B. H. Roberts and the Woodruff Manifesto

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Recent historical writing about President Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto on plural marriage has stressed its continuity with previous policy. For instance, historians have found that a year prior to its issuance the First Presidency had stopped new polygamous marriages and drafted a preliminary but uncirculated resolution stating the Church’s new course of action. The latter has been labeled by a significant new Ph.D. dissertation as “the greatest concession on plural marriage” made by the Church in 1890, including the more celebrated Woodruff Manifesto. However, these events lay behind the scenes. As a result, many Mormons, including leaders, were surprised by the Manifesto. In the reminiscence below, Elder B. H. Roberts records his startled reaction. As a missionary, writer, polygamist, and for the past two years General Authority in the First Council of the Seventy, the thirty-three-year-old churchman had fiercely defended Mormonism’s marriage system. To abandon his advocacy, B. H. Roberts required a spiritual striving equal to the struggles of many first-generation Mormons when the doctrine was first introduced.

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