Joseph Smith Wives: What Did the Official Declarations State?
Right near the end of the Doctrine and Covenants are Official Declarations 1 and Official Declaration 2. These aren’t revelations themselves, they’re declarations that acknowledge that the President of the Church had received a revelation, but they are important to read and understand so that you know the proper context of the revelation and Joseph Smith wives. Official Declaration One functionally ended the practice of plural marriage. Within the Church all throughout the 19th century, there were people that did not like that the Latter-Day Saints practiced plural marriage. The federal government of the United States initiated several laws starting in 1862 and continuing on through the following decades that gradually ratcheted up the pressure on the members and leaders of the Church to practice plural marriage. Now most of the saints didn’t practice plural marriage, but all the saints believed that plural marriage was a revelation from God and that they had a right to practice it under the United States Constitution, so they went back and forth in fighting this and saying that they believed they were commanded by God to practice it at a certain point. If it becomes too difficult to keep a commandment, he can give a revelation and change or alter it.
By 1887, the Edmonds Tucker Act had been passed. The Edmond Tucker Act did a number of things like disincorporating the Church, confiscating all Church property worth over fifty thousand dollars, and forbidding Latter-Day Saints from even voting unless they took an oath saying that they were opposed to plural marriage. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the saints to feel like their rights were trampled and a lot of them started to wonder what the way forward was and if they could continue resisting the federal government. The leader of the Church at this time was Wilford Woodruff who was overwhelmed by the forces that had been raided against the Church. President Woodruff kept a pretty good detailed journal, and on December 31st, 1889 he wrote the following: “Thus ends the year 1889 and the word of the prophet Joseph Smith is beginning to be fulfilled that the whole nation would turn against Zion and make war upon the saints. The nation has never been filled so full of lies against the saints as today.” It was in these really difficult conditions the President would have prayed sincerely to know if the Church should continue to practice plural marriage. One of the things President Woodruff mentioned was that the Lord showed him that if the saints continued to practice plural marriage the temples would go out of their hands, and the work for the dead would cease.
With that in mind, President Woodruff went ahead and issued an official Declaration One, also known as the Manifesto. Now one of the things you’ll notice as you read the Official Declaration One is how gentle the language is. This was a principle that the saints, namely Joseph Smith wives, had sacrificed and defended for 50 years and President Woodruff realized how difficult what he was asking them to do was. In the declaration, he basically asked the saints to obey the laws of the land, which had been upheld by the highest courts, and asked the saints to be law-abiding citizens. Official Declaration One reads: “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intentions to submit to those laws and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I
preside to have them do likewise.” Now this didn’t end plural marriage altogether, just the practice of new plural marriages allowing it to gradually be phased out, but it does also just ask the saints to obey the law. Some saints at this time had questions about what if they were living in a country where plural marriage wasn’t illegal what if they were somewhere like Mexico or Canada where it was still legal to practice plural marriage. The saints in those areas had questions about whether or not they should continue practicing it. The saints in the United States had questions about what happened to those that are already entered into plural marriage. First things first, President Woodruff addressed those who are already practicing plural marriage. He gave a speech shortly after the Manifesto was given where he said this Manifesto only refers to future marriages and does not affect past conditions. It did not, I could not, and I would not promise that you would desert your wives and children. This you cannot do in honor.”
When it came to the people outside the United States, President Woodruff tried to be as gentle as possible, but about 15 years after the first Manifesto was given, a second Manifesto was given that basically declared that plural marriage wasn’t allowed anywhere in the Church regardless of whether it was legal or not in the country where you’re at. And that a person would be cut off from the Church if they refused to submit to those principles. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught if any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated – the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they’re in violation of the law of the Church. President Hinckley also mentioned that even if you were living in a country where plural marriage was legal, we still don’t allow a person to enter into plural marriage. Within a generation, plural marriage ended, and we honor those who defended the principle and those who lived it according to the commandments of God, but today we’ve got to remember that we’re forbidden from practicing plural marriage that we do believe eternal marriage is still an important principle teaching of our religion.
It is important to understand that while plural marriage and Joseph Smith wives played a significant role in the history of the Church, it was officially discontinued in the late 19th century. The Church no longer practices or condones plural marriage, and adherence to the principles outlined in the Official Declarations is a requirement for membership in the Church today. The focus now lies on eternal marriage as a central teaching of the religion.
By Dr. Casey Paul Griffiths, Source Expert
Dr. Casey Griffiths holds a B.A. in History from Brigham Young University, an M.A. in Religious Education, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Foundations from BYU. Before joining the faculty in the Department of Religious Education at BYU, Brother Griffiths served for eleven years in Seminaries and Institutes, both as an instructor and a curriculum developer.
Fact checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert
Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and YouTube host of the Gospel Learning YouTube Channel. His channel currently has over 41,000 subscribers with over 4.5 million views. Mr Prince also developed the Gospel Learning App, a trusted source where truth-seeking individuals can easily find trusted answers to religious questions from the best teachers in the world.
ABOUT JOSEPH SMITH WIVES
Our purpose at Joseph Smith Wives is to provide a factual and objective look at the history and beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. With so much sanitized history, misinformation and falsehoods being put forth, we are here to provide facts and objectivity to those who are sincerely searching for truth.