In the late 1800s laws were being passed by the Senate to seize the property of the church, including the temples, if they did not give up Plural Marriage. The two events that caused Wilford Woodruff to write the Manifesto was first, a political friend of the church advised them that is would be necessary to make an announcement “concerning polygamy and the laying of it aside.”
Second the Utah Commission reported to the Secretary of the Interior that:
The Commission is in receipt of reports from its registration officers [in Utah] which enumerate forty-one male persons, who, it is believed, have entered into the polygamic relation, in their several precincts, since the June revision of 1889.
It was after this that Wilford Woodruff drafted the document that would become the Manifesto. In a council with three of the twelve apostles they revised the document until it was finalized to its present form.
Although President Woodruff wrote in his diary on 25 September 1890 that he published the Manifesto after it was “sustained by my Councilors and the 12 Apostles,” only three apostles approved it in manuscript, and half the Quorum was barely supportive when the apostles met on 30 September and 1 October 1890 to discuss the published document. Of the nine apostles present, two said that they were bewildered by the announcement (one referred to the 1886 and 1889 revelations that seemed to prohibit such a declaration), and of the seven apostles who announced their support, four specifically stated that they understood it to apply only to the United States.
These reactions from the Apostles shows us the reason why Wilford Woodruff only sought the approval of three of the twelve Apostles. If he had sought the approval of all twelve the Manifesto would not have been approved. Later on October 2, 1890 the First Presidency and Twelve all approved the already approved Manifesto. They also decided against getting the approval of the saints during general conference because they didn’t want to commit the saints to the Manifesto which was “a policy which they might in the future wish to discard.” the only reason it was presented at general conference was because the U.S. Secretary of the Interior demanded it to prove that the Manifesto had been accepted as official Church policy.
The vote at general conference to approve the Manifesto was not unanimous. At least one person, William Gibson, voted against it. One of the scriptures used to justify the Manifesto was what is not Doctrine and Covenants 124:49,50
49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.
50 And the iniquity and transgression of my holy laws and commandments I will visit upon the heads of those who hindered my work, unto the third and fourth generation, so long as they repent not, and hate me, saith the Lord God.
In the Deseret Evening News it was stated that only apostates had ever used those verses to justify the abandonment of Plural Marriage.
The story commonly heard in Church is that this was the end. There were no more authorized Plural Marriages after the Manifesto. However as you will learn in the next chapters, the Manifesto was anything but a binding revelation from God. Rather it was a political statement designed to get the United States government of the back of the Church.
Here we will examine the 1890 Manifesto:
To Whom It May Concern:
Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year,
This is untrue. The Utah Commission report did not say forty or more marriages had been contracted in Utah. It stated that forty or more marriages had been contracted, “in their several precincts” many of these actually occurred in Mexico.
also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygamy—
I, therefore, as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false.
These charges are false because they are not the true charges. The forty or more marriages DID occur WITH permission from the first presidency so they rephrased the Utah Commission report. By claiming the marriages occurred only Utah they could truthfully deny the incorrect charges.
We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
They were in fact still teaching Plural Marriage. And those forty or more marriages did occur, but not all of them in Utah territory. Most of them occurred in Mexico.
One case has been reported, in which the parties allege that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, in Salt Lake City, in the Spring of 1889, but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony;
The marriage in question was the Jorgenson marriage. Franklin D. Richards, one of the three apostles who approved the Manifesto, was the person who officiated this marriage.
whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge. In consequence of this alleged occurrence the Endowment House was, by my instructions, taken down without delay.
The original draft of the manifesto stated that the Jorgenson marriage “was not with our permission or knowledge.” But it was changed to “without my knowledge” because the Jorgensons would be “unhappy” with the original version, “as it would throw a doubt on the legality of their marriage.”
Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Instead of the original version which stated, “our advice to the Latter-day Saints is to obey the law of the land,” it was changed to, “refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” this was because the law of the land prohibited Pluralists from cohabiting with their other wives. And to allow those already married to cohabit with their wives they rewrote it.
Also it is interesting to note that the Manifesto is written as “advice” to the Latter-day Saints. Nowhere does it say it is God’s word or His commandment. Nor does it say that Plural Marriage is to end or forbidden of God.
For me all of this leaves two possibilities. First the Manifesto was simply made up by Wilford Woodruff. This would have been in a time a great persecution of the church. Even though God had promised to protect the saints, Wilford saw no help in sight and acted on his own.
Second the Lord did inspire the Manifesto but it was given only for the temporal salvation of the church in the United States territories. The Manifesto was given to stave off investigation and persecution of the church coming from the government. But at the same time the Saints were to still practice Plural Marriage in secret or in countries where polygyny was legal.
With either of these options we must consider the facts that the Lord said He would never do away with Plural Marriage. We must also recognize that Plural Marriage continued, with authorization, for about seventeen years after the Manifesto, until 1907. It wasn’t until Heber J. Grant that the Manifesto was enforced on the church as a whole.