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The History and Philosophy of Marriage   [ Menu ]

The History and Philosophy of Marriage

Chapter 9
Objections to Polygamy

A few pages will now be devoted to a consideration of the

objections which have been urged against the system of

polygamy. And it may be proper to say, that if there should

be any objections to it which are not here answered to every

one's satisfaction, yet the superiority of this system is

still maintained and proven, as long as the previous

demonstrations remain valid; the objections to the contrary

notwithstanding. It is often the case that a proposition may

be true, and at the same time it may not be possible to

answer all the objections to it. There are unanswerable

objections to a democratic or popular form of government; and

yet for some nations, such a form of government may, on the

whole, be the best one.

Page 208


It has been objected that polygamy cannot be reasonable or

right, since it causes jealousy among the different women in

the same family. But it cannot be proved that jealousy is

confined to any particular social system: it is,

unfortunately, too common to every system. It is inherent

in human nature, and must be regarded as one of its

inseparable infirmities. Yet, so far from being most violent

under the system of polygamy, the opposite is the fact; for

it is always most violent when secret intrigue is carried on,

and when the dreaded rival does not sustain an open and an

acknowledged relation to the husband, but when the

tender-ness between him and that rival, whether real or

suspected, is only secretly indulged: so that monogamy really

furnishes more occasion for the exercise of this cruel

passion than polygamy. In the latter system, the claims of

the different women are acknowledged and understood; the

parties all stand in well-defined relations to each other,

and violent jealousy, under such circumstances, must be

comparatively rare.

Page 209


It has also been objected, that polygamy cannot be reasonable

and right, since it places men and women on terms of social

inequality; it exalts man, and degrades woman; it makes her

dependent on his will; it demands of her her undivided love

and fidelity towards him, while he is permitted to lavish his

affections upon as many as he may please. But all this is

not degrading to her. It is the only thing that saves her

from degradation. The experience of every age and of every

community has proved that many men cannot and will not

content themselves with one woman. There must be polygamy,

or else there must be prostitution; and prostitution is

wickedness, and wickedness is degradation. Nor is there any

thing degrading in woman's dependence upon man. This

dependence is natural, and honorable to her. It is the very

position which she herself voluntarily and instinctively

assumes towards him. The entire code of polite, social

intercourse between the two sexes is founded on this

principle of her nature. Not only in

Page 210

times of real danger, but at all times, she loves to lean

upon the strong, brave arm of man, and willingly confesses

her own timidity and weak-ness. And these qualities are so

far from degrading her, that they only render her the more

attractive and lovely. The manly gallant is as ready to

afford assistance as she is to accept it. In riding, in

walking, in dancing, in sailing, in bathing, in the public

assembly, in the social gathering, and everywhere it is

possible to receive attention and accept assistance and

protection, it is equally pleasing and ennobling for her to

receive, and for him to bestow them.


They are her rights, - her woman's rights. I believe in

woman's rights, and I believe that polygamy is the system

that can best assure them to her; for, as it is a

mathematical certainty that there are more women than men in

the world, some men must assume the protection of more than

one woman each, or some women must be deprived of their

rights. The most sacred and the most precious of all her

rights are her rights to a

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husband and a home; and it is no more a degradation to her

to share that home and that husband with another woman than

it is to share other benefits and other attentions from the

same man, is common with other women. No woman considers

herself degraded to walk abroad with her hand upon a man's

arm while another woman has her hand upon the other arm; thus

they often appear in public, at balls, and concerts and

lectures and churches. For the time being, they are both

willingly dependent upon his protection and his bounty; and

he is also dependent upon each of them for the benefits of

their companionship and the charms of their society. He

could not so fully enjoy those entertainments without them.

For example, there are two female friends residing together,

and mutually dependent upon each other for many of their

social enjoyments, and for much of their intellectual and

moral culture. A worthy young man of their acquaintance

calls upon them frequently, and admires them both; and they

enjoy his visits, for neither of them have any other male

associate. At length he invites them both to a public

entertainment. Neither of

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them would be willing to leave her friend, and go with him

alone; nor could he well endure the thought of enjoying

himself abroad with one, while the other would be deserted

and neglected at home, - the other who would enjoy the

entertainment so much, and whose enjoyment would so much

enhance theirs. Now, if this triple companionship shall

ripen into friendship, and the friendship into love, and the

love shall result in a triple marriage, where is the

degradation? Would it not be still more heartless to desert

either of the friends now, when each heart is thrilling with

the harmonious music of the triple love? Let the words of

divine wisdom answer, -

"Two are better than one, . . . and a three-fold cord is

not quickly broken."

