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Joseph F. Smith is the “One” Man 

           It appears that during the presidencies of both Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow, Second Counselor Joseph F. Smith received private permission to authorize plural marriages, independent of the Church President’s specific case-by-case approval.  With the deaths of George Q. Cannon in 12 April 1901 and President Lorenzo Snow six months later, Joseph F. Smith became the “one” man.

          As the Senior Apostle holding the keys of sealing, President Smith was initially more approachable than his two predecessors had been with regards to the performance of new secret plural marriages.  Years earlier in 1891, he expressed the belief that he did not consider the Manifesto of 1890 “to be an emphatic revelation from God abolishing plural marriage.”[1]  Accordingly, he permitted Anthony W. Ivins, Matthias Cowley, and others to once again seal polygamous unions. 

          Between 1901 and April of 1904, over sixty plural marriages were authorized and performed, with Ivins performing many of them.  Regarding these, historians Victor W. Jorgensen and B. Carmon Hardy have written:  “The First Presidency and the apostles were involved and aware.  Permission to solemnize a polygamous marriage, whether by direct word or by letter, had to proceed from the First Presidency if it were to be efficacious.  Neither Ivins, nor Cowley, nor anyone else might properly act without such permission.”[2]

          President Smith’s relaxation with respect to new secret plural marriages soon generated a wave of rumors that were difficult to refute.  Eventually, a whirlwind of national opposition would blow into Church headquarters. 

The “Second Manifesto” of 1904 

          In early 1903, Reed Smoot, a monogamist member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was elected to the United States Senate.  Due to his lofty Church calling and the recent events associated with polygamy, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections commenced hearings in January 1904 to examine the propriety of admitting him as member of the senate.  During the next two and a half years, this committee summoned various leaders and members of the Church, delving into many topics that were far removed from the initial inquiry of Senator Smoot’s worthiness.[3]  Utah’s delegate in the House of Representatives summed up the proceedings saying: “It looks more serious for the Mormon people than they seem to realize at home.  It is summed up in this: ‘The question is not, ‘Shall Reed Smoot keep his seat in the Senate?’  But, ‘Shall the Mormon Church be declared an alien organization, and its members unfit to hold the rights of citizenship?’”[4]

          President Joseph F. Smith was the first witness in early March, 1904.  Senators drilled the elderly leader concerning the allegations that plural marriages were performed after the 1890 Manifesto.[5]  Questions were posed concerning the lack of Church discipline or excommunication for those who did not follow the Manifesto.  In all, the President was in a very awkward position.  “During the thirteen and a half years [after the 1890 Manifesto], members of the First Presidency individually or as a unit published twenty-four denials that any new plural marriages were being performed”[6] even though privately a few had been permitted each year.  The politicians were brazen as they confronted the Church President with the ambiguity of that period.

          Before they were finished, the hearings generated over 3000 pages of testimony.[7]  Then Apostle and Senator-elect Smoot observed: “We have not as a people, at all times, lived strictly to our agreements with the Government, and this lack of sincerity on our part goes farther to condemn us in the eyes of the public men of the nation than the mere fact of a few new polygamy cases, or a polygamist before the manifesto living in the state of unlawful cohabitation.”[8]  Quorum President Francis M. Lyman in a letter to fellow Apostle George Teasdale admitted that Church leaders were looked upon as “dishonest and untrustworthy.”[9]

          Within weeks of returning home from Washington, President Joseph F. Smith issued an “Official Statement” that has been called the “Second Manifesto.”[10]  It was remarkably similar to the 1890 Manifesto, except that it promised “excommunication” to individuals who would not comply. 

