Mitt Romney�s Polygamous Heritage


by Todd M. Compton

This is a work in progress: constructive suggestions for improvement will be welcomed.


As a Mormon and a political junkie, I�ve watched Mitt Romney�s career with interest. His religious and polygamist family background has surfaced occasionally in the media, and interestingly, he himself brought it up as he testified at a Senate hearing in support of the FMA, a proposed federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as monogamous, male-female, and banning other forms of marriage, which could be defined as nonstandard.

Curious to find out what Romney�s polygamist heritage actually was, I did a quick internet search and found that there was some confusion on the subject. I even ran across some serious factual mistakes (such as the idea that Miles Romney, Mitt�s great-great-grandfather, had twelve wives). So I thought it would be useful to lay out the basic facts of Mitt Romney�s polygamous background and make it available on my website.

The following is a mere sketch, not based on primary documentation, for the most part. However, the sources I cite will help researchers follow up on the subject, if they want to pursue it further. Also, the following is not an attempt to create a whole genealogical tree for Mitt Romney.[1] I will focus on forbears who were involved with LDS plural marriage.

For background on Mormon polygamy, see my short essay on Mormon polygamy at the Signature Books website, with the bibliography cited there: Following is an even shorter overview. In Ohio and Illinois, Mormons practiced polygamy secretly, with Joseph Smith marrying about thirty-three wives. He taught that practicing polygamy was necessary for the highest salvation.

In Utah, Mormons lived polygamy openly and announced it publicly in 1852. Mormon elite leaders had especially large families (Brigham Young had about 55 wives[2]), based on the doctrine that the greater the family in this life, the higher the salvation in the next life.

Utah became a territory, and Abraham Lincoln signed a law against polygamy in 1862, the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act (the early Republican party regarded polygamy as, with slavery, one of the �twin relics of barbarism�). The Morrill Act was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1879, but Mormons felt that plural marriage was a religious duty and continued to practice it. However, under the Edmunds Act and the Edmunds-Tucker Act (in 1882 and 1887), the U.S. government began energetically enforcing anti-polygamy law and many polygamists served terms in jail. The Edmunds-Tucker Act threatened to strip Mormons of all political power and take away the church�s property and possessions.

Finally, in 1890 President Wilford Woodruff released �The Manifesto,� in which the LDS church publicly discontinued polygamy. This paved the way for Utah to become a state in 1896.

Giving up polygamy was not easy for the Saints, and church leaders (including the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) secretly authorized further plural marriages until the first decade of the twentieth century. Mitt Romney�s ancestors were especially prominent in this �Post-Manifesto� era of Mormon polygamy, as many post-Manifesto plural marriages were solemnized in Mexico.[3] Two common misconceptions about Mexican post-Manifesto polygamy are that polygamy was legal in Mexico, and that the Manifesto did not apply outside the United State. In actuality, polygamy was illegal in Mexico,[4] and church leaders had agreed to discontinue polygamy throughout the world, not just in the United States. President Woodruff stated that the prohibition on plural marriages applied to Mormons �everywhere and in every nation and country.�[5]

News of post-Manifesto plural marriages inevitably leaked out, and when Reed Smoot was voted into the Senate in 1904, he was not allowed to sit without hearings examining the LDS church�s commitment to stopping polygamy entirely. These hearings were a considerable embarrassment to church leaders.[6] Under great pressure, Joseph F. Smith released what is known as the �Second Manifesto� in 1904.

Gradually, the LDS church became entirely monogamous, and today excommunicates known polygamists. Presently, a few groups which splintered off from the LDS church, called �Fundamentalists,� practice polygamy in Utah and nearby states.


Willard Mitt Romney[7] is the son of George Wilcken Romney and Lenore LaFount. George W. Romney was born in Colonia Dubl�n, Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico, on 8 July 1907, to Gaskell Romney and Anna Amelia Pratt. His family moved back to the United States, and George, of course, became a remarkably successful businessman and politician: President and Chairman of American Motors (1954-1962), Governor of Michigan (1962-1969), and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1969-1973). He died on 26 July 1995.

George W. Romney was not a polygamist, but he was born in the Mormon colonies in Mexico, which had been created to provide a haven for polygamists when polygamy was become increasingly enforced in the United States in the mid-1880s.[8]

To the best of my knowledge, Mitt Romney�s LaFount forebears did not practice polygamy.


Gaskell Romney was not a polygamist, but he was a son in a polygamist family. Born on 22 September 1871 in St. George, Washington, Utah to Miles Park Romney and Hannah Hood Hill (first wife in a family of five wives), he, with his parents and family, moved to the Mexican colonies in 1884. He married Anna Amelia Pratt on 20 February 1895.

