Brigham Young on Polygamy

If we could make every man upon the earth get him a wife, live righteously and serve God, we would not be under the necessity, perhaps, of taking more than one wife. But they will not do this; the people of God, therefore, have been commanded to take more wives.

The above quote is from Brigham Young in an address he gave in 1873 (JoD 16, pp. 166). Polygamy really isn’t a topic I’ve dedicated very much time to, but I thought this quote was interesting in light of the fact that many of the early saints believed that polygamy, not monogamy, was the “default” marriage system for mankind.

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16 comments on “Brigham Young on Polygamy

  1. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    James, this quote fits well into a group of other quotations by Brigham Young regarding polygamy. Although revulsed at the idea initially, when Brigham finally did embrace it he did it wholeheartedly. When I returned from my mission I was regaled by more than one Church member with Brigham’s, “…any young man who isn’t married by the time he is sixteen is a menace to the community!” Having left on my mission at 23 and returned at 25, I could teasing be deemed a veritable madman on the loose since I did not immediately take a bride.
    Work has been done on the sociological aspects of plural marriage and even if it is the “celestial order” it feel rather short of that degree of excellence among the mere mortal Saints. For many of it’s participants it was another trial to be endured for the Gospel’s sake. When it ended I believe it was the best for all concerned. If by some bizarre circumstance it were to be restored today, I feel certain that there would be a massive exodus of the heretofore faithful out of the Church. It’s time has passed, at least in pre-millenial mortality. I’ grant that our Father in Heaven does not appear to be concerned with the social issues of the day which have become for so many a cause celebre, but I also believe that He himself would admit that the Saints aren’t up living this Celestial Law or the United Order. Besides, what Brother Brigham had to say on the topic has now been correlated into absolute and utter irrelevance.

  2. Nathan000000 says:

    That is a very interesting quote. I’ll have to keep that one handy for discussions of “why polygamy?” if for nothing else than just to show that we don’t necessarily know all the reasons and should stay open to possibilities we haven’t considered before.

  3. Seth R. says:

    This kind of smacks me as Brigham Young logically arriving at reasons for the whole polygamy thing on his own steam after the fact than anything else.

    So I wouldn’t take it as evidence of why God instituted it or anything. But it does at least give insight into how Brigham Young viewed it personally.

  4. James says:

    I agree Seth. I see it the same way. It gives us a window into how Brigham understood it, even if it possibly differs from why the Lord gave it.

    Interestingly enough, later in the same address Brigham seems to revert back to the idea that polygamy is the “default” system of marriage. He refers to Adam as having possibly had multiple wives.

    “There was a certain woman brought to Father Adam whose name was Eve, because she was the first woman, and she was given to him to be his wife; I am not disposed to give any further knowledge concerning her at present. There is no doubt but that he left many companions. The great and glorious doctrine that pertains to this I have not time to dwell upon; neither should I at present if I had time. He understood this whole machinery or system before he came to this earth; and I hope my brethren and sisters will profit by what I have told them.”

  5. James says:

    Critics will often argue that the early Latter-day Saints believed that polygamy was absolutely required for all people, in all times, in order to inherit the CK. At least, I’ve heard that claim. This quote is noteworthy because it undermines that assumption and at the least tells us that it was more complicated than that.

    • jon says:

      in response to your comment, there are many many statements in early church history issued officially by the church concerning the requirement for polygamy, and though the statements were not given superlativelypertaining to exaltation, it is certainly clear that it was a requirement; it was with utmost importance that one not only believe in its practice but participate in it as well. one needs only to read JoD and HotC to understand that.

  6. Nathan000000 says:

    Very good point. I’ve heard that criticism before, and this quote would certainly fit in a response to it.

