The Manifesto of 1890 was a proclamation by President Wilford Woodruff that
the Church had discontinued plural marriage. It ended a decade of persecution
and hardship in which Latter-day Saints tenaciously resisted what they saw as
unconstitutional federal attempts to curb polygamy. While the Manifesto is often
referred to as a revelation, the declaration was actually a press release that
followed President Woodruff´s revelatory experiences. In this respect, the Manifesto
is similar to Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration—2.
Following the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, the Church found it
difficult to operate as a viable institution (see Antipolygamy Legislation).
Among other things, this legislation disincorporated the Church, confiscated
its properties, and even threatened seizure of its temples. After visiting with
priesthood leaders in many settlements, President Woodruff left for San Francisco
on September 3, 1890, to meet with prominent businessmen and politicians. He
returned to Salt Lake City on September 21, determined to obtain divine confirmation
to pursue a course that seemed to be agonizingly more and more clear. As he
explained to Church members a year later, the choice was between, on the one
hand, continuing to practice plural marriage and thereby losing the temples,
"stopping all the ordinances therein," and, on the other, ceasing
plural marriage in order to continue performing the essential ordinances for
the living and the dead. President Woodruff hastened to add that he had acted
only as the Lord directed: "I should have let all the temples go out of
our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there,
had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I do; and when the hour came
that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me" (see Appendix;
"Excerpts" accompanying Official Declaration—1).
The final element in President Woodruff´s revelatory experience came on the
evening of September 23, 1890. The following morning, he reported to some of
the General Authorities that he had struggled throughout the night with the
Lord regarding the path that should be pursued. "Here is the result,"
he said, placing a 510-word handwritten manuscript on the table. The document
was later edited by George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency and others to its
present 356 words. On October 6, 1890, it was presented to the Latter-day Saints
at the General Conference and approved.
While nearly all Church leaders in 1890 regarded the Manifesto as inspired,
there were differences among them about its scope and permanence. Some leaders
were understandably reluctant to terminate a long-standing practice that was
regarded as divinely mandated. As a result, a limited number of plural marriages
were performed over the next several years. Not surprisingly, rumors of such
marriages soon surfaced, and beginning in January 1904, testimony given in the
Smoot hearings made it clear that plural marriage had not been completely extinguished.
The ambiguity was ended in the General Conference of April 1904, when the First
Presidency issued the "second manifesto," an emphatic declaration
that prohibited plural marriage and proclaimed that offenders would be subject
to Church discipline, including excommunication.
The Manifesto of 1890 should be regarded as a pivotal event in the history
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of the state of Utah.
Not only did it mark the beginning of the end of the official practice of plural
marriage, but it also heralded a new age as Latter-day Saints relinquished the
isolationist practices of the past and commenced a period of greater accommodation
and integration into the fabric of American society (see Utah Statehood).