, 1890, that the Church would be destroyed if the Church did not renounce polygamy, and he did so in his manifesto of Sept. 24.

Gabriel? Gabriel?! Are we getting the straight dope from the divine horse's mouth at last, or what? If so the Celestial Envoy has some 'splainin' to do, starting with the revised revelation as a concept.

Mark O said...

Gabriel,

As you must know, Mormons continued to practice polygamy in Mexico, Canada and on the high seas after the Manifesto.

It was simple to find this:

_______________________

From a Brigham Young University site:

The Manifesto of 1890 was a proclamation by President Wilford Woodruff that the Church had discontinued plural marriage. It ended a decade of persecution and hardship in which Latter-day Saints tenaciously resisted what they saw as unconstitutional federal attempts to curb polygamy. While the Manifesto is often referred to as a revelation, the declaration was actually a press release that followed President Woodruff's revelatory experiences.

Here are the actual words. Notice the reference to “marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”
"Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I heareby declare my intention to submit to those laws, to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
"There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.

Gabriel said...

Quaestor and Mark O. reinforce my point: when you claim direct divine revelation it is hard to backtrack on anything without losing adherents somewhere.

And this is why the Church changes, but has a hard time acknowledging any changes. The Church-specific scriptures and historical accounts are continually revised without comment or explanation.

They even took Brigham Young's beard off at BYU, since the BYU dress code did not allow beards.

athomemama said...

@ Dierdre Mundy: "Since the courts in Utah just decriminalized polygamy, there are probably a lot of people wondering if the schismatics have the right interpretation."

Actually, what was decriminalized was NOT polygamy - it was adultery. It is still against the law in Utah to have more than one wife - to be a bigamist. However, you may have one "real" wife AND any number of "spiritual wives" without being tried for adultery regarding those "spiritual" wives.

Hmm. Exactly WHO is that law all about? I think Laslo Spatula's comments are right on target.

Revenant said...

Anyone doubt that's going to happen?

I don't doubt that people will take the issue to court, and they'll have an excellent case for recognition, too.

But I doubt it'll be progressives doing it. The current trend on the left is towards female supremacy over men in all things; polygamy, as normally practiced, is the opposite of that.

Quaestor said...

Next stop: American harems.

Sam L. said...

This is not news to me. I'm guessing they will not use this to tarnish Harry Reid's reputation.

John Lynch said...

Rev-

Is it?

I'm not sure it is. Polygamy gives women more choices, doesn't it? Isn't choice what everything in political feminism is about?

The sexual revolution was about female choice. Sure, men got some of the things they wanted, too, but I don't think that was the point of it all.

Also, I see women sharing men all the time. It already happens, it's just not sanctioned legally. High status men already have multiple relationships, but they don't have to acknowledge them. Perhaps women would prefer that they did?

Just like gay marriage, or adultery before it was decriminalized, the behavior is already there. The laws just legitimatize it. All the moral objections to gay marriage were swept away, and there's nothing left to object to any marital practice, legally.

I don't think it would be good for women to allow multiple wives, but I don't think mass divorce and single motherhood are good for women, either. Yet that's what's happened.

John Lynch said...

I spent a good chunk of a Con Law class working out what could happen if gay marriage were legalized through court rulings. The problem is that if gay marriage is ruled to be a right, then there's no objection to any other type of marriage. If tradition and morality are no longer viable objections, then what's the problem with polygamy?

This was 15 years ago, so that's why I'm so skeptical of people who think the individual sexual rights train is ever going to stop. It won't.

Birches said...

On those 40 wives how many children were begotten? One each? Two? It won't be too long before everybody will have The Profit (pun intended) in his pedigree.

I know you're joking around, but this has been talked about a lot already. I don't spend a lot of time researching this, but last I heard there was only one possible child from Joseph Smith's marriages. They've even done DNA testing on a bunch of the rumored families. That ruled most of the rumored kids out.

The thing that people don't understand is that the LDS Church has two different perspectives on polygamy. Now, of course, they abhor it. But during Brigham Young's time and up until the Second Manifesto, it was revered. After Joseph's Smith's death, there was a split in the Church, with Emma Smith and her offspring forming a new Church and the rest of the Church heading out to Utah. So if there were any offspring from Joseph Smith that weren't connected to Emma Smith, those kids would not have been hidden from the world. They would have been revered.

Lance said...

Actually, what was decriminalized was NOT polygamy - it was adultery. It is still against the law in Utah to have more than one wife - to be a bigamist. However, you may have one "real" wife AND any number of "spiritual wives" without being tried for adultery regarding those "spiritual" wives.

