Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830–1853 by Merina Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Another great look at Mormon Polygamy. While the information overlaps with many of the other books I've read on the subject it also gives a lot of new insights and stories. It uses Rough Stone Rolling and In Sacred loneliness as a source and since I've already written detailed reviews of those books I won't go into too much detail about this book.
However, this book discusses the entirety of polygamy from beginning with secret polygamy in Nauvoo, through the martyrdom, across the plains, and living open polygamy in Utah.
The books I had previously read on the subject dealt mainly with the Nauvoo years or focused more on the people involved with polygamy only being a part of the story. This book faces Polygamy head on as a doctrine. The title tells you pretty much what you are going to get in terms of narrative through the book. The author discusses it from the believers point of view (revelation) and the non-believers point of view (resistance). We get to learn a little about the cultural influences leading up to the start of polygamy as well as the end of polygamy.
I enjoyed the stories of many different people living polygamy in different situations. I feel like the author does a good job of trying to share positive stories in between some of the harder stories. She is also good about looking in depth at quotes and accounts and pointing out cultural bias and the tendency we all have to remember history through rose colored glasses. We get to see the differences in what some people said publicly in speeches and accounts verses what the say in their private journals. It shows the complexity of the subject and the wrestle that many people underwent to live it.
It's also interesting to come at polygamy from the man's point of view, the woman's point of view, and the child's point of view. This book does a good job of showing that even people in the same family disagree about polygamy and each viewed their situation uniquely.
A few new areas this book covered were the relief society/Emma Smith's interactions with polygamy, and the stories of those inside and outside the faith that opposed polygamy and how this affected the transition after the martyrdom.
The author does a good job about seperating secret Nauvoo (polygamy) from public Nauvoo (professing to be anti-polygamy). While Emma Smith is the president of Relief Society she begins to hear rumors about secret Nauvoo. She then begins to send her councilors and friends out to try and stop the rumors about her husband and polygamy. The only problem was that the people she sent out to squelch the rumors were already secret polygamous wives of her husband and the rumors they were trying to stop were actually true. The author does a good job of explaining the time line and how things played out for those who were in the know about polygamy and those who were not. It also talks about Emma's ordeal with knowing about it but not knowing all about it. Trying to accept it but ultimately rejecting it. Loving her husband but wanting to leave. And also her decision to not go west with the saints. It also mentions that we don't have a journal for Emma, which would be very uncommon for a woman of her time not to have kept one. My secret wish is that it's in existance somewhere and that we get to see it someday!
Along with Emma there were also many high ranking authorities within the church who opposed polygamy. After Joseph and Hyrum are martyred, these opinions for and against polygamy are a key component in the debates over who should be the next prophet and what the organization of the church will look like. Emma Smith had believed that polygamy would die with her husband and when she learns that it wont and that it is far more widespread than she had known she aligns herself with the leadership of the high council who oppose polygamy and that is ultimately why she chooses to stay behind. Also her and Brigham really don't get along for a variety of reasons. But that's a discussion for another time.
Anyway, if you enjoy church history I would definitely recommend this book. I think cultural context is always important for understanding difficult topics like polygamy and this book gives a lot of context. I also enjoyed getting to read the journal entries and letters written by real people living through this period of church history.
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Monday, October 30, 2017
Book Review: A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870
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