Gaskell, Anna and family moved back to the U.S. in 1912, due to the upheaval attendant on the Mexican Revolution, called the �Exodus� in colony lore.[9]

Anna Amelia Pratt was also raised in a polygamous family. She was born on 6 May 1876, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Helaman Pratt and Anna Johanna Doratha (�Dora�) Wilcken, second wife in a family of three wives. After Anna Amelia died on 4 February 1926 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Gaskell married Anna Amelia�s younger sister, Amy Wilcken Pratt, on 25 March 1927. He died on 7 March 1955, in Salt Lake City, Utah.


When we arrive at Mitt Romney�s great-grandparents, we come to two prominent polygamists and church leaders in the Mormon colonies, Miles Park Romney and Helaman Pratt. These remarkable men allow us to see where Mitt Romney and George Wilcken Romney�s talent for leadership came from. Miles Park, Helaman and their wives were heroic pioneers in difficult circumstances in Mexico. They continued to practice polygamy after 1890, holding out for a cherished way of life long after it had been banned and officially given up in the United States.

Miles Park Romney and Hannah Hood Hill

Miles Park Romney[10] was born on 18 August 1843 in the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois to Miles Romney and Elizabeth Gaskell. He had five wives and thirty-one children. He married Hannah Hood Hill[11] on 10 May 1862, in Salt Lake City (11 children); Caroline (�Carry�) Lambourne on 23 March 1867, in Salt Lake City (2 children); Catherine Jane Cottam[12] on 15 September 1873 in Salt Lake City (11 children); Annie Maria Woodbury on 1 August 1877 in St. George, Washington, Utah (8 children); and Emily Henrietta Eyring Snow on 2 February 1897, probably in Mexico (no children).[13] This last was a post-Manifesto polygamous marriage. Emily was a widow of William Spencer Snow, who was a son of Erastus Snow, apostle and leader in Southern Utah.

A family history of Miles Park�s daughter, Martha Diana Romney Brown (a plural wife of Orson Pratt Brown, another leader in the colonies), tells how Miles Park entered polygamy:

After Elder Miles P. Romney returned from his mission in England he built a home in the Seventeenth Ward in Salt Lake City, Utah. Scarcely had it been completed when he, at the request of President Brigham Young, was to take a second wife. The marriage occurred in March 23, 1867, and the bride was Carrie Lambourne, a very beautiful young woman.

Nothing short of a firm belief in the divine origin of the Revelation of plural marriage could have induced Miles to take a second wife, and certain it is that Hannah (Hannah Hood Hill) the first wife of Miles, would never have permitted such a heart-breaking thing to come into her life had it not been for the testimony she had of the divinity of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith.[14]

It was common for church members to take plural wives when instructed to do so by their ecclesiastical superiors. If the prophet asked you to take a plural wife, it would be hard for a devout Mormon to disobey. This quote shows how the Utah saints viewed polygamy as a deeply religious commitment, and how they connected it with their first prophet, Joseph Smith. Incidentally, the marriage with Carrie Lambourne did not endure; she later separated from Miles Park Romney, and married a man named Abraham Meackin in Salt Lake City.

The Martha Diana Romney Brown history tells the epic story of how Hannah Hills and her children (including Gaskell) came to the Mormon colonies in Mexico. As the federal marshals increasingly arrested and imprisoned polygamists under the Edmunds and Edmunds-Tucker laws, Miles Park became a hunted man and had to retreat to Mexico.

In 1885, Miles, along with his 4th wife Annie Maria Woodbury and her three children, left for Mexico. It was in 1886 that father Romney sent his sons, Will and Miles, with a team and wagon back to St. Johns [Arizona] to bring his wife Hannah, her children and Mattie [Martha Diana Romney Brown] to Mexico. The account of the journey of this brave woman and her family from Arizona to Mexico over bad roads and through an Indian country much of the way is touching in the extreme and reveals a heroism sublime.

The family had expected to travel with the Skousen family, but when it came time to begin the journey, Hannah learned to her great disappointment, that the Skousen's were not ready to leave and so it became necessary for her to go the entire distance alone. When arriving in Nutrioso [in Apache County, eastern Arizona] she was advised not to make the trip alone as Geromino, the Apache chief, and his band were on the warpath and they would be in danger of losing their lives. Hannah replied that she would put her trust in her Heavenly Father and she felt certain that He would protect them on their journey.

At Nutrioso, Will, Mattie's brother, obtained employment and stayed, leaving Hannah and her children to complete the journey alone. The night after they left they were caught in a heavy snowstorm, which terminated in a blizzard that chilled them to the marrow. Quilts were wrapped around the younger children to keep them warm. Hannah and the older boys walked to keep from freezing. When the family arose from their beds in the morning they found icicles clinging to the water barrel a foot long but the freezing weather, Hannah declared, did not discourage her.

