Polygamy was practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for much of the 19th century here in the United States. The history of the Church will show that between 20 and 30 percent of the members of the LDS Church practiced polygamy or “plural marriage” between 1852 and 1890.
The private practice of polygamy was instituted in 1830 by LDS founder Joseph Smith, and the public practice of plural marriage by the church was announced and defended in 1852 Orson Pratt, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at the request of church president Brigham Young. The practice was very controversial in society as well as in the LDS Church itself. At one time the Republican Party made reference to the practice as “the twin relics of barbarism—polygamy, and slavery.”
For more than 60 years the LDS Church and the United States were at odds over the practice. The Church claimed they had the right based on their understanding of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution granting the Church the freedom to practice their faith without interference from the government. It has been suggested that the Utah War of 1857-58 was specifically over the issue of polygamy and designed to expose a weakness in President James Buchanan’s approach to both polygamy and slavery.
In 1862, the United States Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which prohibited plural marriage in the territories but despite the law, many church members continued to practice polygamy citing freedom of religion. In 1890, church president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto that officially terminated the practice of polygamy. However, this did not dissolve plural marriages that were already in existence but it improved relations with the United States, and Utah was admitted as a state in 1896.
Plural Marriages continued until a second manifesto was released in 1904 when church president Joseph F. Smith disavowed polygamy before Congress. After this public denunciation, several smaller groups split off from the LDS Church to maintain the practice of Plural Marriage. The Mainstream LDS Church has gone out of its way to distance themselves from these splinter groups and has a statement on their official website saying that “the standard doctrine of the Church is monogamy.”