          Despite its plain language, historians differ in their opinions as to whether President Smith sincerely meant to curtail plural marriage at that time.  One writer penned: “It is doubtful that [Joseph F.] Smith intended that the Second Manifesto do more than restate the ‘advice’ given in 1890.”[11]  Yet, President Smith’s own behavior suggests otherwise as he immediately ceased authorizing new plural marriages.  Reportedly, he had secretly permitted thirty to forty per year during 1901, 1902, and 1903.[12]  But upon his return from the Smoot Hearings, that number dropped nearly to zero.[13]

                During the three years directly following the 1904 Second Manifesto, it appears that a handful of additional plural marriages may have been allowed by President Smith including one of Apostle Rudger Clawson.[14]  A review of these cases shows that they were different from most plural sealings allowed before 1904.  Some had been approved prior to the issuance of the Second Manifesto, while others were authorized retrospectively, having been contracted after 1904 by sincere individuals who had been deceived by the officiator who claimed permission he had not actually received.[15] 

                Regardless, evidence strongly suggests that after issuing the Second Manifesto, President Smith, as the “one” man holding the sealing keys, genuinely intended to stop new plural marriages.  In September 1905, he addressed listeners in the Mexican colonies saying “men cannot marry plural wives at present with my consent.”[16] 

          Once the Second Manifesto had been issued, word was sent to Anthony W. Ivins who had responsibility to inform the Mexican Saints.  In June of 1904 Ivins met with a man and woman who desired to be his plural wife, but recognizing the authority of the 1904 statement issued months earlier, Ivins refused to perform the ceremony.[17]

          President Smith put Quorum President Francis M. Lyman in charge of bringing members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles in line.  To Apostle Teasdale, Lyman wrote:  “The Presidency hold me responsible to see to it that the members of our council be thoroughly advised that we will not be tolerated in anything out of harmony with the stand taken by President Joseph F. Smith before the Senate Committee on the subject of plural marriage. We must uphold his hands and vindicate the Church.”[18]  Lyman also acknowledged the challenges the Church and its leaders then faced: “Every member of our council, must sustain the stand taken by President Smith and must not talk nor act at cross purposes with the Prophet. What has already been done is shaking the confidence of the Latter-day Saints. We are considered as two-faced and insincere. We must not stand in that light before the Saints or the world.”[19]

          President Lyman wrote to other apostles including John W. Taylor, John Henry Smith, and Reed Smoot using First Presidency Stationary advising them of President Smith’s determination to stop new plural marriages.  He requested their “co-operation in emphasizing the same in your private conversations and counsels as well as your public utterances, to the end that no misunderstanding may exist among our people concerning its scope and meaning; but on the contrary, that all may [be] given to distinctly understand that infractions of the law in regard to plural marriage are transgressions against the Church punishable by excommunication.”[20]

          Historian Carmon Hardy rightfully assessed:  “Whatever else might be said, the 1904 declaration constituted a genuine dividing line, resulting in a definite reduction, if not cessation, of approved polygamous marriages within the church.”[21]

          In accordance with Joseph F. Smith’s instructions, Quorum of the Twelve President Francis M. Lyman called in many others, questioning them about their feelings concerning post-1904 plural marriages.  Joseph W. Summerhays was summoned and admitted marrying polygamously in 1906, asserting that Joseph F. Smith had given him permission, which President Smith flatly denied.[22]

          A Bishop Daniel Muir was also called in.  Smoot wrote: “Bishop Muir was present and admitted he married a plural wife on 14 June 1905.  He would not inform on anyone else – did not believe the declaration of President Smith was made in good faith nor the Woodruff manifesto was ever intended to put a stop to polygamy – claimed they had been going on ever since 1890 and no action taken.”[23]

          Part of the problem associated with post-1904 plural marriages came from a few local leaders who were not privy to genuine feelings of the “one” man holding the sealing keys in both pre-1904 and post-1904 periods.  Essentially, most pre-1904 plural marriages were secret and authorized.  In contrast, post-1904 marriages were secret and unauthorized.[24]  However, the secrecy that camouflaged legitimate plural marriages prior to 1904 created an atmosphere (for a few years) wherein unauthorized post-1904 unions might occur without the local leaders truly understanding the “one” man’s directives.  Consequently, a few bishops and stake presidencies apparently looked with leniency upon new plural unions, which occurred after the President Smith’s “Official Statement.”  This was probably the case with David Felt who married a plural wife after 1904 and was excommunicated.  His bishop may have assisted and promptly resigned his bishopric.[25]