No. A federal court last year struck down the provision in the Utah Constitution that marriage was between one man and one woman. With the provision gone, you can argue (and some have) that there is no legal bar to polyamory.

n.n said...

John Lynch:

It's not that it won't. It can't. Selective or ad hoc exclusion creates moral hazards. Only an authoritarian government and comprehensive suppression of liberty would be able to overcome the consequences. Perhaps that's what the generational left wants. They are marching toward that end... in exchange for promises of dissociation of risk.

Matt said...

The Mormon leaders just acknowledged this about Joseph Smith and half of you think it's the NY Times driving the story. Hello!

Also, why the heck would any publication be expected to drag in practices of the Muslim religion or any other religion? It's would be an absurd and wrong headed approach unless the story was specifically about comparing and contrasting religions. When the Catholic church acknowledged collaborating with Nazi's or their numerous child abuse cases did you scour the article for a mention of the evils that the Muslims have done?

This is an article about Mormons and their history. And yet it is no more critical of Mormons than the church it of itself.

John Lynch said...

Feminism isn't about power over men. It's about freedom from consequences.

Abortion, no-fault divorce, equal pay for different jobs, the whole agenda is about protection from the results of bad choices. That's not really freedom.

Feminism is about freedom to choose, without having to pay the bill. That's why I think polygamy will be fine with feminists, as long as they can get divorced when they feel like it.

I don't think most women are going to be OK with it, but like I said earlier most aren't OK with the current situation, either. But we're still here.

athomemama said...
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athomemama said...

@Lance: "No. A federal court last year struck down the provision in the Utah Constitution that marriage was between one man and one woman. With the provision gone, you can argue (and some have) that there is no legal bar to polyamory."

(1) The comment (if I am not mistaken) was about this case: http://althouse.blogspot.com/2011/07/lawsuit-challenging-utahs-anti-polygamy.html

(2) The judicial action which now allows two men to obtain a marriage license has not YET dismantled the understanding that marriage occurs between two people. I wholly agree that based on the reasoning (unsound as it is) the courts have used to allow two men (or two women) access to marriage licenses there is absolutely no justification to withhold marriage license from ANY sort of relationship people want to have recognized as "marriage."

Lance said...

Look, they were secretive about this but felt pressure because of the internet. They wanted to get a better phrased version of the truth out to stop people from losing faith.

Secretive? I've known Joseph Smith had multiple wives since I was a kid. I didn't know he had as many as 40, but it doesn't surprise me.

And Mormons don't put their faith in Joseph Smith. We believe in Jesus Christ. While we honor Smith as the prophet who translated the Book of Mormon and restored the Church of Jesus Christ, we don't worship him.

Lance said...

@athomemama
(1) The comment (if I am not mistaken) was about this case: http://althouse.blogspot.com/2011/07/lawsuit-challenging-utahs-anti-polygamy.html

That case predates the ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert, which was handed down in Utah District Court last December.

(2) The judicial action which now allows two men to obtain a marriage license has not YET dismantled the understanding that marriage occurs between two people. I wholly agree that based on the reasoning (unsound as it is) the courts have used to allow two men (or two women) access to marriage licenses there is absolutely no justification to withhold marriage license from ANY sort of relationship people want to have recognized as "marriage."

I didn't say polyamory was currently legal in Utah. Rather, I said "you can argue (and some have) that there is no legal bar to polyamory". I don't know if any lawsuits have been filed this year to that effect, or if any county officials have tried to solemnize a polyamorous wedding.

Mike said...

Madison Man nailed it at 8:18. It's battlespace prep for 2016.

jr565 said...

I'f someone like Martha Stewart's wants to surround herself with semi young bucks who she Marries I would certainly be willing to be husband #4 . So long as at the end Of the day I get the money. And while married I need the benefits
I figure if only have to have sex once a week since my brother husbands would take up he slack on the other says. And I could probably skip working.

It sounds like a plus to me. I sure do love her!

Gabriel said...

@Revenant:But I doubt it'll be progressives doing it. The current trend on the left is towards female supremacy over men in all things; polygamy, as normally practiced, is the opposite of that.

Where is the contradiction? Feminist-aligned policies are shrinking the pool of high-status men for high-status women to marry; polygyny addresses this ideally.

Two or three high-acheving women can marry the same man, and have a low-status sister-wife available for child-rearing or child-bearing.

Joe said...

People got married young back in the last two centuries. Especially women. In your lifetime Althouse it was quite common for 16-18 year old girls/women to get married in the 1960's.

Not at all true. Until recently, the average age of marriage has been 22 for women and 26 for men and was actually slightly higher in the 16th and 17th centuries, even amongst the lower classes. Marriages below 18 were and still are very uncommon, even in the 1960s.

