1904 Statement on Plural Marriage
The United States was moving headlong into the “Progressive Era”1 in April 1904. In January, Henry Ford set a new automobile land speed record of just over 90 mph, and the first underground line of the New York City subway system would open later that year in October. Cy Young, of the Boston Americans, would pitch the first perfect game in May against the Philadelphia Athletics in the modern era. And the first New Year’s Eve celebration in New York City’s Times Square closed out the year. Over 82 million people were living in forty-five states, Utah being the most recently admitted state in 1896. Theodore Roosevelt has become President of the United States following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, and was running for reelection (which he would win). One author has observed, “it would not be an exaggeration to say that no President did more than Theodore Roosevelt to bestow national legitimacy on the LDS Church.”2
Nowhere were President Roosevelt’s positive feelings toward the Church more obvious and influential perhaps than in his support of Apostle and Senator Reed Smoot during the Senate hearings from 1904-1907. Objections to Senator Smoot’s service in Congress included allegations of being a secret polygamist (which were false), concerns about a conflict of interest due to his ecclesiastical position (he served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1900 until his death in 1941), and his belief in revelation.3 Several Church leaders, including President Joseph F. Smith, were subpoenaed to testify in these hearings, which eventually resulted in Senator Smoot being allowed to retain his seat.
Upon returning to Utah after his experience in the nation’s capital in March 1904, President Smith was convinced that a new statement needed to be made regarding the Church’s stance on plural marriage. While plural marriage families in the Church continued to decline4 following President Woodruff’s 1890 Manifest5o and President Lorenzo Snow’s statement of 19006, this “Second Manifesto” seemed necessary to clarify persistent misunderstandings of the Church’s position regarding future plural marriages in the Church.
Stating that he was doing so “because of a conviction that it is a proper thing for me to do,” President Smith read this statement during a general conference of the Church on Wednesday, April 6, 1904. It was then accepted unanimously by the membership of the Church and endorsed verbally by the counselors in the First Presidency, Presidents John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund.
The first major point in this brief statement is in response, as President Smith said at the time, to charges made against the Church that they had been “dishonest and untrue to our word” to end the practice of plural marriage. Thus, President Smith’s statement declared: “...no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent, or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” since the 1890 Manifesto issued by President Woodruff. The second point was a clear warning that anyone from henceforth who “solemnize[d] or enter[ed] into any such marriage will be deemed in transgression against the Church...and excommunicated therefrom” (Conference Report, April 1904, 75). While some Church leaders and members continued to live in plural family arrangements after this time, the message was clear that no future plural marriages would be tolerated in the Church. The First Presidency had given the Church inspired direction as it continued to negotiate a new era of relations with the United States government that would prove to be a model for its presence in countries around the world.
- See “The Progressive Era” (May 23, 2021), Encyclopedia Brittanica; https://www.britannica.com/place/United-States/The-Progressive-era , accessed MAy 4, 2021.
- See Winder, Michael K. (2007), Presidents and Prophets: The story of America’s Presidents and the LDS Church , pp. 183-197. For example, President Roosevelt appointed Latter-day Saints, including a young George Albert Smith, to federal positions, visited Utah in 1903 and spoke very favorably of the Church in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and wrote an article in a national magazine defending the Church and its members even after he had left office.
- For example, see Heath, Harvard S. (2007), “The Reed Smoot Hearings: A Quest for Legitimacy,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 45-46; https://www.jstor.org/stable/23289586?seq=24#metadata_info_tab_contents , accessed May 25, 2021; see also Smith, Konden R. (2009), “The Reed Smoot Hearings and the Theology of Politics: Perceiving an ‘American’ Identity,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 118-162; https://www.jstor.org/stable/23291021?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents , accessed May 25, 2021. For more information on the Reed Smoot hearings and their impact on the Church’s relationship to the United States government, see Flake, Kathleen (2004), The Politics of American Religious Identity: The seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle, The University of North Carolina Press; Heath, Harvard S. (1992), “Smoot Hearings,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism; https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Smoot_Hearings , accessed May 25, 2021
- See Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity, pp. 65-68; Allen, James B. and Leonard, Glen M. (1992), The Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 447; and “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” Gospel Topics Essays; https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage?lang=eng , accessed May 25, 2021.
- Woodruff, Wilford, “Official Declaration 1,” Doctrine and Covenants, September 24, 1890; https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/od/1?lang=eng , accessed May 25, 2021.
- Snow, Lorenzo, “Polygamy and Unlawful Cohabitation,” Deseret Evening News, January 8, 1900, p. 4; https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=Aul-kAQHnToC&dat=19000108&printsec=frontpage&hl=en , accessed May 25, 2021.
