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The History and Philosophy of Marriage   [ Menu ]

The History and Philosophy of Marriage

Chapter 1


Philosophy takes nothing for granted. It doubts all things

that it may prove all things. The marriage question is a

proper subject of philosophical inquiry, involving an

examination and analysis of both polygamy and monogamy. Of

the latter form of marriage the Christian world has known too

much, and of the former too little, to have felt, hitherto,

the need of any analysis of either. We have inherited our

monogamy, or the marriage system which restricts each man to

one wife only, and have practised it as a matter of

Page 10

course, without any special examination or inquiry: so that

we really know little concerning its origin or its early

history; while we know still less of the system of polygamy.

We read something of it in the Bible and in the history of

Eastern nations, and we learn something more from the

reports of modern travellers; and it cannot be denied that

what we know of it has come to us in such a form as to

prejudice our minds against it. This prejudice is unfavorable

to a just and candid philosophical inquiry; and while

pursuing this inquiry, let us hold this prejudice in

abeyance. Let us not forget that what we have seen of this

system is in its most unfavorable aspects. Most travellers

carry their native prejudices abroad, and look upon the

customs of distant countries with less astonishment than

contempt. And they remember, when writing up their accounts

of those countries, that their books are made to be sold at

home; and they must not institute comparisons unfavorable to

their own laud, but must flatter the conceit of their

fellow-countrymen be assuring them that their own social and

political institutions are vastly better than those of other


Page 11

So, also, with history: it presents human affairs in a

perspective view, painting its roughest mountains with

distinct exactness, but casting its peaceful plains quite

into the shade. It devotes a hundred pages to the details of

wars and intrugues, illustrating the crimes of men, in

proportion to a single page of descriptions of common life

and domestic tranquility, illustrating their virtues.

If the writer, on the contrary, shall seem prejudiced in

favor of polygamy, let it be attributed to his love of fair

play, and his desire to let both sides be heard, rather than

to any undue bias of mind preventing him from doing equal

justice to the arguments in favor of either system.

It is attested and proved by competent authority, which no

one doubts, that polygamy, or that social system which

permits a plurality of wives, has always prevailed in most

countries and in all ages of the world, from time immemorial;

but this form of marriage, being foreign to the customs of

modern Europe and her colonies in America, is very naturally

regarded throughout those enlightened regions as something

heathenish and barbarous. And modern writers, whose works

are the

Page 12

Exponents of European civilization, have hitherto said every

thing against it, and nothing for it. But they have

condemned it almost without examination or debate, rather

because it is strange than because they have proved it to be

at fault. No one has given to the subject the time and

research necessary to its fair elucidation. But as a

venerable institution the social system of polygamy does not

deserve such supercilious treatment. Such treatment, besides

being unjust, is unphilosophical, and unworthy a liberal and

an enlightened age. Its great antiquity alone should entitle

it to sufficient respect to be heard, at least, in its own

defence. It constitutes an important part of human history.

It is a great fact that cannot be ignored; and as such, it

must be studied and known. To insist upon the condemnation

of this system, without hearing its defence, is oppression.

It is even the worst kind of oppression; for, in such case,

it must be allied with ignorance and bigotry. But if there

ever was a time, when polygamy could properly be thrust aside

with a sneer, and it was satisfactory to Christian justice to

condemn it unheard and unexamined, it can be so no longer;

Page 13

for, with the general diffusion of knowledge and the

increased facilities of modern intercourse, our speculative

inquires are seeking a range of cosmopolitan extent, and we

are brought into daily contact with the opinions and the

practices of the antipodes. If we disapprove of their

practices we should be prepared to make substantial

objections to them; and if we wish to teach them our own, we

should be able to give equally substantial reasons. If the

advocates of polygamy are in the minority in the Christian

world, let the common rights of the minority be granted them,

- freedom of debate and the privilege of protest; and let

their solemn protest be listened to with respect, and be

spread upon the current records of the day. And, on the

other hand, if those who practise this ancient system do

constitute the majority of mankind, it cannot be either

uninteresting or unimportant to inquire what has made it so

nearly universal, and caused it to be adopted by so many

different nations, and even different races of men, among

whom are, no doubt, some persons who are justly distinguished

for their wisdom, their piety, and their humanity.