There is a want in the female nature which impels her to seek

and to appreciate the society of a male friend, which no

number of associates of her own sex can fully satisfy. I

have stood by the gates of the cotton-mill, and seen the

multitudes of female operatives stream out of an evening, and

I marked their lonesome appearance as they repaired to their

respective homes. Homes, did I

Page 213

say? Ah! any thing but homes, - their boarding-houses.

There I have seen them sit down, by scores, to the

dinner-table, and eat their dinners in the utmost silence, as

if each one was entirely isolated from all social and

agreeable companionship. Oh, what loneliness! how hard! how

bitter! Yet many of them were radiant with the charms of

womanhood, and each one capable of adorning and blessing a

home, but which few of them will ever enjoy; for they are not

only the unwilling victims of poverty and toil, but the

willing votaries of fashion, and the unconscious slaves of



Those qualities of mind and person which impel a woman to

seek the protection of the stronger sex, arising from her

natural weakness and timidity, are really those very

qualities which inspire the deepest admiration; yet, should a

man happen to display these feminine qualities, they only

render him supremely contemptible. A man must be strong,

self-reliant, and courageous. No woman can devotedly love a

man, unless she sees, or thinks

Page 214

she sees, in him a power of mind or of body, or of both,

which Nature has denied to her. It is this power which she

intuitively admires and venerates and worships, even though

its exercise over her may be arbitrary and tyrannical. The

Sabine matrons loved their Roman lords none the less because

they had seized them with the strong hand; and a woman is

always and everywhere more ready to forgive the too great

ardor and boldness of a lover than his unmanly timidity and

shame. For a wife to look up to her husband for authority

and guidance is as natural as to look to him for protection

from danger; and this is as natural as breathing. It is

therefore true, though it may seem hard to some to admit it,

that it is his right and duty to exercise authority, and her

right and privilege to practise complaisance and submission.

"Whence true authority in man;

though both Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;

For contemplation he, and valor formed;

For softness she, and sweet attractive grace;

He for God only, she for God in him.

His fair large front and eye sublime declared

Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks

Page 215

Round from his parted forelock manly hung

Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad;

She, as a veil, down to the slender waist

Her unadorned golden tresses wore,

Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved,

As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied

Subjection, but required with gentle sway," &c.


Yet while God and Nature have constituted man the superior to

woman in strength and courage and authority, these principles

do not render her relation to man one of degradation or even

of general inferiority; for there are many other and no less

admirable qualities in which she surpasses him. Her moral

and religious sentiments are more susceptible, and her

intellectual perceptions are truer and keener in respect to

those matters requiring delicacy of taste and refinement of

mind. Her humane sympathies are also stronger; she is sooner

moved by the sentiments of compassion, benevolence, and

charity. Blessings on her gentle heart! What a dreary world

would this be without woman! And it is only polygamy that

appreciates and appropriates her. Monogamy neglects her,

spurns her, corrupts her, and degrades her.

Page 216



Because a woman's heart is so constituted, that it is

impossible for her to cherish a sincere love for more than

one husband at the same time. It is even difficult for her

to believe that a man can cherish a sincere and honest love

for more than one woman at the same time. It is difficult

for her to believe it; for she cannot comprehend it. Her own

instincts revolt against the thought of a plurality of

husbands, and judging his feeling by her own, she does not

see how a man can want, or at least can truly love, a

plurality of wives. But, as this point involves a

constitutional difference of sex, it is one in which we must

be aware that our feelings cannot guide us. A man can never

know the infinite tenderness and the infinite patience of a

mother's love, except imperfectly, by reason and observation.

His experience does not teach him. His paternal love does

not exactly resemble it. So a woman can never know the

purity and sincerity of a man's conjugal love for a plurality

of wives, ex-

Page 217

cept by similar observation and reason. Her conjugal love is

unlike it. Her love for one man exhausts and absorbs her

whole conjugal nature: there is no room for more. And if she

ever receives the truth that his nature is capable of a

plural love, she must attain it by the use of her reason, or

admit it upon the testimony of honest men.


It would be as impossible and as unnatural for a pure-minded,

virtuous woman to have more than one husband, as for the

earth to have more than one sun; but it is not unnatural nor

impossible for a pure and noble-minded man to cherish the

most devoted love for several wives at the same time: it is

as natural for him as it is for the sun to have several

planets at the same time, each one dependent on him, and each

one harmonious in her own sphere. To each planet the sun

yields all the light and heat which she is capable of

receiving, or which she would be capable of receiving, were

she the only planet in the sky. Each planet attracts the sun


Page 218

the utmost of her weight, - the exhaustion of her power; and

the sun returns her attraction to an exactly equal degree,

and no more. Not one planet nor two, nor all combined, are

able to exhaust his power, or move him from his sphere. One

more illustration: if a strong man holds one end of a cord,

and a little child the other, and they pull towards each

other, the tension of the cord is measured by the strength of

the child, and not by that of the man. The same degree of

power is felt at each end of the cord. The strength of the

child is exhausted, that of the man is not. He can draw

several children to him, sooner than they could unitedly draw

him to them, A similar relation exists, naturally, between

the male and the female. He is the sun, they are the planets.

