In this comprehensive survey of Mormon Polygamy, Richard Van Wagoner details, with precision and detachment, the tumultuous reaction among insiders and outsiders to plural marriage. In an honest, methodical way, he traces the origins, the peculiarities common to the midwestern and later Utah periods, and post-1890 new marriages. Drawing heavily on first-hand accounts, he outlines the theological underpinnings and the personal trauma associated with this lifestyle.
What emerges is a portrait that neither discounts nor exaggerates the historical evidence. He presents polygamy in context, neither condemning nor defending, while relevant contemporary accounts are treated sympathetically but interpreted critically. No period of Mormon history is emphasized over another. The result is a systematic view that is unavailable in studies of isolated periods or in the repetitions of folklore that only disguise the reality of what polygamy was.
Scattered throughout the western United States today are an estimated 30,000 fundamentalist Mormons who still live “the principle.” They, too, are a part of Joseph Smith’s legacy and are included in this study.