Page 14

The writer is not aware that any former attempt has been made

in this country to analyze and explain the social system of

polygamy, or that any works written abroad for this purpose

have ever been current here; at least, he has not been able

to obtain any, [See Appendix] and thus to avail himself of

their assistance. While, therefore, the subject-matter of

this essay is of the most venerable antiquity, the manner of

its discussion must be entirely new; and not only can the

author claim the singular merit of originality, but the

reader can be assured of the no less singular zest of



Almost everybody who takes up a new book is curious to know

something of the writer; of his special qualifications for

his work, of his opportunities of acquiring a thorough

knowledge of his subject, and of the standpoint from which

he views it. He will, therefore, proceed at once to give

some account of himself, and how he came to write this work.

And the courteous reader will now please permit him to drop

the indirect style of address so

Page 15

common among writers, and to introduce himself by speaking in

the first person. I am a native of New England, and was

brought up a strict Puritan. My father always declared his

intention to educate me for the law, and I took to learning

as readily as most boys of my age. I was graduated from

college almost forty years ago, and had nearly completed my

professional studies, when my health suddenly broke down; and

I discovered that I had been bestowing all my care upon the

improvement of the mind, to the total neglect of the

healthfulness of the body. And this, I fancy, was only a

common defect at that time, in our American, or, at least,

our New-England, system of education. The physicians having

prescribed a voyage at sea and a residence of some months in

a tropical climate, the influence of my friends obtained a

foreign situation for me in one our Boston houses having an

extensive business in India; and I became their clerk, and

afterwards their factor. The engagements then entered into

could not easily be broken off, and I have continued in them

many years; and having seen all the continents of the globe,

and many islands of the sea, and having

Page 16

observed human society in every climate and in every social

condition, I have at length returned to my native land, an

older, and, I hope, a wiser man. Having become an active

member of the church in my youth, I did not renounce my

Christian character abroad, but have always afforded such

encouragement and assistance as I was able, to our American

and English missionaries, whenever I fell in with them. In

fact, I had long cherished a profound respect and admiration

for the missionary enterprise; and, notwithstanding my

father's wish to educate me for the law, I had, during my

course of study, seriously offered myself as a candidate for

missionary labor; and, had I been deemed worthy of that

honor, I should, no doubt, have devoted my life to that

service. But Providence did not so order it. Yet when I

went abroad, my early predilections easily reconciled me to

the pain of leaving my native land, to the disappointment

which I experienced in renouncing a career of professional

and literary honors, and readily introduced me to the

society of those devoted missionaries whom I would fain have

chosen for my fellow-laborers and life-companions. I was

very much surprised,

Page 17

however, soon after my first acquaintance with them, to learn

that, under certain circumstances, they allowed the members

of the native Christian churches a plurality of wives. As I

had been educated a strict monogamists, in New England, I

had never once dreamed that any other social system than

monogamy could be possible among Christian people, anywhere;

and I remonstrated with the missionaries for permitting

polygamy among their converts, under any circumstances



I was answered by them that the Bible has not forbidden it,

but, on the contrary, has recognized it, as sometimes lawful

and proper; and although they themselves did not encourage

it, they could not positively prohibit it. I then endeavored

to recollect some prohibition in the Bible, but could neither

recollect nor find one there. On the contrary, to my own

astonishment, after a careful examination of the Sacred

Scriptures, I did find therein many things to favor it. The

missionaries also said that their experience had taught them

that the converting

Page 18

grace of God was granted to those living in polygamy as

often as to others; the natives themselves attach no moral

reproach to it; "and," said the missionaries, "if such

persons give evidence of genuine conversion, 'Can any man

forbid water, that they should not be baptized, who have

received the grace of God as well as we?' Besides," they

added, "if they are not received and recognized as

Christians, how shall we dispose of them? Shall we refuse

them our fellowship, and send them back again to their

idolatry? This would be no less unchristian than unkind.