Young teen marriages were generally reserved only for royalty and the highest of the upper classes and were almost always arranged. Even then, the couple would usually be prevented from consummating their marriage until they were 18. (Yes, really.)

It is very puzzling where the myth of early teen marriages comes from.

cold pizza said...

I like how the NYT says Smith "probably" didn't have sex with all his wives.

If a marriage is for "time" or "time and eternity," the marriage may be consummated. If the marriage is for "eternity" only (for the afterlife), then no consummation is required.

As one of the essayists wrote (and I'm paraphrasing here because I read the essays a couple days ago), the revelations concerning polygamy (especially eternal marriage to married women) were received and implemented, and then Smith was killed before the fine details could be worked out and explained.

As with proxy baptisms and sealings, the ultimate conditions for deciding who gets reunited with whom in the celestial realm will be settled before the bar of God.

If you're a Mormon, you have faith that God will work it all out. If you're not a Mormon, then it's an opportunity to cluck over these gullible rubes.

I'd much rather see the NYT explore and explain the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, especially Alma 36, but I'm not going to hold my breath. -CP

Matt said...

Mike @ 3:43 PM

Come on, you can't be that naïve. The NY Times did not create this story because of an election that happens TWO years from now. Voters don't remember what happened yesterday. Why they heck - if Romney runs again - would voters associate a story like this with Romney? Especially when most everyone knows that Mormons practiced polygamy in the past?

The LDS website posted an essay about this subject and it was picked up by ALL news services. Blame the Mormons if you want for this story but don't be silly enough to think this is a hit piece on Romney. Goodness sakes....

Alex said...

Stick to the Mormons here. This isn't about Islam and the attempt to flip the topic to Islam is boring. I've seen it a thousand times. I don't like comments that say, essentially, why are you blogging this when there's something else I think is more important.

Because it wasn't Mormons who knocked down our Towers on 9-11-01 and killed 3000 of our people that day.

Skeptical Voter said...

Ah the question of spiritual wives.

My late mother was born on an Oklahoma cattle ranch two days ride from the nearest town in 1918. She was raised as a Baptist. Married my Dad at age 19 after a couple of years of college at what would become Arizona State University.

Dad was 8 or 9 years older--and worked as a civil engineer for various government agencies (CCC, Bureau of Land Reclamation etc.) Dad and Mom lived in Southern Utah from 1937 to 1940 or so working for the Feds. Based on pictures, I'd say my mom was a bit of a looker--a tall attractive brunette during the early years of her marriage.

Well looks have their benefits I suppose. Mom learned that half a dozen different local Mormon men had taken her as their "spiritual wife"--with the marriage apparently to be consummated when she died. Apparently a Mormom man could put in his "bid" for such without asking the woman involved.


I don't think Mom was going to show up for any of these characters at the Pearly Gates. She and Dad had been married for sixty two years when she died.

And she was raised as a hard shell Southern Baptist--not that she was all that observant where church going was concerned. But she had her "views"--didn't care much for the Catholics and all that Popish stuff, and as for the Jews! Well she knew who killed Christ.

Which caused me great amusement when my sister, who was the oldest, married a Catholic and promised to raise the kids Catholic, and my brother married a Jewish girl and converted to Judaism.

Religion is justifiably important in the lives of great numbers of people, but you need to have a bit of a sense of humor about it as well. Who knows--when I die I may find I have half a dozen different Mormom "stepdads" from Southern Utah waiting for me at the Pearly Gates.

Lonetown said...

Who did he take them from? Are women still taken? My wife took me ....to the cleaners.

What's your take on taking wives?

Revenant said...

If the New York Times ran this story to sabotage Mitt Romney, they better hope their masters in the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy don't find out. A Mitt Romney candidacy would the second-best chance for Hillary to win (the best chance would be a Jeb Bush candidacy).

Anonymous said...

ACM wrote:

"Average age at marriage was 21 in 1840. 14 was well outside the established norm at that time. Not as strange as it would be now, but still scandalous."

Average where? Who was keeping the statistics that they could be retrieved and averaged?

Louisa May Alcott came of age in the 1840s and while still in her early 20s she considered herself and old maid. One of the many reforms she supported was an increase in the marrying age for young girls, who she thought were being taken advantaged of by old men. If young girls weren't marrying why the need for reform?

One of my favorite fictional characters, Holly Golightly, from Breakfast At Tiffany's, was 14 when she married Doc.

n.n said...
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Unknown said...

Traditionalguy, you have a habit of making statements without attribution that you expect other humans to take a fact. And why is that? Are you some kind of boss? I have no involvement with Mormons, but it seems pretty obvious you're here to take shots.