Apache Hill was so steep that it became necessary to fasten trees to the back of the wagons to keep them from running over the horses.The descent was made without accident.At one point in the journey they saw three dead horses lying by the roadside and learned that the Indians had killed them and their riders a few days before.The Romney boys, Miles Romney and Gaskell Romney, removed the shoes from the feet of the dead horses and nailed them to the hoofs of their own animals that had become tender from traveling.

It was a happy family when the journey ended. Their husband and father, Miles P. Romney, met them. The shelter Miles had prepared for them was a stockade building made of adobe, mud roof and dirt floor. Hannah said, "I was thankful for it, as my dear children and I would be with their father and we could live in peace with no marshals to molest us or separate us again." [15]

Miles Park died in Colonia Dubl�n, Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico, on 26 February 1904. Hannah Hood Hill, born in Tosoronto Township, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada on 9 July 1842, died in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on 29 December 1928.

Only one of Miles Park�s sons practiced polygamy: Miles Archibald Romney, born two years before Gaskell in 1869. After marrying Frances Turley in 1889 (12 children), he married three sisters, Lily Burrell in 1898 (1 child), Elizabeth Burrell in 1902 (11 children), and Emily Burrell in 1909 (6 children). These were post-Manifesto plural marriages; the last was a post-Second Manifesto plural marriage.

Helaman Pratt and Anna Johanna Dorothy (�Dora�) Wilcken

Helaman Pratt[16] was born in Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, in 31 May 1846, during the Mormon exodus across the plains. He was the son of the charismatic early apostle, Parley P. Pratt, and Mary Wood, one of Parley�s plural wives. Helaman lived a full life of Mormon leadership, exploration and colonizing, including numerous confrontations with American Indians. As a young man, he helped colonize the Muddy River mission in Nevada. He served in the Black Hawk War, and was sent on missions to Mexico in the 1870�s. This led to his eventual leadership in the Mormon colonies.

Helaman, a polygamist, had three wives and twenty children. He first married Emeline Victoria Billingsly on 25 July 1868, with whom he had eight children. Like Miles Park Romney, Helaman became a polygamist when directed to do so by Brigham Young. �On April 20, 1874, Helaman, on the advice of Brigham Young, married Dora Johanna Dorothy Wilcken [Anna Johanna Doratha Wilcken] as his second wife.�[17] They would have nine children.

Helaman married Bertha Christine Wilcken Stewart (Dora�s younger sister) on 14 July 1898; they had three children. This was a post-Manifesto polygamous marriage.[18] Bertha, who had previously married and divorced a J. Z. Stewart, wrote of the marriage to Helaman in a memoir:

Helaman Pratt and I were married on Mexican soil by one having authority to marry. Now began a great contrast between this marriage and that other one [to J. Z. Stewart]. I have been recognized, respected, loved, and esteemed as much as any wife could desire without infringing upon the rights of others. Among the many fine qualities of Helaman Pratt, was justice. He loved and honored every member of his family and treated them all as nearly alike as was humanly possible. I lived with my sister, Dora from choice. I was offered a home alone, but I preferred to live with my sister's family. I had my own room and my own responsibilities, especially as I taught in Dublan, a number of years after I was married. The family, and myself as a member, lived very happily together. Dora's children, who were much older than my three boys, loved them tenderly. Dora had lost her little son Charles just previous to my coming and the whole family welcomed my boys, who I think, somewhat took away the poignant grief at his loss.[19]

Though there were a good number of relationships and marriages in the history of Mormon polygamy that did not work out, this is an example of a polygamous marriage that did.

Helaman died in Dubl�n, Mexico on 26 November 1909. Dora, who had been born in Dahme, Zarpin, Reinfeld, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany on 25 July 1854, the daughter of Carl Heinrich Wilcken and Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche, died in Dubl�n twenty years after Helaman, on 22 June 1929.

A passage from H. Grant Ivins�s �Polygamy in Mexico� shows both the dynamics of post-Manifesto polygamy, and the stature of Miles Park Romney and Helaman Pratt in the Mexican colonies. H. Grant Ivins was a son of Anthony Ivins, the mission president in the Mexico colonies who performed many of the post-Manifesto plural marriages.