Shall we compel them to put away all their wives, but those

first married, and then receive them into the church? But

in many cases this would be impracticable, in others unjust

in all, cruel. For the chastity of the women hitherto

irreproachable would be tarnished by their repudiation: they

would often be left without a home and without support; and

like other disgraced and destitute women of all lands, they

would be thrust upon a life of infamy and vice. Who,"

continued they, "shall dare assume the responsibility of

separating wife from husband , and children from parents?

Since the Bible expressly forbids a

Page 19

Man to divorce his wife, for any cause, except

unfaithfulness to her marriage vow: God is not said in the

Bible to hate polygamy, but it says there that 'he hateth

putting away.'"

I need not say that I was completely disarmed and silenced by

this array of "the law and the testimony;" and was compelled,

by their arguments, to admit that their course was one of

equal justice and mercy. I soon learned, however, that the

rules of the missionaries are by no means uniform upon this

question. Many of them, particularly those who possess a

great regard for the authority and the dogmas of the church,

and who reason rather from the "tradition of the elders,"

than from the laws of Nature or God, have rigidly enforced

monogamy among their converts; and if any one becomes a

Christian while living in polygamy, such missionaries require

him to repudiate all his wives but one. It was not many

months after the conversation above related that one of the

missionaries called my attention to a religious journal that

he had just received from Boston, containing the report of

certain missionaries among the North-American Indians,

giving an account of the conversion of an old and

influential chief.

Page 20


This chief at the time of his conversion to Christianity was

living with two wives. The one first married was now aged,

blind, and childless. The other was young, attractive,

healthful, and the mother of one fine boy. One of these

wives the missionaries required him to put away, as an

indispensable requisite to baptism and church-membership. The

old chief, after careful deliberation, could not decide which

one to repudiate. The first he was bound by every honorable

motive "to love and to cherish," especially on account of her

age and infirmity; while the other was devotedly attached to

him, and was the mother of his only child and heir, which he

could not give up, and from which he could not separate the

mother. He, therefore, submitted the case to the

missionaries to decide which one of them he should put away.

They decided against the younger one. And as he was old

himself and his other wive was barren, that she must also

give up her child. This mandate was obeyed with martyr-like

fortitude, which nothing but the strongest religious motives

could have inspired;

Page 21

opposed, as it was, to every natural sentiment of love and

honor. And thus, in one hour, was that young wife and mother

deprived of her husband, her child, her character, and her

home; and sent away a bereaved and lonely outcast into the

wide world. The report which the missionaries themselves

gave of this affair closed by saying that the repudiated wife

and bereaved mother soon died inconsolable and



On reading this report, I could not forbear contrasting their

mode of treating polygamy with that of the missionaries in

the East, which had come under my own observation there, and

which I had, at first, so severely criticized. I now began

to blush at my own late ignorance and bigotry. And the more

I thought of the ecclesiastical tyranny of the North-American

missionaries, the higher rose my indignation against it. I

could not fail to see that their narrow attachment to their

own social system had made them judicially blind to the

merits of any other; and that they were more ignorant of the

true spirit of Christianity as well as of the nat-

Page 22

ural rights of man concerning the laws of marriage, than even

the poor savages themselves. Yet they undoubtedly supposed

they were doing God essential service by this act of

inhumanity; just as our fathers did when they hanged and

burned honest men because they worshipped God in a different

manner, and entertained different views of divine truth, from

themselves. Their mistake is one which has always been too

common, and from which no one, perhaps, is altogether free.

It consists in assuming that because we are honest in our

belief, and mean to be right, others who essentially differ

from us are dishonest and wrong; and in presuming to judge

the conduct of others by what we feel to be right, i.e., by

our own standard of morality, instead of judging them by what

we know to be right, according to the infallible standard of

divine truth.

These reflections led me to give the whole subject of

marriage, in respect to its divine and natural laws, as

thorough and as critical an investigation as my abilities and

advantages enabled me to do; and to inquire into the origin

and the moral tendencies of the two social systems of

monogamy and polygamy.

Page 23

I have now pursued this investigation many years, and have

become convinced that polygamy is not always an immorality;

that sometimes a man may innocently have more than one

woman; and then that it is their right to be married to him,

and his duty to love and cherish them for better for worse,

for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death

shall part them.


