In his 1943 book, “Evidences and Reconciliations, Apostle John A. Widtsoe explained:

“Plural marriage has been a subject of wide and frequent comment.  Members of the Church unfamiliar with its history, and many non-members, have set up fallacious reasons for the origin of this system of marriage among the Latter-day Saints.

The most common of these conjectures is that the Church, through plural marriage, sought to provide husbands for its large surplus of female members.  The implied assumption in this theory, that there have been more female than male members in the Church, is not supported by existing evidence.  On the contrary, there seem always to have been more males than females in the Church...

The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church.  Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States, as would be expected in a pioneer state.  The births within the Church obey the usual population law - a slight excess of males...

The theory that plural marriage was a consequence of a surplus of female Church members fails from lack of evidence...

Another conjecture is that the people were few in number and that the Church, desiring greater numbers, permitted the practice so that a phenomenal increase in population could be attained.  This is not defensible, since there was no surplus of women...”

Elder Widtsoe goes on to explain the reason he believes polygamy was practiced: “The principle of plural marriage came by revelation from the Lord.  That is the reason why the Church practiced it.”  (Widtsoe, John A., “Evidences And Reconciliation”, pgs 307 – 310, The Bookcraft Company, 1943, Salt Lake City, Utah)

An example from the U.S. Census records, which Elder Widtsoe referred to, indicates that in 1840 there were 5169 males and 4762 females in Hancock County, Illinois (Nauvoo being the primary population center).  Counting just those persons between the ages of 15 and 40, there were 2067 men and 1828 women.  1850 Census information for Utah records 6020 males and 5310 females.

A common reason given for polygamy, among polygamists both historical and modern, from Joseph Smith to Warren Jeffs, is the idea that God commanded them to take additional wives.  Joseph's Brother, Hyrum, and several of Joseph's wives said that Joseph told them God would send an angel with a sword to "slay" him if he did not marry additional wives.

Today, an increasing number of LDS church members are uncomfortable with the idea that God commanded polygamy, and are adopting a different view.  To them, Joseph Smith’s behavior seems inappropriate or manipulative – perhaps even abusive.  The idea that Joseph pressured young teenagers into marriage, or that he married women who already had loving, honorable husbands, does not mesh with treasured principles such as agency when choosing a partner and fidelity to ones cherished spouse.  All this seems foreign to the God they worship and the principles they honor and love.

These LDS church members take the view that, like David of the Old Testament, it’s possible for accomplished and respected men to occasionally make a mistake.  They hope for the day when the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s behavior in polygamy as appropriate.  Although sometimes difficult, these members kindly and gently stand for their principles.  One member tells how during a discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, she expressed her feelings by simply saying, “I don’t want to make a big deal of this, but I just want you to know that I don’t think this was appropriate, or of God”.  

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