It was never understood by the Mormons in Mexico that the Woodruff Manifesto of September 1890 in any manner prohibited the practice of polygamy by Church members residing outside the United States. His statement, "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 . . . And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter Day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriages forbidden by the law of the land" was understood to have no bearing on plural marriages contracted in countries where no law prohibited the practice.[20]

Those living in Mexico were not the only ones so interpreting the Woodruff Manifesto. In his Comprehensive History of the Church, Brigham H. Roberts quotes a letter written by John W. Taylor at the time of his "resignation" from the Council of Twelve in which this concept of the Manifesto is upheld. Roberts says that Mathias F. Cowley, who resigned from the Council at the same time, wrote a similar letter of "resignation". That the members of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico interpreted the Manifesto in this way is evidenced by the fact that many men of the highest standing, leaders in the community, men who would never have gone against the advice of the Church leaders, took second and in some cases a third and fourth wife during this period. These marriages were entered into with the full approval of the community, and the plural wives were given equal standing with the other members of the household. Among those outstanding citizens, whose loyalty to Church authority can [n]ever be questioned, I list the following: Miles P. Romney, Joseph C. Bently, George C. Naegle, and Edward Eyring, father of the noted scientist, Henry Eyring, Orson P. Brown, Guy C. Wilson, Helaman Pratt and Henry E. Bowman. This list could be easily extended, but it is ample evidence of the quality of the men engaged in the practice of polygamy, and taking plural wives after the Woodruff Manifesto.

That the practice carried on in Mexico was known to the General Authorities cannot be doubted. Many of them visited the Colonies where they could not fail to become aware of what was going on. Among those who came to Mexico on official Church business, some of them many times, were John W. Taylor, Mathias F. Cowley, Hyrum Smith, son of Joseph F. Smith, A. [Abraham] Owen Woodruff, son of Wilford Woodruff, Heber J. Grant, Amasa M. Lyman, B. H. Roberts of the Council of Seventy, and President Joseph F. Smith. These men, with few exceptions, preached with fervor the doctrine that plural marriage was a pre-requisite to celestial exaltation. They urged the young men in the Colonies to accept and practice the principle. Many of them brought pressure to bear on my father to take a second wife, a pressure which he steadfastly resisted. He once said to me, "The Doctrine and Covenants says that those to whom the doctrine is revealed should accept and practice it. It has never been revealed to me that I should do so."

As previously stated, my father always assured members of his family that he never performed a marriage without the full authorization of the President of the Church. One incident, known to all members of our family, illustrates this fact. One evening a man and a woman appeared at our home saying that they had come from Salt Lake City for the purpose of being married by him. When asked to show their letter or authorization, they said they carried no such letter; upon learning that fact, my father informed them that he could not perform the marriage.[21]

Ivins mentions Edward Christian Eyring as a prominent leader in the colonies. He was the brother of Emily Henrietta Eyring Snow, Miles Park Romney�s last plural wife. Edward, in turned, married the sisters Caroline Cottam Romney (in 1893) and Emma Romney (in 1903, post-Manifesto), two daughters of Miles Park Romney and Catherine Cottam. One of Edward�s sons, Henry Eyring became a distinguished scientist,[22] and Henry�s son, Henry B. Eyring, is now a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church. One of Edward�s daughters, Camilla Eyring, became the wife of eventual President of the LDS Church, Spencer W. Kimball. As can be seen, descendants of the Mormon colonists in Mexico have made a substantial impact on contemporary LDS leadership.


Miles Romney and Elizabeth Gaskell

Miles Romney, a skilled carpenter, was born on 13 July 1806 in Dalton-In-Furness, Lancashire, England, and married Elizabeth Gaskell (Gaitskell) on 6 November 1830 in Dalton. After converting to Mormonism in 1839, they emigrated to America in 1841 and Miles helped work on the Nauvoo Temple. He later helped design and construct the St. George Temple in southern Utah, and is particularly known for building its circular staircase. He died on 3 May 1877, after falling out of a window of the temple.[23]

A few internet sources I have found state that Miles Romney had twelve wives; this is not correct, as far as I have been able to determine. He was not a polygamist. This incorrect information is apparently derived from the LDS Church�s Ancestral File database (found at, which is a useful source, but unfortunately has many errors. Note that in Ancestral File, there are no dates for the marriages, and no children listed, which is a sure sign that the data is suspect.

Elizabeth Gaskell Romney was born on January 8 1809 in Dalton-In-Furness, Lancaster, England, and died seven years after her husband, on 11 October 1884, in St. George, Utah.

Archibald Newell Hill and Isabella Hood

Hannah Hood Hill Romney, first wife of Miles Park Romney, was the daughter of Archibald Newell Hill, born 20 Aug 1816 in Johnstone, Abbey Parish, Renfrew, Scotland, and Isabella Hood, born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 8 July 1821. Archibald was a polygamist. He married Isabella Hood on 21 February 1840 (3 children); she died in Winter Quarters, Florence, Nebraska, on 20 March 1847. He then married Margaret Fotheringham on 12 July 1851 (4 children), Mary Emma Milam on 25 December 1855 (2 children), Caroline Graham on 7 March 1857 (5 children), and Mary House on 22 January 1872.

