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The Manifesto of 1890
by Paul H. Peterson
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. In this respect, the Manifesto is similar to Doctrine and Covenants official declaration2.
Following the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, the Church found it difficult to operate as a viable institution (see Antipolygamy Legislation). Among other things, this legislation disincorporated the Church, confiscated its properties, and even threatened seizure of its temples. After visiting with priesthood leaders in many settlements, President Woodruff left for San Francisco on September 3, 1890, to meet with prominent businessmen and politicians. He returned to Salt Lake City on September 21, determined to obtain divine confirmation to pursue a course that seemed to be agonizingly more and more clear. As he explained to Church members a year later, the choice was between, on the one hand, continuing to practice plural marriage and thereby losing the temples, "stopping all the ordinances therein," and, on the other, ceasing plural marriage in order to continue performing the essential ordinances for the living and the dead. President Woodruff hastened to add that he had acted only as the Lord directed: "I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me" (see Appendix; "Excerpts" accompanying Official Declaration1).
The final element in President Woodruff's revelatory experience came on the evening of September 23, 1890. The following morning, he reported to some of the General Authorities that he had struggled throughout the night with the Lord regarding the path that should be pursued. "Here is the result," he said, placing a 510-word handwritten manuscript on the table. The document was later edited by George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency and others to its present 356 words. On October 6, 1890, it was presented to the Latter-day Saints at the General Conference and approved.
While nearly all Church leaders in 1890 regarded the Manifesto as inspired, there were differences among them about its scope and permanence. Some leaders were understandably reluctant to terminate a long-standing practice that was regarded as divinely mandated. As a result, a limited number of plural marriages were performed over the next several years. Not surprisingly, rumors of such marriages soon surfaced, and beginning in January 1904, testimony given in the Smoot hearings made it clear that plural marriage had not been completely extinguished. The ambiguity was ended in the General Conference of April 1904, when the First Presidency issued the "second manifesto," an emphatic declaration that prohibited plural marriage and proclaimed that offenders would be subject to Church discipline, including excommunication.
The Manifesto of 1890 should be regarded as a pivotal event in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of the state of Utah. Not only did it mark the beginning of the end of the official practice of plural marriage, but it also heralded a new age as Latter-day Saints relinquished the isolationist practices of the past and commenced a period of greater accommodation and integration into the fabric of American society (see Utah Statehood).
(See Daily Living home page; Church History home page; Plural Marriage home page; Teachings About Marriage home page)
Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition, pp. 3-15. Urbana, Ill., 1986.
Gibbons, Francis M. Wilford Woodruff, pp. 353-61. Salt Lake City, 1988.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Manifesto of 1890
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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