Woodruff's Question

            in 1887 Wilford Woodruff became the President of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Roughly a year into his presidency, Woodruff began to secretly forbid plural marriages. He was very aware of the fact that his people were being persecuted for their rights and that the Mormon Church, was not a contender against the United States government. Like Thomas Kane had predicted decades earlier “Saints would never find acceptance in America until ‘public opinion was corrected.’[1] In a meeting with the Elders, Woodruff explained:

“I have arrived at a point in the history of my life as the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the church. The United States government has taken a stand and passed laws to destroy the Latter-day Saints on the subject of polygamy, or patriarchal order of marriage; and after praying to the Lord and feeling inspired, I have issued the following proclamation which is sustained by my counselors and the twelve apostles.”[2]

The proclamation to which he is referring to is his Manifesto Doctrine, which explicitly outlaws the practice of polygamy. Keeping with the Mormon doctrine, the President’s mandates ought to be due to a revelation from God. Woodruff did claim to have this revelation, although there is some speculation as far as the sincerity of this revelation. For example, professor Gordon C. Thomason explains that there is a “widespread miscommunication” of the purpose of the manifesto, since many individuals seem to think, “the Church had abandoned polygamy in response to political pressure.”[3] Thomason instead sees the manifesto as “precisely an assertion of  [the Mormons] right to be guided by Revelation, and not a surrender in any sense of the word.”[4]

            Whether or not the Manifesto had political motives, or was a “victory” as Thomason claims, the impacts were vast in that now the Mormons’ practices, in theory, no longer posed as a direct threat to American society. By rejecting polygamy, the Mormons had overcome a major barrier into integrating themselves into American society.


[1] Grow, “The Suffering Saints: Thomas L. Kane, Democratic Reform, and the Mormon Question in Antebellum America,” 682.

[2] "Church History"

[3] Gordon C. Thomason, “The Manifesto was a Victory!” Dialogue Journal, 6 (1971): 37-45, accessed October 18, 2011, doi: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V06N01_39.pdf, 37.

[4] Thomason, “The Manifesto was a Victory!,” 45.