I am unwilling to leave the world without having given it the

benefit of these reflections. All truth is important. If

these views are true, they ought to be known; if they are not

true let them be refuted. If the prejudices of modern

Christians are opposed to the social system which their

ancient brethren, the earliest saints and patriarchs,

practised in the good old days of Bible truth and pastoral

simplicity, I believe that these prejudices are neither

natural nor inveterate; but that they have been induced by

the corrupted Christianity of the mediaeval priesthood, and

that they will be removed when Christian people become better

informed; and if it be necessary for me to sacrifice my own


Page 24

and my own credit, in attempting to remove them, I shall only

suffer the common lot of all reformers before me. Yet I

scarcely expect to see any immediate result of my labors.

It is a melancholy and an humiliating fact that the opinions

of most people are determined more by what others around

them think and say than by what they believe themselves. They

are not accustomed to the proper exercise of their own

reason, and do not follow the convictions of their own minds.

Yet there are some who dare to think and act for themselves;

and into the hands of a few such I doubt not these pages will

fall: and to all such I most heartily commend them. To an

active and an ingenuous mind there is no pursuit more

fascinating than the pursuit of knowledge, no pleasure more

exquisite than the discovery of truth. All those who would

enjoy this pleasure in its highest sense must love Truth for

herself alone; they must emancipate themselves from the

trammels of prejudice and public opinion, and dare to follow

Truth wherever she may lead. And I make no further apology

for calling the attention of an intelligent age to a new

examination of an old institution. Truth dreads no scrutiny;

shields herself behind no

Page 25

breastwork of established custom or of respectable

authority, but proudly stands upon her own merits. I will

not despair, therefore, of gaining the attention of every

lover of the truth while I attempt to develop and demonstrate

the laws of God and of nature upon the important subjects of

love and marriage, and to apply those laws to the two systems

of monogamy and polygamy.


To prevent misconception of the meaning intended to be

conveyed by these terms, it is proper to state, that, by the

laws of God, I mean the written laws contained in the Holy

Bible; which I believe to be the most perfect revelation of

the divine will and God's inestimable gift to man. The laws

by which the universe subsists, embracing those of mind as

well as those of matter, are undoubtedly the laws of God

also; but we call them, by way of distinction, the laws of

nature; because it is only by a diligent study of nature; and

by reasoning from cause to effect and from effect to cause,

that they can be determined, yet when determined

Page 26

they are always found to harmonize with each other and also

with the written law, which they may safely and properly be

employed to illustrate and explain.

Both these classes of law differ materially from the civil

law, or the laws of States and nations; especially in these

respects: the former are always harmonious with each other,

and equally valid at all times and places, and are,

therefore, infallible and unchangeable. The latter are

always conflicting with and often contradictory to one

another; and are constantly being altered, amended, and

repealed; and, although founded upon truth, in general, and

intended for the public good, and therefore entitled to our

respect and obedience, they are so only in a qualified sense,

far inferior to that profound respect and implicit obedience

due to divine and natural law.

In my analysis of the laws of love and marriage on which

depends the mutual relation of the two sexes, I shall be

obliged to speak of that relation with unusual familiarity;

even though I may sometimes offend our modern notions of

modesty and propriety - notions which I shall now stop to

Page 27

discuss, whether they be true or false; it matters not.

Truth rises superior to every consideration of

fastidiousness, and it is high time that these truths should

be demonstrated. Yet it shall be my care so to treat them as

not to offend true modesty unnecessarily: puris omnia pura.

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The History and Philosophy of Marriage
Read a Miraculous Testimony given from God
that also came with this Book!

Chapter Menu
Chapter 1 - Introductory
Chapter 2 - Primary Laws of Love
Chapter 3 - Primary Laws of Marriage
Chapter 4 - Origin of Polygamy
Chapter 5 - Origin of Monogamy
Chapter 6 - Monogamy After the Introduction of Christianity
Chapter 7 - Monogamy As It Is
Chapter 8 - Relation of Monogamy to Crime
Chapter 9 - Objections to Polygamy
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