The Emotional and Priestly Logic of Plural Marriage

The nineteenth century in America was increasingly a time of high romance and low tolerance for Mormonism. Tonight I will discuss the relationship between these trends to better understand the logic of the Saints’ marital practices. First, though, let me pause to say a few things about logic. Logic is not an absolute but rather a set of assertions based upon specific premises or assumptions. People who share premises will find the ideas and actions that flow from them logical, while people who don’t will find these same ideas and actions illogical, even wrong. This is most obvious when it comes to religious premises. Academic historians of religious behavior do not have a “dog in that fight.” We try to limit ourselves to the task of understanding and explaining, or you could say we limit ourselves to asking out of curiosity, not judgment, what did they think they were doing? Explanations, like the one I will attempt tonight, often get misunderstood as endorsements, however. So, let me begin by asking you to remember that when I speak of the logic of plural marriage, I am not endorsing it or even arguing that it was logical to any but those who practiced it—and not even to all of them. Tonight my goal is limited to analyzing the meanings early Latter-day Saints brought to their marriages that made sense of those marriages—to them.

Read complete article

Kathleen Flake, Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series No. 15, (Logan, UT: Utah State Univ., 2010)