Archibald died on 2 Jan 1900 in Salt Lake City.[24]

Parley Parker Pratt and Mary Wood

Parley Parker Pratt,[25] father of Helaman Pratt, was born on 12 April 1807, in Burlington, Ostego, New York. Parley and his brother Orson both were brilliant thinkers, and wrote some of the most literate and able defenses of the LDS faith in early Mormonism. In 1835, Parley and Orson were both called to the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (now the second highest hierarchy-level in the LDS church). Parley lived the standard amazingly eventful life of early Mormon leaders, including numerous stateside and international missions, exploration and colonization in the far west, not to mention a full polygamous history, including twelve wives and 30 children.[26]

Parley�s wives were Thankful Halsey (1827, one child; Thankful died before polygamy was introduced into Mormonism), Mary Ann Frost (1837, four children, eventual divorce), Elizabeth Brotherton (1843, no children), Mary Wood (September 9, 1844, 4 children), Hannahette Snively (November 2, 1844, 3 children), Belinda Marden (November 20, 1844, 5 children), Sarah Huston (October 15, 1845, 4 children), Phoebe Soper (February 8, 1846, 3 children), Ann Agatha Walker (April 28, 1847, 5 children), Martha Monks (1847, 1 child, divorce), Kezia Downs (Hill) (1851, no children), Eleanor McComb (MacLean) (14 November 1855, no children).

Pratt died on 13 May 1857, killed by Hector McLean, the former, non-Mormon, husband of his last wife.[27]

Mary Wood was born at Glasgow, Scotland, on 18 June 1818, and died on 5 March 1898 in Salt Lake City, Utah. [28]

Carl Heinrich Wilcken and Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche

Anna Johanna Doratha (�Dora�) Wilcken, wife of Helaman Pratt, was the daughter of Carl Heinrich (�Charles Henry�) Wilcken, born on 5 October 1831 in Echorst, Holstein, Germany, and Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche, born on 1 May 1830 in Neustadt, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Though the roster of Mitt Romney�s Mormon ancestry offers many remarkable individuals, Carl Heinrich is one of the most colorful.[29] According to a biographer, Carl Heinrich �distinguished himself as a soldier in a battle with Danish forces over control of the Schleswig-Holstein provinces and was decorated with the Iron Cross by the Prussian King, Frederick William IV. Wilcken's military prowess was also noticed by the Danish king, Frederick VII, who let it be known that he wished to conscript the hero.�[30]

Carl instead decided to go look for a brother who had gone to South America. But he boarded the wrong boat and ended up in New York City, where, running short of cash, he joined Johnston�s Army, and marched west to subdue the Mormons in 1857!

On October 7, however, Carl Heinrich deserted from the U.S. army and turned himself over to the Mormons. Though he was made a prisoner of Orson Porter Rockwell, he survived, and was baptized a Mormon in December 1857. He cast his lot with the Mormons the rest of his life.

His military prowess was called upon for Mormon battles with Indians in the Heber City area. He became a close friend of many church leaders, and served as a trusted go-between, bodyguard and messenger for John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and Wilford Woodruff when they were in hiding during the federal raid on polygamists in the 1880s.

Carl Heinrich was himself a polygamist. He married Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche on 10 August 1853 in Germany (8 children), Mary Mcomie on 21 September 1861 (4 children), Bodil Marie Jorgensen on 14 December 1883 (3 children), and Haidee Carlisle on 3 November 1885 (no children).[31]

Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche Wilcken was born in Neustadt, Schlewsig-Holstein, Germany on 1 May 1830, and died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 13 August 1906. Carl Heinrich died eight years later, in Salt Lake City, on 9 April 1915.

Mitt Romney and Polygamy

It�s one of the ironies of history that Mormons, who spent the better part of the nineteenth century crusading for a non-standard marriage practice, sometimes even attacking monogamy as inherently bad, have in the twentieth century become thorough monogamists (for all practical purposes), and have joined a crusade seeking to ban non-standard marriage practices on a federal level.

Mitt Romney was placed in the vortex of the debate on standard and non-standard marriage when, though a conservative Republican, he was elected governor of a mostly Democratic state, Massachusetts, in November 2002. A year later, in November 2003, Massachusetts judges legalized a �non-standard� marriage practice, marriage between homosexuals, regarding it as a civil rights issue.

Romney did all he could to combat this ruling. Partially in response to the ruling of the Massachusetts judges, a national movement to amend the constitution to define marriage as solely one male with one female (the Federal Marriage Amendment) picked up steam.