  7. jon says:

    this quote leaves even more confusion as to the reason for polygamy for me. i have only recently researched polygamy because i feared the topic (as i suspect many other LDS do) and after learning of the more obscure circumstances surrounding it, i can’t understand how God would allow a practice that caused so much grief and hardship, both to the saints who practiced then and modern day saints today. furthermore, the 12th article of faith states “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” if this is true then i see a contradiction between God’s commandment to obey and sustain the law but then disregard that law and command his people to ignore the illegality of the act and practice it. early saints were escaping the law of the land and were persecuted for it. as for this quote, for me it is not enough to say that “there weren’t enough men due to wars, etc.” or that there weren’t enough men willing to marry so we turned to polygamy. those seem to be weak, cop out explanations for polygamy, and having read many quotes from early day prophets on the topic, polygamy was clearly not about a shortage of men. this seems to be the easy “let’s not delve to deeply into it” response so as to not generate debate. so i ask myself: which is it, obey the 12th article of faith or believe in polygamy? again, after researching the circumstances and problems prevalent in polygamist society (both modern day and olden “sanctioned” day) it seems to me obeying the laws of the land seems more Godlike and more appropriate.

    • nicole says:

      Dear Jon

      Seeing as it is already December and I only found your post now, I do not know whether you have found an answer or not.
      I would not recommend you to do research on Church related websites. FairLDS will not give you the answers you are looking for, because they do not use any information/source that has not been Church approved.
      For example the Journals of Discourses. If you look them up on you will find this: “The content of the Journal of Discourses was transcribed, sometimes inaccurately, and published between 1853 and 1886 in England. The compilation contains some statements of doctrine as well as other materials of interest to Latter-day Saints who lived far from the center of the Church, including speeches given for a variety of occasions, funeral addresses, reports from returning missionaries, prayers, and the proceedings of a trial.”

      This is not true. JoD includes a lot of speeches held by the Prophet and other General Authorities at General Conference and such. Brigham Young for one.
      Don’t focus on Church approved material. Branch out and find sources not compiled by LDS. Then you will find that the Church actually believes that it was NOT the Holy Ghost who came to Maria but God himself in person, to make a child like any other man would; and, that the Church believes that Jesus was a polygamist and that he died on the cross for that and not our sins.
      It is all in the Journal of Discourses and stated at General Conferences from the 1850s.

    • Seth R. says:

      Nicole, you are making the mistake of looking at the past and assuming that things back then were handled exactly like they are today,

      There was no correlation back then. No one was coordinating everything said in church meetings by church leadership. The line between official doctrine and personal opinion was rarely a clear one. People certainly weren’t as careful with their pronouncements back then as they are today.

      Whatever Brigham Young said on the subject of how Jesus was conceived did not pass the test of time and “common consent” of the LDS Church. Therefore his views are not doctrinal, and not accepted by the LDS Church. And rightly so.

      But, that said – why would the idea of God conceiving a child with Mary be so upsetting to you? Is it any less upsetting than the alternatives, when you really look at it objectively and without your own personal prejudices? I don’t believe that God did this. But I don’t see why it needs to be any big deal either.

      I would also point out that Brigham Young’s statements on the subject themselves were fairly vague, and not as clear-cut as you are asserting.

  8. James says:


    Copy and paste your latest comment into the box at this website:

    …and you will receive a response from faithful Latter-day Saints who are knowledgable about this issue. I’m really swamped for the next few weeks, but if you haven’t found help from FAIR in a few weeks I’ll try to look into this.

    But, above all, be patient and remain calm. Don’t be hasty. Answers exist and they will come to you slowly. It has worked for me every time.

    • jon says:

      sorry, i had not refreshed before i posted my last reply, so i did not realize you had posted a response with the link. i will certainly look at fairlds, as i have many questions and confusions–and this coming from one who has had a very strong testimony in the church. thank you for your response

  9. Seth R. says:

    Jon, I think hardship-avoidance isn’t exactly the most inspiring measuring stick for what God should or should not be doing or allowing.

  10. lary9 says:

    What saints beleived that polygamy was the “default system” of marriage? It sure wasn’t any I’ve studied. St. Paul was adamant about minimalized marital concessions to avoid ‘burning’…whatever that cryptic, fever-born statement means.

  11. Nathan000000 says:

    Lary9, I think when James says “saints,” he means early members of the Mormon church, from the 1800s, not early Christians from the first century AD.

  12. lary9 says:

    You’re right. Thanks.

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