On October 5, 1910 the First Presidency sent out a circular letter “in regard to a matter which [was] causing [them] much anxiety.” After quoting and reaffirming the 1904 Statement in its entirety, including the resolution adopted in connection with it, they proceeded to address concerns relating to those who disobeyed this policy:
In the face of this action, emphasised repeatedly in private and public by us, and by the Apostles as well, we find that some… persons have assumed authority… and that men and women have entered into polygamous relations… under such pretended authority… It is a matter of deep regret that men professing membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should disregard the commands of the Church, and… their standing in it… Needless as it may appear, we wish to assure you that the attitude of the Church is the same today as when the foregoing resolution was adopted, and we hold that anyone violating this important rule and action not only commits an individual transgression, but dishonors the Church as well.Read More: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/14681517-7da9-4b7e-a8de-298fe75dfd68/0/38
President Francis M. Lyman gave a sermon in October 1910 (reported by the Deseret Evening News) explaining the significance of the 1904 statement. His remarks, which were endorsed by Elders Charles W. Penrose and Charles W. Nibley, affirmed that the 1904 Statement was “The final word on the subject” of polygamy:
It is just as binding upon the people of the Church as any other law and we want the Saints to know it. Today there is no man on the face of the earth authorized to perform plural marriages, and we want that word conveyed to all the people.Read More: https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=2366509
One chapter from the biography of President Smith written in 1938 by his son contains a copy of this statement along with commentary on its impact. Of especial importance is Elder Smith’s discussion about the resignation of Elders John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley from the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Taylor’s subsequent excommunication, for acting in opposition to this statement:
The necessity for this action against these two Apostles caused President Smith great suffering, but, as he said, he was placed in a position where he had to ‘protect the Church’ and be true to the covenant and obligation placed upon the Church in accepting the proclamations made by President Wilford Woodruff and later, President Lorenzo Snow, which proclamations were based upon revelation from the Lord.
Read more: Smith, Joseph Fielding (1969), Life of Joseph F. Smith: Sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pp. 373-380.
Francis M. Gibbons discussed the importance of the 1904 Statement in his biography of President Joseph F. Smith. He discussed the problem that some church members were looking for loopholes in the language of the 1890 Manifesto by claiming that it did not apply outside the United States and that the current position of the leadership of the Church was nonbinding as it had not been presented and ratified in general conference as had the 1890 manifesto. The 1904 Statement ended all such excuses.
Read More: Gibbons, Francis M. (1984), Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God, pp. 221-224.
President Gordon B. Hinckley reaffirmed the Church’s position on polygamy in an October 1998 General Conference talk titled, “What are People Asking About Us.” While he does not mention the 1904 Statement directly, the position he states is grounded in it:
I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter. 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 are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (A of F 1:12). One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time. There is no such thing as a “Mormon Fundamentalist.” It is a contradiction to use the two words together.Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1998/10/what-are-people-asking-about-us?lang=eng
A February 12, 2002 Newsroom Commentary article titled, “30,000 Mormon Polygamists,” also reaffirmed the position of the Church regarding this policy (though once again it does not directly mention the 1904 document):
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued the practice of polygamy more than a century ago. No members of the Church today can enter into polygamy without being excommunicated. Groups that practice polygamy have nothing to do whatsoever with the Church and should not be referred to as Mormons.Read More: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/eng/article/30-000-mormon-polygamists
A Gospel Topics essay discussing the end of plural marriage in the Church evaluated some of this statement’s immediate effects
The Second Manifesto was a watershed event. For the first time, Church members were put on notice that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church. The Second Manifesto expanded the reach and scope of the first. “When [the Manifesto] was given,” Elder Francis M. Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained, “it simply gave notice to the Saints that they need not enter plural marriage any longer, but the action taken at the conference held in Salt Lake City on the 6th day of April 1904 [the Second Manifesto] made that manifesto prohibitory.”Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage?lang=eng
When preparing the Gospel Topics Essays on the practice of polygamy, the Church appended to these essays a copy of the 1904 statement. This current version of the statement is available on the Church’s website:https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/plural-marriage-and-families-in-early-utah/joseph-f-smith-statement?lang=eng
A Church Newsroom topics article titled “Polygamy” affirms the Church’s position on this matter. It does not directly reference the document but does reference its content and its effects:
Today, the practice of polygamy is strictly prohibited in the Church, as it has been for over a century… Today Church members honor and respect the sacrifices made by those who practiced polygamy in the early days of the Church. However, the practice is banned in the Church, and no person can practice plural marriage and remain a member… Polygamous groups and individuals in and around Utah often cause confusion for casual observers and for visiting news media. The polygamists and polygamist organizations in parts of the western United States and Canada have no affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite the fact that the term "Mormon" — widely understood to be a nickname for Latter-day Saints — is sometimes incorrectly applied to them.Read More: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/topic/polygamy
The official online Style Guide of the Church (“Style Guide — The Name of the Church”) also reaffirms the Church’s separation from polygamous groups, which was reinforced with the 1904 Statement:
When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, it should be stated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not affiliated with polygamous groupsRead More: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/style-guide
[Featured Version] The 1904 Statement, also known as the “Second Manifesto” regarding plural marriage was originally read in general conference on April 6, 1904:
Another copy of the original announcement of the 1904 Statement can be found on Archive.org:
The 1904 Statement was published immediately in the Deseret News on April 7, 1904, p. 4:
So that members of the Church and others abroad were informed of the Church’s stance on plural marriage, the 1904 Statement was published in the April 28, 1904 issue of the Millennial Star on p. 265:
The 1904 Statement was also published in Danish in the Skandinaveans Stjerne on May 1, 1904, pp. 138-139:
In an effort to ensure that all members of the Church had a copy of the 1904 Statement, it was republished in the May 1904 Improvement Era on pp. 545-546:
The 1904 Statement was also reprinted in the Elders Journal, in May 1904 on pp. 117-119:
The 1904 Statement can also be found in Clark, James R. (1970), Messages of the First Presidency, 4:84–85.