          Regarding the Church leaders’ efforts to convince local officers that new plural marriages were no longer permitted, Kathleen Flake assessed: “We tend to assume, that like Yul Brenner in the Ten Commandments, that when the Brethren speak, it happens.  And I think one of the problems [that Church leaders] had [was that] even if they had wanted to stop polygamy, they couldn’t turn this ship on a dime.  They had been speaking in code for too many years and they had dispensed the authority to perform these marriages too broadly.  So that first they had to convince people that they really meant it this time.”[26]

          To augment previous efforts to convince local leaders of the Church President’s dedication to stopping new plural marriages, a special Priesthood meeting was held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square 8 October 1910, with the First Presidency and the Twelve and thirty-eight of the Church’ sixty-two stake presidents in attendance.[27]  “President Joseph F. Smith got up and said that he endorsed everything that had been said condemning new polygamous marriages...  He wanted it understood once and for all that there is only one man on earth at a time who holds the keys of this sealing power and that he has not or will not permit any plural marriages to be performed and that all persons performing such marriages as well as all persons contracting such marriages must be disciplined and cut off from the Church.”[28]

          Later in October, the First Presidency issued instructions to all Stake Presidents calling “for Church action against offenders” - those continuing the practice of plural marriage.[29]  The apostles “agreed upon the changing of several Stake Presidencies where polygamists were in them having married their wives since the Manifesto.  When the changes are made the new presidencies will be asked to handle new cases of polygamy,” wrote Reed Smoot.  “The crowd that have been marrying and getting others to marry plural wives are beginning to think the church is in earnest.”[30]

          The following month the First Presidency and Francis M. Lyman met with Apostle-Senator Reed Smoot:  “Held a meeting with first Presidency and F. Lyman for purpose of discussing the question of new polygamy cases and what action the church was going to take with them...  All cases after 1904 would be handled and if testimony could be secured against them, they would be excommunicated from the church.  All cases between the Woodruff manifesto and 1904 should be dealt with according to circumstances...”[31]  By 1914, even a few stake presidents had been excommunicated.[32]

          Miles A. Romney married his fourth wife, Emily Burrell in the Manti, Temple in 1909.  Details of the marriage are not available, but when Church authorities learned of the ceremony, Romney was removed from his position as President of the Stake Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association and was subsequently barred from other leadership positions.[33]  Fredrick James also contracted a plural marriage in the Manti, Temple in 1909.  Upon discovery a Church court was held, handled by Anthony Ivins who told the High Council that “President Joseph F. Smith felt strongly about this case and was insistent that James be severely disciplined.”[34]

          To further crystallize his position, President Joseph F. Smith announced in 1911:

          Plural marriages have ceased in the Church. There isn't a man today in this Church, or anywhere else, outside of it who has authority to solemnize a plural marriage--not one! There is no man or woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is authorized to contract a plural marriage. It is not permitted, and we have been endeavoring to the utmost of our ability to prevent men from being led by some designing person into an unfortunate condition that is forbidden by the conferences, and by the voice of the Church, a condition that has to some extent at least, brought reproach upon the people. I want to say that we have been doing all in our power to prevent it, or to stop it; and in order that we might do this, we have been seeking, to our utmost, to find the men who have been the agents and the cause of leading people into it. We find it very difficult to trace them up, but when we do find them, and can prove it upon them, we will deal with them as we have dealt with others that we have been able to find.[35] 

Just prior to his passing in November of 1918, Joseph F. Smith encouraged his successor, Heber J. Grant, saying: “Always remember this is the Lord’s work, and not man’s.  The Lord is greater than any man.  He knows who He wants to lead His Church, and never makes any mistakes.”[36] 


[1]    Quinn, “New Plural Marriages,” 83.  First Presidency Office Journal, 20 August 1891.

[2]    Jorgensen and Hardy, “Taylor-Cowley Affair,” 19.

[3]    Kathleen Flake, Politics of American Religious Identity, 15, 18.