Latter-day Saint Orrin Hatch, one of Utah�s Senators and Chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, held hearings in support of the constitutional amendment in June 2004, and one of his witnesses was Mitt Romney. Surprisingly, Hatch and Romney both brought up the history of Mormon polygamy to support their constitutional amendment banning �non-standard� marriage. According to the Salt Lake Tribune,

. . . the hearing's star witness, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, cited Utah's territorial battle with the federal government over polygamy as an example of when federal intervention in state marriage policy is warranted and necessary.

"There was a long time ago a state that considered the practice of polygamy [legal] and as I recall the federal government correctly stepped in and said, 'That is not something the state should decide,' " Romney told the committee. "We have a federal view on marriage; this should not be left to an individual state."

Later in the hearing, responding to Democratic skepticism that marriage faces an imminent threat demanding prompt constitutional countermeasures, Romney again drew a parallel with polygamy, saying if Massachusetts suddenly legalized plural marriage, he suspected Congress would recognize the need for an immediate constitutional amendment.[32]

When Romney said those words, �the federal government correctly stepped in and said, 'That is not something the state should decide,�� the sound you heard was all of Romney�s polygamous ancestors simultaneously rolling over in their graves.

Joseph Smith started polygamy�a non-standard marriage practice, by the definition of the FMA�in 1833 in Ohio, and in 1841-43 in Illinois. Plural marriage was not legal in those states, but Smith asserted that he had received a direct revelation and commandment from the Lord to practice polygamy. He obviously concluded, as did later Mormons, that the commandment of God took precedence over the laws of men. He took thirty-three plural wives before his death in Carthage, Illinois in June 1844.[33] The revelation on polygamy that Smith received remains in the LDS scripture, as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Polygyny�where one man marries multiple women�is non-standard in a monogamous culture. Even more non-standard were eleven of Smith�s marriages, in which he married women who were simultaneously married to �first husbands.� Thus, the women were married to two men at the same time, though one marriage was legally binding and the other marriage was religious.[34] From one point of view it would be possible to call this kind of marriage polyandry (one woman married to multiple husbands), though one could also argue that each form of marriage did not recognize the other. Religious, eternal marriage did not recognize the religious validity of the civil marriage; and civil law did not recognize the validity of the plural marriage. Nevertheless, it is striking that the women in this category of Smith�s plural wives all continued living with their �first husbands.� The woman had two simultaneous relationships.

Later, in Utah, other church president/prophets and many Mormons continued to practice polygamy, generally for sincere religious reasons, because they believed that the revelation and commandment had come from Joseph Smith. (The idea that Mormons practiced polygamy because there was an excess of women in Utah is incorrect. It was a religious obligation.)

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act on 1 July 1862, which made polygamy illegal in Utah (then a territory) under federal law, Mormons simply ignored it, under the principle of the laws of God take precedence over the laws of man. Some Mormons argued on legal grounds that the Morrill Act was not constitutional, holding that it conflicted with the First Amendment that guaranteed Americans full religious liberty, and in 1879 the Reynolds case was sent to the Supreme Court as a test case to judge its constitutionality. The Supreme Court ruled that the Morrill Act was valid. Some Mormons still argued that the Morrill Act was unconstitutional, and continued to practice polygamy openly, but in this they were placing themselves above the Supreme Court as interpreters of the Constitution.

Subsequent federal laws, such as the Edmunds and Edmunds-Tucker Acts in 1882 and 1887, merely increased the penalties for polygamy, and made it easier to prosecute.

Mormons continued to openly practice polygamy until 1890. Their rationale for this was clear: the law of God took precedence over the law of man.

Soon after the Reynolds decision, Wilford Woodruff addressed a congregation in the tabernacle. After reiterating that polygamy was necessary for salvation, he asked, �Now, which shall we obey, God or Congress?� The congregation answered, �We will obey God.�[35]

In 1880, John Taylor, while acting as president and prophet of the church, said, �Polygamy is a divine institution. It has been handed down direct from God. The United States cannot abolish it. No nation on earth can prevent it, nor all the nations of the earth combined. I defy the United States. I will obey God.�[36]

In his last public sermon, on 1 February 1885, John Taylor said, "I would like to obey and place myself in subjection to every law of man. What then? Am I to disobey the law of God? Has any man a right to control my conscience, or your conscience? . . . No man has a right to do it."[37] Taylor thus was preaching that the law of God took precedence over the law of man, and his conscience directed him to obey the law of God. Mormons who were imprisoned for openly defying federal law and practicing polygamy in the 1880s were called �prisoners of conscience.�

Rudger Clawson, the first Mormon polygamist to be tried under the Edmunds Act, when he was sentenced, said, �I very much regret that the laws of my country should come in conflict with the laws of God, but whenever they do I shall invariably choose the latter.� He also stated that the Morrill Act of 1862 was unconstitutional.[38] Rudger subsequently became a folk hero among the Mormons, and was called to be an apostle. Historians of post-Manifesto polygamy have concluded that he took a plural wife on 3 August 1904.[39]

In other words, nineteenth-century Mormons believed that the federal government was profoundly wrong in its attempt to legislate against non-standard marriage practices, if the marriage practices were part of a religion. The church newspaper, the Deseret Evening News, even called the Edmunds-Tucker Act �the Infamy� or �the Edmunds-Tucker Subjugation Infamy� or the �Anti-Mormon Bill.�[40] There was none of Orrin Hatch�s and Mitt Romney�s argument that the federal government was justified in leglislating against polygamy�Mormons considered the federal government�s laws as simple religious persecution.

Here are a few questions I would ask Mitt Romney if I ever had a chance to talk with him.

Granted that Romney accepts Joseph Smith as a prophet, does Romney believe that Smith was wrong to practice non-standard marriage when it was against the law in Nauvoo, given that Smith asserted that he received a direct command from God to practice it?[41]

In other words, should Smith have disobeyed a direct revelation from God (D&C 132, still accepted by Latter-day Saints as scripture)?

If Romney accepts that Joseph Smith was right to obey that revelation, then he accepts the principle that the law of God takes precedence over civil law. And he accepts that non-standard marriage can be legitimately practiced for ethical, religious reasons, and that the state is wrong to criminalize such non-standard marriage practices.

This is the same principle that Mormons, and Romney�s own ancestors, followed during their time in Illinois (Parley P. Pratt married Mary Wood in Nauvoo), and after 1862 in Utah: the law of God (including non-standard marriages) takes precedence over civil law.

Would Romney say that his own ancestors were wrong to practice polygamy?

Just as in the case of Joseph Smith in Illinois, in Utah practicing polygamy was often viewed as a religious imperative, especially for church leaders. For example, Miles Park Romney entered polygamy when Brigham Young, whom he accepted as a prophet, instructed him to do so. Would Mitt Romney argue that Miles Park Romney should have disobeyed a prophet�s counsel? (In Mormon belief, a prophet speaks directly for God.)

If Mitt Romney accepts that Joseph Smith and the Mormons who followed him were right to practice polygamy, because the law of God took precedence over the law of man, he is accepting the principle that nonstandard marriage practices can be valid if they are practiced in a religious framework. Clearly, he is a believer in the Mormon religion, but he obviously would accept that other believers and religions are also valid and worthy of respect. Would he accept a nonstandard marriage if the participants were sincerely religious and the marriage was solemnized within the framework of a church congregation (such as a Unitarian or Presbyterian congregation)? In all fairness, one would expect that if he argued that Mormons could be right to practice non-standard marriage for religious reasons, other religions should have the same right.


[1] Those interested in Romney�s total genealogy should access the LDS database site, (which has mistakes, caveat lector) or �The Ancestors of Mitt Romney,� by William Addams Reitwiesner, at

[2] See Jeffery Ogden Johnson, "Determining and Defining 'Wife': The Brigham Young Households," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 20.3 (Fall 1987), 57-70, 69. This volume of Dialogue is available online, see

[3] For background on this fascinating period of history, in which polygamy went underground again, see especially B. Carmon Hardy�s book, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1992). See also Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890�1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1986) and D. Michael Quinn, �L.D.S. Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,� Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Spring 1995): 9-104. This volume of Dialogue is available online, see A talk by D. Michael Quinn on post-Manifesto polygamy can be found at Perry Porter�s �LDS Church History� website, at

[4] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 173-78. The difference was that in Mexico, Mormons would not be prosecuted for polygamy.

[5] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 143, 260.

[6] Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: the Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

[7] For general information on Mitt Romney, see the Wikipedia article on him,

[8] For the foundation of the Mormon colonies in Mexico as polygamous havens, see Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 167-68. For general treatments of the colonies, see F. LaMond Tullis, Mormonism in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press; 1987); Nelle Spillsbury Hatch, Colonia Juarez: an intimate account of a Mormon village (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954); Thomas Colton Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938).

[9] Clark R. Mollenhoff, George Romney: Mormon in Politics (New York: Meredith Press, 1968), 25; Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 295.

[10] There is a book, Thomas Romney, Life Story of Miles Park Romney (Independence , MO.: Zions, 1948), which I have not yet seen.There is a biography of Miles Park in Nelle Spilsbury Hatch and B. Carmon Hardy, comp., Stalwarts South of the Border ([Bountiful, UT?]: Ernestine Hatch, 1985), 594-97. For his wives, see Jennifer Moulton Hansen, ed., Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife (Urbana IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 286-87.