He is strong, they are weak. Let us not find fault with the

ordinances of God, nor attempt to resist his will.


The responsibilities of the man are in proportion to his

strength and authority. He must assume the care and provide

for the support of

Page 219

the family; and his female companions will submit to this

authority, if they are wise and prudent, with all the grace

and gentleness which distinguish their sex.

"Thy husband is they lord, they life, thy keeper,

Thy head, thy sovereign; one that care for thee

And for thy maintenance; commits his body

To painful labor, both by sea and land;

To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,

While thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;

And craves no other tribute at thy hands,

But love, fair looks, and true obedience, -

Too little payment for so great a debt.

Such duty as the subject owes the prince,

Even such a woman oweth to her husband;

And when she's froward, peevish, sullen, soar,

And not obedient to his honest will,

What is she but a foul contending rebel,

And graceless traitor to her loving lord?

I am ashamed that women are so simple

To offer war where they should kneel for peace;

Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,

When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,

Unapt to toil and trouble in the world;

But that our soft conditions and our hearts

Should well agree with our external parts?"

TAMING THE SHREW act v. scene ii.

Page 220

The capacity of man to attract and support several women must

depend upon the amount of his talent, his fortune, and his

benevolence, as well as upon his physical strength and

vitality. There are some men who are scarcely able to

attract the love and provide for the support of one woman;

others are well able, if they are willing, to maintain

several wives, but they are too penurious and too selfish to

attempt it: and such men do not deserve the love of one. But

there are others who are both able and willing, and who can

as well love and provide for several as for one, and even

better; for, if a man of immense vitality and corresponding

mentality have but one, she must necessarily suffer from the

superabundance of his power, and perhaps, like Semele in the

too ardent embraces of Jove, may prove an early victim to the

powerful demonstrations of his love. But even should he use

the utmost tenderness, and never forget to restrain his

burning ardor, yet, so long as he lives under the system of

monogamy, such a husband must often be the occasion of the

keenest suffering to a delicate woman. It is a source of

constant pain and grief to her that she cannot come up to

Page 221

her husband's capacity, nor satisfy his conjugal

requirements. She often tortures herself with the thought

that he cannot love her, for she feels herself so much his

inferior, and so utterly unworthy of his love. She often

says that she knows he wishes her to die, that he might marry

another. She wishes herself dead. She is madly jealous of

every other woman who comes within the circle of their

acquaintance, even though her husband may have no fancy for

her; but the poor wife fears he may have, and this constant

fear is worse than the worst reality. But, on the other

hand, if he were a polygamist, and this same woman were one

of his wives, she would then be happy and content. For she

would continue to receive from him all the demonstrations of

love she is capable of enduring, while she would joyfully

contribute her share towards completing the capacity of his.

Then it would constitute the consciousness of having done

what she could to make him so. She now rejoices in his

abundant vitality, and is proud of his superiority. And when

his manliness, his dignity, and his power are

Page 222

radiated upon her beaming countenance, and reflected thence,

it is then that her heart is filled with the utmost delight

and satisfaction of which it is susceptible. Having become

his wife, she is so entirely devoted to him, that she almost

loses in him her own identity. She throws herself upon his

ample breast and within his infolding arms, and yields both

her person and her will to his control; and she only regrets,

when she has given up all, that she has not more to give.

"You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,

Such as I am; though for myself alone

I would not be ambitious in my wish

To wish myself much better; yet for you,

I would be trebled twenty times myself;

A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times

More rich:

That only to stand high on your account,

I might, in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,

Exceed account; but the full sum of me

Is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised;

Happy in this, she is not yet so old

But she may learn; and happier than this,

She is not bred so dull but she can learn;

Happiest of all, is, that her gentle spirit

Commits itself to yours to be directed,

As from her lord, her governor, her king.

Page 223

Myself and what is mine, to you and yours

Is now converted: but now I was the lord

Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,

Queens o'er myself; and even now, but now,

This house, these servants, and this same myself,

Are yours, my lord; I give them with this ring."

MERCHANT OF VENICE, act iii. scene ii.


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The History and Philosophy of Marriage
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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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