[4]    Ibid. 62.  From a letter of James H. Howell to Ed Callister, 18 January 1906.

[5]   See Bergera, “Carl A. Badger,” 36-41.

[6]   Quinn, “New Plural Marriages,” 9.

[7]   Kathleen Flake, Politics of American Religious Identity, 5.

[8]   Smoot to Jesse M. Smith, 22 March 1904.  In Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 161.

[9]    Letter dated 8 July 1904.  In Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 261.

[10]  The 1890 Manifesto was added to the end of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1908.  (Matthews, “Publications of the Standard Works,” 416).   The 1904 Manifesto was dropped with the 1981 edition.

[11]  Kathleen Flake, Politics of American Religious Identity, 103; see also Flake’s comments at “Reed Smoot Hearings,” presentation at the 2004 Salt Lake City Sunstone Convention.  However, she also determined: “Throughout the summer and fall of 1904, Smith applied himelf to the task of authenticating his March 1904 testimony by keeping the apostolic quorum from performing plural marriages” (Politics of American Religious Identity, 104).  See also Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 313.

[12]  Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 317.

[13]  Ibid.

[14] Marriage occurred 3 August 1904 (Hardy, Solemn Covenant, Appendix #51).  D. Michael Quinn wrote: “Clawson’s was the first of about ten polygamous marriages that occurred after the Second Manifesto with the private approval of President Joseph F. Smith.”  (Extensions of Power, 183).  He also reported that on 16 September 1905; 14, 21 February, 1906; and 21 April 1907 that “plural marriages were performed with personal knowledge and authorization of President Joseph F. Smith” (ibid., 807-09). 

[15]  D. Michael Quinn taught: “There is no evidence that I’ve seen that Joseph F. Smith commissioned Patriarch Judson Tolman to perform plural marriages from 1906 to 1910.  But President Smith did protect a few men who were married by Tolman.”  (“Plural Marriages After Manifesto,” typescript 5.)

[16]   Juarez Stake Historical Record, 1901-06, 16 September 1905.  In Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 311.

[17]   Ibid., 261.

[18]   Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 169.  9 July 1904 letter, Lyman Letterbooks.

[19]   Ibid.

[20]   Ibid.  Francis M. Lyman to John W. Taylor, 3 May 1904.

[21]   Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 261.

[22]   Smoot Diaries, 12 October 1910.

[23]   Ibid., 1 October 1910.

[24]  D. Michael Quinn writes: “[Rudger] Clawon’s was the first of about ten polygamous marriages that occurred after the Second Manifesto with the private approval of President Joseph F. Smith.”  Unfortunately, Quinn does not provide documentation but adds: “As a result, dozens of prominent Mormons were excommunicated or otherwise disciplined by the Quorum of Twelve from 1906 onward for performing or entering marriage similar to Clawson’s.”  (Extensions of Power, 183; italics added.)  If those “dozens” of plural marriages were not authorized by President Smith, Church members might assert that they were then dissimilar in a very significant way having been performed without permission of the “one” man.

[25]  Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 325.

[26]  Kathleen Flake, “Reed Smoot Hearings,” Presentation given at the 2004 Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium.

[27]  Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 67.

[28]  Minutes for meeting 8 October 1910, in 1910-1912 minute book, 67-68.  Spelling standardized.  Smith Research Associates, New Mormon Studies CDROM.  See also Reed Smoot Diaries for date.

[29]   Messages of the First Presidency, 4:216-18, 301. 

[30]  Smoot Diaries, 13 October 1910; see also 16 March 1911.

[31]  Ibid., 15 November 1910.

[32]  Quinn, “Plural Marriages After Manifesto,” typescript 2.

[33]  Whether he was also disfellowshipped is unclear.  However, he eventually was forgiven and allowed to participate in official responsibilities within the Church.  See Hilton, “Polygamy in Utah Since Manifesto, 16.

[34]  Kimball Young, Isn’t One Wife Enough?, 421. 

[35]  Conference Report, April 1911, 8; italics added.

[36]  Quinn, Extensions of Power, 816.