[11] There is an autobiography of Hannah Hood Hill Romney that I have not yet seen. For an excerpt, see "Three Pioneer Women Speak: Hannah Hood Hill Romney," in Kate Carter, ed., Our Pioneer Heritage, 20 vols. (SLC: D.U.P., 1958-), 5:262-84. See also Leonard Arrington papers at Utah State University Library archives, Box 7, folder 8.

[12] Hansen, Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife. See p. 213 for her marriage date.

[13] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, list after p. 393, #163.

[14] See the Orson Pratt Brown website,

[15] See the Orson Pratt Brown website,

[16] See a superb website devoted to Helaman Pratt�s family history,, which includes many documents relating to him and his wives. There is a diary by Helaman available, dated 1877-1886, LDS Church Archives, which I haven not seen. See also Mary Pratt Parrish, �Helaman Pratt,� in Hatch and Hardy, Stalwarts South of the Border, 543-52.

[17] Parrish, �Helamn Pratt,� 544.

[18] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, list after p. 393, #152.

[19] �Bertha Wilcken Pratt,� an autobiography, accessed at

[20] See above on this idea. President Woodruff stated clearly that the Manifesto applied everywhere, throughout the world, yet he also authorized plural marriages in Mexico and elsewhere. Such conflicting, sometimes confusing messages were a prominent feature of the post-Manifesto period of Mormon polygamy.

[21] H. Grant Ivins, �Polygamy in Mexico as Practiced by the Mormon Church, 1895-1905,� available at Utah State Historical Society, also on New Mormon Studies CD-ROM (SLC: Smith Research Associates, 1998).

[22] See his biography from the National Academy of Sciences, Walter Kauzmann, �Henry Eyring,� at

[23] Mollenhoff, George Romney: Mormon in Politics, 19-20; also Leona Brown Olsen, �Miles Romney,� at the Orson Pratt Brown website, This last unfortunately perpetuates the 12 wife misinformation.

[24] See see "Three Pioneer Women Speak: Hannah Hood Hill Romney," in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, 5:262.

[25] For general introductions to Parley online, see Donna T. Smart, �Parley Parker Pratt,� at,PARLEY.html and Larry Porter, �Parley Parker Pratt,� at He wrote a remarkable Autobiography (1874, posthumous). See also; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (SLC: Signature Books, 1994), 571.

[26] See �Parley P Pratt His Twelve Wives,� in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage 17:205-52. Parley�s first wife died before Mormons began practicing polygamy.

[27] For his death, see Steven Pratt, �Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,� BYU Studies 15 (Winter 1975): 225-56.

[28] For further on Mary, see Leah P. Call and Amy P. Romney, �The Fourth Wife,� in �Parley P Pratt His Twelve Wives,� 17:213-15; and

[29] See William C. Seifrit, �Charles Henry Wilcken, an Undervalued Saint,� Utah Historical Quarterly 55:4 (Fall 1987), 308-21. Also The Seifrit article is available here.

[30] Seifrit, �Charles Henry Wilcken,� 308-9.

[31] Ancestral File also has him married to Mary McCormich (Cormic) and Mary Jorgensen, but because these marriages are not dated, and repeat the name Mary, I think they can be discounted.

[32] �HATCH DROPS PLANS FOR OWN AMENDMENT, SUPPORTS FMA,� The Salt Lake Tribune, Thursday, June 24, 2004. Available online at

[33] See the prologue to my In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (SLC: Signature Books, 1997). Conservative scholar Richard Bushman accepts thirty-two of these women as plural wives of Joseph Smith during his lifetime, see his Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 437. He rejects Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris, the wife of anti-Masonic martyr William Morgan, as a wife of Joseph.

[34] Again, Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, 437, does not accept one of these marriages, that of Lucinda Pendleton. However, he does accept ten �polyandrous� marriages.

[35] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 45, citing Wilford Woodruff journal, 9 January, 1870, in Scott G. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833-1898 :Typescript (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-), 6:518-19, see also 46. Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, (SLC: Signature Books, 1986), 112-114.

[36] Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 114, citing the Salt Lake Tribune, 6 January 1880.

[37] Journal of Discourses 26:152.

[38] Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 120.

[39] Hardy, Solemn Covenant, list after p. 393, #51.

[40] �Passed! The Edmunds-Tucker Subjugation Infamy,� Dereret Evening News, 17 Febr. 1887, p. 3, see discussion in Compton and Hatch, A Widow�s Tale, 766.

[41] See Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 437-38.